There will be a new winner of the T20 World Championship. Neither Australia nor New Zealand, who contest the final on Sunday, have won the title earlier. The Black Caps, in fact, are in a final for the first time. Yet, in the context of this tournament, it is Australia’s progress this far which has been the more unexpected.
Australia’s prowess in white-ball cricket has been somewhat suspect for the past few years. Strangely, for they have been a dazzlingly good and consistent side, especially in ODIs, where they’ve won the World Cup more than any other country. But since the last win in 2015, they’ve become wobbly, and overtaken by teams like England, New Zealand and India.
In T20 cricket, the Aussies have had little to show by way of distinction. Their performances have been middling at best, stretching to terribly poor, as in the series in Bangladesh last season. While some senor pros were missing on that tour, it appeared that they were still to come to terms with the shortest format. In fact, many critics argued they were using the wrong template.
In the current tournament too, their path into the semifinal was bumpy. If David Warner clicked, the team cruised to win, if he flopped, they struggled. Against England, they got a walloping which exposed all their shortcomings. Had the South Africans not been lackadaisical in chasing a poor score against Bangladesh, they might have pipped the Aussies for a place in the last four on Net Run Rate, as both teams were tied on points.
Against this backdrop, Australia’s performance against Pakistan on Friday was a revelation. In batting, bowling, tactics and holding their nerve under extreme pressure, they upstaged the more favoured team which had won all five matches in the league stage.
Winning the toss was an undoubted advantage, but not as much as seen in other matches. The dew wasn’t enough to affect Pakistan bowlers from gripping the ball. In fact, for a large part of the game, Australia looked like they would lose. But they kept their heads afloat through grit before going on to win in a sensational assault towards the end.
Key factors in Australia’s win were Adam Zampa’s superb bowling, which kept Pakistan’s total under check on a plumb pitch, and great intent in batting down the order against arguably the most potent attack in the tournament, climaxing in Matthew Wade’s brutal assault on Shaheen Shah Afridi, to finish the chase in the 19th over, albeit with a stroke of good fortune when Hasan Ali dropped a fairly simple chance in the deep.
Had Hasan Ali held that catch, the outcome may well have been different. But that would have robbed the contributions of Zampa, Warner, Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis of credit. Wade, of course, wouldn’t have had the opportunity to display his pyrotechnics and become man of the match.
However, Wade’s heroics in the run chase, I’ll reiterate, must not obscure leg-spinner Zampa’s excellence when Pakistan batted. Figures of 1-22 in four overs on a flat pitch and where other bowlers on either side — barring Shadab Khan — were being collared for 9-10 runs an over was an exceptional performance. Zampa’s been Australia’s most frequent wicket-taker and most economical bowler. He is man of the tournament for me so far.
Where did Pakistan fumble?
In hindsight, vision is always 20-20. Some aspects where things could have gone differently or been done differently will emerge. For instance, big finisher Asif Ali falling for a first-ball duck was a setback. But then, Fakhar Zaman more than made up for it with his superb hitting in the last few overs.
It could also be argued that had Mohammad Hafeez not been palpably jittery and bowled a poor over, he might have got a second which would have given Babar Azam the flexibility to not bowl his pacers in the slow overs. On the other hand, it can be questioned why the Pakistan captain did not complete spinner Imad Wasim’s quota, especially when Wade was looking scratchy at the start of his innings.
There were avoidable misfields, but then again, Australia had their share of mistake when Pakistan were batting. Then came the catch put down by Hasan Ali which on evidence of the result was the most serious lapse. In a taut, tense match, the team which made a mistake at the most critical juncture would be the sufferer. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.
Unfortunately for Pakistan, after some outstanding cricket over the past three weeks, it had to be them.
Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator
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