It happened in the last 20 finals, and it happened on Tuesday too!
The script didn't change for India [ Images ] and the trend of losing the final in multi-team tournaments continued. In the end, a huge target of 277 proved an easy chase for New Zealand [ Images ] in the Zimbabwe tri-series final, at the Harare Sports Club, courtesy a match-winning century from Nathan Astle.
Astle batted throughout the Kiwi innings, scoring 115 off 131 balls, to take New Zealand to a convincing six-wicket victory. His opening stand of 121 runs with Stephen Fleming [ Images ] (61) proved the turning point.
For India, Virender Sehwag [ Images ] was the best bowler, claiming 3 for 44 in his 10 overs. The medium pacers - Irfan Pathan [ Images ], Ashish Nehra [ Images ] and Ajit Agarkar [ Images ] - struggled to contain the flow of runs on a pitch that offered them little assistance.
Earlier, India crumbled after a good start and were bundled out for 276 in 49.3 overs. Mohammad Kaif top-scored with an unbeaten 93, as wickets fell at regular intervals and India caved in to the pressure after cruising at 155 for 3 after 25 overs.
Virender Sehwag scored a quickfire 75 from 65 balls to provide the team a blazing start. Captain Sourav Ganguly [ Images ] also briefly sparkled during his innings of 31, but other than the trio no other batsman stood up to the task and threw their wickets away cheaply.
New Zealand bowled brilliantly in the middle overs, with Daniel Vettori [ Images ] leading the way. The left-arm spinner, who was introduced when Sehwag and Kaif were at their best, produced brilliant figures of 2 for 35 in his 10 overs. Jacob Oram [ Images ] also contributed in checking the scoring, claiming 4 for 58.
India decided to counter New Zealand's bowling attack by having a lengthy batting line-up and including off-spinner Harbhajan Singh [ Images ] as their Super sub. The first part of their plan worked to perfection, as they won the toss and elected to bat.
Left-armers Irfan Pathan and Ashish Nehra also returned to the side in place of Murali Kartik [ Images ] and Rudra Pratap Singh.
For New Zealand, Shane Bond [ Images ] and Daniel Vettori made it to the side after being rested for their previous match against India on Friday. Chris Cairns [ Images ] was chosen as the Super sub, knowing he could walk into the match any time and turn it New Zealand's way.
The last time India won a multi-team tournament was in July 2002, when India beat England [ Images ] in an epic NatWest Series final, chasing a victory target of 326 runs. Since then India have played in nine tournaments, reached the final seven times, but could not win a single one.
On a dry pitch, Virender Sehwag started patiently against Shane Bond. He had a good look at the pacer before hitting him for two boundaries on the off-side once he was offered a bit of room. Ganguly, meanwhile, preferred to just play out Bond as India reached 17 for no loss after five overs.
India's captain, however, decided to take medium pacer Kyle Mills [ Images ] to task. He charged down the wicket and carted him over the off-side for two boundaries and then played a nice flick on the leg-side for his third boundary in the eighth over.
It was clear that the Indian openers were targeting Mills, the slower of the two bowlers. After 10 overs, India had reached a steady 46 for no loss, and New Zealand opted to take the second Powerplay.
Stephen Fleming was quick to realise that the Indian openers were intent on playing out Bond; he wanted his fast bowler to take wickets and not just be played. So he promptly removed him from the attack. All-rounder Jacob Oram replaced him, but was hit for two boundaries by Sehwag.
It was Ganguly at his best, as time and again he looked to give himself some room and loft the bowlers over the off-side. But his joy was shortlived as he hit straight to Hamish Marshall at backward point. (72-1, 13)
Ganguly, on 31, tried to force the ball through the off-side, but changed his mind at the last moment and ended up offering the fielder a simple catch.
One must really compliment the left-hander on playing a determined innings. It was difficult for him early on against Bond, but he weathered the storm and then his decision to attack the other bowlers helped the team get a solid start.
