It is sad India's bold and spirited World Cup campaign ended not with a bang but a whimper. I think nobody would deny that the better team won by playing better cricket and on the day itself, the Australians never allowed India into the game at any stage.
I would not blame Ganguly for winning the toss and deciding to have a bowl, for with a touch of moisture on the wicket and clouds above, Lee and McGrath would have been a handful. Nor do I think that his considerations for inserting the opposition were entirely defensive. The Indian seamers have spearheaded this Indian World Cup campaign by some excellent display of controlled fast medium bowling and Ganguly would be fully justified in feeling that he had the firepower to exploit the conditions.
But for the first time in the tournament India's seamers had an off day. Whether it was due to the pressure of the occasion or nerves or because they were trying too hard -- in Zaheer's case it was almost certainly the last named -- they started off with a disastrous first over in which 15 runs were conceded, enabling the Aussies to take control in the earliest stages of the game. Once the Australians have taken control it is the devil's own job to get it back from them. They kept going at almost seven an over and even though they lost two wickets in fairly quick succession shortly after the 100 mark, it made little difference because of their galloping run rate.
Ponting led his men from the front and batted brilliantly and when people bat brilliantly, they create their luck as they go along, which is exactly what the Aussies did. From the Indians there was too much that was short and the Australians were being given width with a regularity that meant that with each passing over, India was falling further behind.
Indeed, by the half way mark, the writing was clearly on the wall. It was clear the Australians were going to get well in excess of 325 and had batted the Indians out of the final.
In a high pressure game -- and it does not get any more high pressure than a World Cup final -- a score of 260 plus puts a side firmly in the driving seat. The final Australian tally of 359 put them virtually beyond the winning post.
If India had a ghost of a chance thereafter, it lay in Tendulkar playing an absolute blinder and when he came out to bat, he knew it. He thumped McGrath for a superb four to mid-wicket but in trying to repeat the shot, misjudged the length and skied a simple catch.
He is the world's best batsman, but even he is human and the task demanded too much, even of him. His dismissal sealed it for Australia and although Sehwag and Dravid showed courage in their spirited fightback, even the most unreasonable of optimists would not have thought that their task was possible. After Sehwag's run out, it was only a matter of going through the motions for the scorebook.
But the disappointment of the final should not take away from what Ganguly and his men achieved in South Africa. They have won the right to be considered the second best cricketing nation in the world and, coming on the back of a home series defeat at the hands of the West Indies and a disastrous tour of New Zealand, that must surely be much more than most people expected. They lost only two matches in this World Cup -- both to the best side in the world -- and their all round performance must give their fans heart, for they have the nucleus of an excellent side that will surely serve Indian cricket well for many years to come.
In Zaheer and Nehra they have two potential match winners and if Javagal Srinath can be persuaded to continue for some time, I am sure that will help their development considerably. There is both talented youth and experience in this batting line up and the youth could not ask for two better players to be groomed under than Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. They need a good allrounder for the one-day lineup and perhaps a second spinner now that Kumble's career seems to be coming to a close.
Losing a World Cup final can be very disappointing, but one hopes that emotions do not cloud the magnificent achievements of this Indian side, and that they are given the credit they so richly deserve for these achievements.
Asif Iqbal is the former captain of Kent and Pakistan