Johannesburg, March 23: For the supporters, it was a disappointing — disaPonting would be more apt — end. There was awe about the Australians, but not anger at the Indians.
After the raucousness of one month on the road, it was time for silent recognition of the superiority of a great one-day side at the top of its game.
“There is no shame in losing to a team that is playing the way they did today,” said one of the loudest members of Bharat Army, sobered by an amazing batting display by the Aussies.
Losing the Cup that the countless supporters had all but claimed as their own did not stop a few hundred of them from waiting in the rain for Team India to board the bus to leave the stadium. Sourav Ganguly and his boys were cheered off all the way: “Well-played boys... Thank you, India... We are with you...”
“We have the whole world in our hands, we have the World Cup in our hands” was the March 23 night anthem for the handful of Australian supporters, planning to “just party, mate, just party”.
The song and the sentiment at The Wanderers seemed an action replay of Lord’s 1999, just after the Aussies had pulverised Pakistan. “Not even (Wasim) Akram can stop us,” they had said then.
“Not even Tendulkar can beat us,” they say now.
With Sachin by his side, Sourav said: “Our bowlers bowled badly and their batsmen batted exceptionally well.” He made no bones about the fact that it was “one bad day” after playing some excellent cricket almost throughout the tournament.
Since Australia had played “better than us”, using the rain route would not have been “the right way to win”. The fatigue of a never-ending tourney with a nightmarish end writ large on his face, Sourav added: “We are just looking forward to get back to our families.”
Sourav defended his decision to ask Australia to bat. “I have no regrets…. The pitch had quite a bit in the morning.
“If we had put the ball in the right place, we would have got them out. Even 300 could have been chased on this wicket.”
He said his bowlers, especially Zaheer Khan who conceded 15 runs in the first over, had been nervous about playing in the final.
“They bowled too short. That is why they bowled all over the place,” he said.
Ganguly agreed Australia was almost invincible. He conceded he had no clue how Australia could be beaten. “Somebody has to defeat them,” he said. “How they do it depends on the team. The easiest way to say is that they should play better than Australia on the particular day. That’s the only way to do it.”
Despite being outplayed a second time in the tournament by Australia, who beat India by nine wickets in the first round, Ganguly said his team could take a few positives from their first World Cup final for 20 years.
“We have lost to a side which played much superior to us today,” he said. “But we learned to play as a unit which is the key for any team. Lots of the boys are playing in their first World Cup. The way they stood up to the pressure was really commendable.”
India missed a regular fifth bowler, having left out leg-spinner Anil Kumble to play seven batsmen, a decision Ganguly defended.
“Including a fifth bowler depends on whether he is an all-rounder who can bat. Otherwise we can’t go in with just six batsmen.”
The cockiness of being clear cricketing leaders showed in Ponting. Dismissing the “Indian body language” throughout the day as “quite ordinary”, the Aussie skipper said the finals proved how “far ahead we were of the second best team in the World Cup”.
“As I have been saying, we are capable of lifting our game in big games and today we reached a completely different level,” said Ponting, calling it “the best moment of my life... make that my best cricketing moment!”
“We have been really tested throughout this World Cup, with our fair share of injuries and the (Shane) Warney issue as well,” he said.
“The guys that have come in, Andy Bichel (replacement for injured Jason Gillespie) and Andrew Symonds, have both had sensational World Cups,” Ponting added. “It says a lot about our depth.”
Ponting, who scored 140 not out off 121 balls, said: “It was my most satisfying innings, no doubt about that. To do it today when it really mattered was something very special.
“I saved it all up for the final. Everything went really well for us today.
“The batters put their hands up. I’m lost for words at the moment. It was an outstanding effort.”
Is his team invincible'
“I am not one of those who believe in these things. For us, it is important we do the things the way we want it and keep our standards high,” Ponting said.