T20 World Cup: Aussie triumph could signal their return to eminence

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Australian players celebrate with the trophy after they won the T20 World Cup final against New Zealand. (AP)
Australian players celebrate with the trophy after they won the T20 World Cup final against New Zealand. (AP)

Australia haven't been short on quality players. The domestic structure is robust enough to keep the supply line busy with talent

By Ayaz Memon

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Published: Tue 16 Nov 2021, 12:31 AM

Australia overwhelmed New Zealand with a commanding performance in the T20 World Cup final. In one sense it was a surprise considering the Aussies had been perennial underperformers in this format whereas the Kiwis had been on a surge – in all formats – in the past few years.

But perhaps it wasn’t as unexpected considering how the teams have fared against each other in ICC tournaments.

This final bore some resemblance to the 2015 ODI World Cup final, at least in the ease with which Australia won. In 2015 New Zealand, who had been fantastic until then, lost Brendon McCullum in the first over to Mitchell Starc and fizzled out swiftly.

In Sunday’s final at the Dubai , Aaron Finch fell cheaply, but from the time Mitchell Marsh hit the first ball he faced (from Ish Sodhi) for a six, the Kiwis were more or less shunted out from the match.

Bowling first, the Aussies took some hammering from Kane Williamson, but came back with vigour and their ambition redoubled in the run chase, winning with plenty to spare. Williamson benefited from a dropped catch by Josh Hazlewood at long leg off Mitchell Starc. This somehow seemed to unshackle him, and thereafter exploded into a run scoring spree, hitting 6s and 4s with aplomb, targeting mainly Starc, Australia’s main fast bowler in this format.

The outcome of the match was bitter irony for Williamson, widely touted as the best captain in the tournament, and having played one of the finest innings in T20 World Cups. His 85 off 48 deliveries was spectacular in execution, more so considering that the first 22 runs came at a run-a-ball. He was upstaged by Marsh whose half century came a delivery faster, but more importantly, swung the final his team’s way.

Marsh’s sizzling innings highlighted why Australia, who had shown middling form in the league stage, became such a dominant force in the knockout rounds.

Every player who had been lukewarm earlier came good, raising the tenor and power of the team’s performance manifold. Marsh, who has been in and out of the team for almost a decade, was playing for his career.

David Warner, who was in a rut entering the tournament, had a massive turnaround in form to finish in a streak of blistering knocks and as player of the tournament. Matthew Wade, captain on the disastrous tour of Bangladesh earlier this year, was on the brink of losing his place before he came up with that brilliant, match-winning knock against Pakistan. So to Marcus Stoinis in the same match. These batsmen helped overcome the below-par performances of Aaron Finch, Steve Smith and Glen Maxwell, who the team had depended heavily on at the start. Among bowlers, Josh Hazlewood, grudgingly given a place in this format, showed how well he had captured the nuances of T20 bowling by upstaging Starc and Pat Cummins. His 3-16 in the final was an outstanding contribution considering the flat pitch.

Adam Zampa had stellar performances throughout. His consistency in taking wickets at low cost ensured that Australia would benefit in the Net Run Rate calculations. In the knockout matches, he kept batsmen on a tight leash, forcing them to take risks against other bowlers. In a high scoring final, where Kiwi spinners Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner went for plenty, Zampa stood out again. He was a unfortunate to lose out to Warner for the Player Of The Tournament award. Australia’s triumph could signal their return to eminence in international cricket in all formats. In the past few years, the Aussies have been beleaguered with controversies — Steve Smith and David Warner for ball tampering, coach Justin Langer facing a revolt from players — which has undoubtedly affected performance.

Australia haven’t been short on quality players. The domestic structure is robust enough to keep the supply line busy with talent. This victory could liberate current and future players, as well as coaches, administrators from the burdens and tribulations of the past few years. Other cricket countries are warned.

New Zealand will be disappointed to lose another limited overs ICC tournament after the 2019 ODI World Cup. But to reach three finals in succession – including the World Test Championship earlier this year which they won – reflects how brilliant they have been in the pursuit of cricketing excellence. Other teams have been more hyped, none has achieved as much. The high level of consistency defines them as the best side in the world across formats currently.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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