Sehwag looked set to play a big innings, moving to 44 off 41 balls, inclusive of nine boundaries, and taking the total to 81 for 1 after 15 overs. It was a solid start in quest for a big total.
He brought up his half-century in style, hitting Scott Styris [ Images ] for a six over long-off in the 18th over. His 18th half-century came off 44 balls, and also included nine boundaries.
The third Powerplay was the most productive for India as they moved on to 121 for 1 after 20 overs. Mohammad Kaif, who came in at the fall of Ganguly's wicket, got off to a flying start, scoring 26 off 26, with four boundaries. At the other end, Sehwag was looking solid on 54 from 52 balls.
Nathan Astle was introduced in the 22nd over, but he was taken for 14 runs, with Sehwag hitting him for three boundaries. The runs kept coming as both batsmen hit boundaries at will.
But Daniel Vettori struck in the 25th over as Sehwag, looking to loft over the cover region, handed a simple catch to Vincent after the ball stopped on him. The opener was enjoying his time in the middle and looked certain for a century, but to his dismay was out for 75. His 65-ball knock contained 12 boundaries and a six; he put on quickfire 83 for the second wicket with Kaif off just 70 balls.
Rahul Dravid's [ Images ] horror tour continued as he was dismissed second ball, leg before wicket to Vettori without scoring. (155-3, 25)
India, who were piling on the runs, were pegged back as Daniel Vettori claimed two wickets those of Sehwag and Dravid -- in the space of three deliveries in the 25th over. But the wicket had nothing for the bowlers and a score of 300 seemed easily achievable.
It will be a series, which Dravid, India's best batsman in the last couple of seasons, will like to forget soon. He scored 64 runs in 5 matches at 12.80. His footwork and technique has gone haywire in Zimbabwe and four times was bowled in this series.
New Zealand built on the advantage of the two quick wickets, giving away just 15 runs in the next five overs. After 30 overs, India were 170 for 3 as the boundary count started going down.
Yuvraj played well for his 20, but a reckless shot from the left-hander gave New Zealand the fourth wicket. The left-hander took on a short delivery from Mills, but only lofted it to Bond at fine leg. (185-4, 33.4)
Kaif continued his good run of form, reaching his half-century from 65 balls. His 14th half-century in one-day internationals took India to 188 for 4 from 35 overs.
Venugopal Rao [ Images ], who got ducks in his first two innings in the tournament, once again was bogged down early. But the right-hander charged down the wicket to Oram and hit a six over midwicket in the 39th over, taking the score past the 200-run mark.
He tried to repeat the dose but did not get it from the middle of the bat and was brilliantly caught by Craig McMillan [ Images ] at midwicket. Rao contributed just 8, before throwing away his wicket and reducing India's chances of posting a score of around 300. (203-5, 38.5)
India reached 210 for 5 after 40 overs, with Kaif holding fort with a solid knock of 58. It remained to be seen whether he and Mahendra Singh Dhoni [ Images ] could build a partnership in the next few overs and take the score past 300.
After the first 25 overs, India were looking at a score of well above the 300-run mark, after being comfortably placed at 155 for 3. But in the next 17 overs, India lost two wickets but scored only 62 runs as New Zealand resorted to some tight line and length bowling.
Dhoni, on 10, enjoyed a reprieve when Vincent dropped an easy catch at midwicket off Stryis in the 44th over. He, however, fell three balls later, leg before wicket to Styris for 11. (230-6, 43.5)
The Indian wicketkeeper was struck on the pads in his attempt to sweep the medium pacer. Zimbabwe umpire Kevan Barbour ruled him out even though it was clear the ball would go above the stumps.
Oram then dealt India another big blow, as he got the wicket of Jai Prakash Yadav for 0. The all-rounder became Oram's third victim, guiding the ball straight to wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum [ Images ]. (231-7, 44.2)
Ajit Agarkar survived an easy chance first ball as he looped a full toss straight to Fleming, who, at short cover, dropped it. After 45 overs, India were 233 for 7, scoring just 23 in the last five for the loss of two wickets.
