India's favourite Virat "King" Kohli held his cap in front of his face in shame, his team-mate Mohammed Siraj wept uncontrollably on the pitch, and a pin could be heard dropping in the massive Narendra Modi Stadium. India's cricket team had literally strolled into the final of the home World Cup - and yet failed shortly before the summit against record winners Australia. A nation of billions is stunned.

"There were a lot of emotional scenes in the dressing room," said India head coach Rahul Dravid: "It was also hard for me to watch because I know how hard these guys worked and the sacrifices they made."

Dravid knows what he's talking about: 20 years ago, the batsman, nicknamed "The Wall", was part of the Indian team that lost the World Cup final. Also against Australia. At that time, however, in faraway South Africa, the situation was somewhat different.

92,453 fans, mainly dressed in the blue of the Indian team, had made the pilgrimage to the largest cricket stadium in the world on Sunday afternoon with enormous expectations. With trumpets and flutes they spread anticipation, but the longer the game lasted, the more space was taken up by horrified shouts. And at some point there was silence.

Kohli managed his ninth half-century of the tournament – a World Championship record – but the game did not go as planned. "With 240 points on our account, we wanted early wickets, but Travis Head and Marnus took us completely out of the game," India captain Rohit Sharma recapitulated.

Said Marnus Labuschagne, who was partly responsible for Australia's victory with six wickets, also proved to be a fair sportsman in triumph. "India were the team of the tournament," said the 29-year-old, "but you know that if you play your best cricket, you have a chance." And Australia took advantage of it.

Cricket-mad India, who have been waiting for their third World Cup title in the ODI (One Day International) format since 2011, were still looking for answers on Monday. Many of the major newspapers put the national drama on the front pages.

The "Deccan Chronicle" from Hyderabad wrote of the "Cricket Heartbreak", "Prahaar" from Mumbai was upset about Australia's Mitchell Marsh, who misused the World Cup trophy to put his legs up.

The "Hindustan Times" took the positive approach and wrote: "Still champions". "Don't despair, let's celebrate this Indian team," suggested the Times of India, referring to the emotionally charged victory over hated neighbours Pakistan in the preliminary round.

However, this success is no more than a small consolation in view of the narrowly missed title. The great strife remains. A fan in the Virat Kohli jersey told AFP: "They play well, but they always fail at the last hurdle."