Australia suffered a setback even before the show had begun when champion leg-spinner Shane Warne was ruled out of the tournament after failing a drug test. He was not to play for his team in one-day cricket thereafter.
Such was the depth of Ricky Ponting's side that they managed to find players to deliver in critical situations, like hard-hitting batsman Andrew Symonds and all-rounder Andy Bichel.
England boycotted their match in Zimbabwe and New Zealand refused to play in Kenya on safety and political grounds. The points earned by defaults helped Zimbabwe and Kenya make it to the Super Six stage.
Zimbabwean paceman Henry Olonga and wicketkeeper-batsman Andy Flower were soon to be pushed into for their black armband protest against the "death of democracy" in their country.
The tournament was jointly hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya and had a record 14 teams, divided into two groups of seven each.
Three top sides from each group advanced to the Super Six, but the boycotts and a few rain-marred games meant a couple of big teams were eliminated before the semi-finals.
The washouts virtually eliminated Pakistan (v Zimbabwe) and the West Indies (v Bangladesh), while Shaun Pollock's South Africans bowed out after a miscalculation during their rain-hit game against Sri Lanka.
When South African wicket-keeper Mark Boucher hit the penultimate ball of what turned out to be the final over for a six to level the scores, he thought the job had been completed. But his team still needed one more run to win.
The West Indies began impressively when they beat South Africa, courtesy Brian Lara's masterful century.
Kenya made a surprise semi-final appearance but did not have the resources to stretch India who qualified for the final after two decades.
India looked unconvincing in initial matches, struggling against a lowly Netherlands and losing to Australia. In the event, the houses of some of the players were under threat from irate fans.
Sourav Ganguly's Indians then gave no opportunity to their fans to lose their temper as they won eight successive matches to emerge deserving challengers to Australia in the final.
Sachin Tendulkar's form was the highlight as the little master amassed 673 in 11 matches with one hundred and six half-centuries to become the tournament's top scorer.
Australia marched relentlessly despite losing Warne before the event and then in-form paceman Jason Gillespie to an injury after early matches.
They survived a few anxious batting moments before beating Sri Lanka in the semi-final.
Opinions are still divided over India skipper Ganguly's decision to put Australia in to bat after winning the toss in the final, for his counterpart Ponting (140 not out) hijacked the game with a gem of a knock.
The Australian captain received valuable support from Damien Martyn (88 not out) to virtually put the match beyond India's reach as his team set a stiff 360-run target.
Fast bowler Glenn McGrath rocked India with the prize wicket of Tendulkar (four) in his opening spell. India seemed to be chasing a mirage thereafter despite Virender Sehwag's 82.
McGrath finished with three wickets and fellow-paceman Brett Lee with two as India were bowled out for 234.
The tournament saw the last appearance of South Africans Jonty Rhodes, Allan Donald and Gary Kirsten, Pakistani fast bowling great Wasim Akram, and Sri Lankan batsman Aravinda de Silva.
There was also a place in the sun for a lesser-known player as Canadian Jon Davison hammered the World Cup fastest century (off 67 balls), against the West Indies in a group match at Centurion.