India's World Cup dreams were shattered by a savage batting assault from holders Australia who reaffirmed their status as the best one-day side with a comprehensive victory in the final at The Wanderers in Johannesburg today for a record third title.
Ricky Ponting led his side to a 125-run victory with a blazing captain's knock of 140 not out that propelled Australia to its biggest-ever one-day score, a virtually unassailable total of 359 for two, also the highest in any World Cup final.
The 1983 champions India, handicapped with the first-over dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar, fought hard till the 40th over but managed only 234 runs. Virender Sehwag kept India in the hunt for some time with a sparkling innings of 82 but the target proved too much.
The Indian pace attack, which had been highly impressive in this tournament, let the team down in the most important match after Saurav Ganguly had elected to field on a pitch that offered substantial help to the seamers.
The trio of Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, who have a combined tally of 49 wickets in this tournament, were together plundered for 211 runs from 27 overs without any success.
Apart from Ponting, who smashed eight sixes and four fours in his 121-ball knock, Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist also helped themselves to fine half-centuries. Martyn, who was associated in a record 234-run unbeaten partnership with Ponting, made 88 not out while Gilchrist scored 57 from just 48 balls.
Matthew Hayden, who made 37, was the only batsman not to have registered a half-century in Australia's run-feast which saw the team emulating West Indies in winning back to back World Cup titles.
Australia remained unbeaten in this tournament, an unprecedented achievement, and extended their one-day winning streak to 17.
Faced with a target that has never been chased before, the Indians were under pressure right from the start. Their biggest shock came in the fifth ball of the first over when Tendulkar, who had amassed 669 runs in this tournament from 10 previous innings, was dismissed by Glenn McGrath for just four runs.
Tendulkar, who struck a boundary in the fourth ball of the over, miscued a pull shot in the next delivery to give a simple return catch to McGrath who finished with three wickets for 52 runs.
Sehwag and Ganguly lived on the edges in a 54-run partnership for the second wicket with India, who had successfully chased two 320-plus totals last year, looking totally helpless by the enormity of the task.
Both of them survived some close calls, with Sehwag even being caught off a no-ball, but continued with their policy of attacking the opening bowlers, McGrath and Brett Lee. Ganguly hit three fours and a six in his 25-ball 24 before skying a Lee delivery to Darren Lehmann at mid-on.
A third-ball dismissal of NatWest final hero Mohammad Kaif, who failed to score, reduced India to 59 for three in the 11th over.
Sehwag, who struck 10 fours and three sixes in his 81-ball innings, kept India's slim hopes alive with some big hitting when the Australians, sensing rain, introduced Bradd Hogg and Darren Lehmann in a bid to quickly complete 25 overs, the minimum required for a valid match.
Rain did interrupt the proceedings with India placed on 103 for 3 in 17 overs but only for 23 minutes as the sun came out again much to the disappointment of the partisan Indian crowd at the stadium which was frantically hoping that rain would wash out today's play forcing the match to be played all over again on the reserve day tomorrow.
But that was not to be and play resumed without any reduction in the number of overs. Sehwag and Rahul Dravid, who made 47, put together a 88-run partnership for the fifth wicket in 13 overs before Sehwag was run out while going for a quick single.
The dismissal of Sehwag also dashed India's hopes as a defeat became inevitable.
Realistically, the game was lost much earlier when Australia piled on the huge total.
The fast bowlers who had bowled so well throughout the tournament were probably unnerved by the big occasion and were completely directionless, conceding as many as 37 extras, the maximum in the final of a World Cup.
Zaheer Khan sent down as many as eight extras in the very first over which went for 15 runs. He finished with 67 runs from seven overs while Srinath was taken for 87 from his ten.
Taking full advantage, Gilchrist and Hayden smashed 80 runs in the first 10 overs which set the tone for the rest of the innings. Gilchrist hit eight fours and a six before miscueing a shot against Harbhajan Singh, the only successful bowler for India, to be caught by Sehwag, but the Aussies had already put up 105 runs on the board by then.
Harbhajan also took the only other wicket to fall, that of Hayden who scored 37, when the batsman edged a beautiful spinning delivery into the hands of wicketkeeper Dravid.
It was Ponting and Martyn all the way after that, the duo plundering 234 runs for the unfinished third wicket in 30 overs. Martyn, back into the team after missing the last game due to injury, outscored his partner in the first part of their association before Ponting simply exploded.
Ponting, who took 74 balls to reach his fifty with just one four, smashed the remaining 90 runs in just 47 balls which included all the eight sixes and three fours.
Martyn, who notched up his highest score in World Cup, was reduced to just an admiring spectator in the latter part of their partnership as Ponting single-handedly trampled upon the Indian attack.
His 140 was the best score by any Australian against India, improving on the 133 not out by Mark Waugh at Pune in 2000-01.
Australia's total was also the highest recorded by any team against India.