Agarkar did not last long, caught by Mills on the point boundary off Bond for 8 in his attempt to score some quick runs. (255-8, 46.4)
Bond retired hurt after bowling 9.3 overs when he tripped on his follow through and injured his ankle in the 49th over. Oram replaced him and immediately struck, getting the wicket of Pathan for 10. The Indian left-armer tried to lift Oram over long-off but could not get past Vincent at long-off. (272-9, 48.4)
Ashish Nehra displayed lack of commonsense when he tried to hit Mills in the final over, but ended up spooning an easy catch to Oram at fine-leg. The need of the hour was to score a single and hand the strike back to Kaif, batting on 93, but he ignored it and set out to be a hero, only to lose his wicket.
India lost seven wickets for 91 runs to be bowled out for 276 after 49.3 overs. Kaif was unbeaten on 93.
For New Zealand, it was a strong comeback, led by Vettori, who bowled his 10 overs for 35, taking two wickets at a time when India were on the top. He was ably supported by Oram, who kept chipping at the wickets to finish on 58 for 4.
The pitch has got a bit slow, but still looks good for batting, and New Zealand, with it's long batting line-up, might just think that they have a real good chance to win the title.
It seems a repeat of the final between the two teams in the ICC [ Images ] Knockout tournament in Nairobi in October 2000. In that match too, India, after a good start, were cruising at 200 for 1 in the 38th over, but lost the plot in the final overs to finish on 264 for 6 after 50 overs.
New Zealand innings:
New Zealand openers Nathan Astle and Stephen Fleming were cautious in the first couple of overs, but then gradually blossomed with a flurry of boundaries. They blazed to 50 for no loss after five overs as Pathan and Nehra failed to control their line and length, conceding 12 boundaries, including two from leg-byes. Fleming took Pathan to the cleaners as he blasted him for five boundaries in his third over.
Super sub Harbhajan replaced Rao quite early, after four overs, and it seemed appropriate that he came into the attack soon, especially with the seamers struggling.
The boundaries continued to flow on a pitch still good for batting, and New Zealand showed what a huge mistake India had made by messing up in the second half of their innings.
Agarkar replaced Nehra in the sixth over, but even he was not spared. The Mumbai [ Images ] pacer was hit for three boundaries in his first over. Eight boundaries had come in the last two overs as New Zealand raced to 62 for 0 after six overs.
With the openers - Fleming 39 off 36 and Astle 33 from 25 - on fire, New Zealand raced to 82 for no loss after 10 overs. And at that stage it seemed a surprising decision when Ganguly decided to challenge the openers and tempt them into something by opting to take the second Powerplay.
In the fifth ball of the 11th over, Fleming suffered a painful blow when he inside edged Nehra onto his right knee, but despite the pain continued to bat and thump the bowlers with partner Astle to take New Zealand to 100 for no loss in 12.5 overs.
After 15 overs, New Zealand were comfortably placed at 112 for no loss, with the batsmen making hay and the bowlers struggling on a pitch offering no assistance to the seamers.
Super sub Harbhajan nearly proved to be the super player for India as he almost struck in his first over. The off-spinner flung himself to his right, but failed to hold on to a difficult return catch from Fleming in the 16th over.
Ganguly's masterstroke worked as part time off-spinner Sehwag took the first wicket. Fleming was coaxed by a full-pitched delivery and, in the process of driving it down the wicket, played a bit early, lobbing it straight back to the bowler. Fleming scored 61 off 66 balls, with 10 boundaries, giving the Kiwis a rollicking start and putting on 121 runs for the opening wicket with Astle. (121-1, 18.1)
He then got his second wicket of the over, when he trapped Hamish Marshall leg before wicket for 3. The New Zealand batsman, playing on the backfoot, missed the ball completely and was trapped right in front. (125-2, 18.5)
Astle despatched Harbhajan to the point boundary to bring up his half-century off 47 balls as New Zealand reached 129 for 2 after 20 overs.
The third Powerplay was taken after 23 overs, with New Zealand on 138 for 2, and the spinners getting some control on the batsmen.
Pathan, who had a terrible first spell, came back, but was hit for two more boundaries as New Zealand progressed to 149 for 2 after 25 overs, needing 127 runs to clinch victory.
The match was evenly balanced and India needed to strike some quick wickets. At the same stage, India were also cruising at 155 for 3, before they lost their footing.
J P Yadav was introduced into the attack in the 27th over and was immediately attacked by Styris, who dismissed him for a six and a boundary, taking advantage of the third Powerplay. It seemed strange that Sehwag, who grabbed the two wickets, was removed after bowling just four overs when the third Powerplay was taken, even though he was by far the best bowler for India. The need of the hour was to take some quick wickets, not leave it till the end and make things happen.
The big difference between India's performance in the tri-series in Sri Lanka [ Images ] last month and here in Zimbabwe was the captaincy. Dravid, the captain then, preferred to attack all the time and take wickets, but Ganguly spread the field at the first opportunity.
Promptly, with Yadav taken for 14 in his first over, he made way for Sehwag in the 29th. Astle was looking good on 68 with Stryis on 29 as New Zealand moved to 173 for 2 after 30 overs.
Sehwag continued his magic with the ball, tempting Styris out of his crease to have him stumped for 37. It was his third wicket of the innings in his seventh over and all due to his disciplined line and length bowling, which made the batsman do something out of the ordinary. (183-3, 32.1)
New Zealand reached 200 for 3 in 36.1 overs, needing 77 runs in 83 balls, with seven wickets in hand, a comfortable task to achieve, unless they collapsed like India.
There was some drama on the cards, though, as Yuvraj got the fourth New Zealand wicket. Craig McMillan made 10, before he was caught by wicketkeeper Dhoni after getting a thin edge. (208-4, 37.4)
Astle was struggling against the spinners, and with pitch offering some turn, a wicket or two could well turn the match India's way. The match was tantalizing poised with New Zealand on 213 for 4 after 40 overs, another 64 runs needed from 60 balls against the spinners, who were making scoring very difficult.
Astle reached his century in style, hitting Harbhajan for a six over wide long-on in the 45th over. The New Zealand opener reached his 15th century in ODIs off 121 balls, with 12 boundaries and a six.
The 45th over from Harbhajan Singh produced 17 runs as substitute fielder Suresh Raina [ Images ] dropped an easy catch at midwicket off Vincent's bat. That big over finally settled things in favour of New Zealand as they reached 253 for 4 after 45 overs, needing 24 from 30 balls.
Dravid dropped an easy catch at midwicket in the 48th over to give Vincent another chance, but it wouldn't have made a difference, with just 10 needed in 16 balls.
Vincent finished it off with a boundary as New Zealand coasted to a six-wicket victory, with 11 balls to spare.
Astle, who opened the innings, saw New Zealand through with his unbeaten innings of 115. His 131-ball knock contained 13 boundaries and a six, and was instrumental in rendering India another loss in the final.
He was involved in an unbroken stand of 72 runs in 64 balls with Vincent, who scored a useful 33.
Sehwag was the best bowler for India, taking 3 for 44 in his 10 overs, while Yuvraj claimed 1 for 39 in his 10 overs.
India's fast bowling trio of Pathan (5 overs for 40), Nehra (6 overs for 40) and Agarkar (6.1 overs for 41) struggled big time, giving away 121 runs in 17.1 overs between them, without claiming a single wicket.
In the end, what proved to be difference was how New Zealand handled the middle overs, both while batting and bowling. When they were bowling, they restricted the scoring rate and also picked up wickets at regular intervals. And their run chase was very well planned, blazing start followed by a good consolidation period in the middle, where singles and twos flowed in plenty.