T20 World Cup: Trans-tasman rivals Australia, New Zealand square off for the big prize

Australian captain Aaron Finch (left) and New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson pose with the T20 World Cup trophy in Dubai on Saturday. — ICC Twitter
Australian captain Aaron Finch (left) and New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson pose with the T20 World Cup trophy in Dubai on Saturday. — ICC Twitter

Mumbai - The final at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium promises to be a humdinger



By Ayaz Memon

Published: Sat 13 Nov 2021, 11:43 PM

Devon Conway, one of the key contributors in New Zealand’s thrilling win over England in the semifinal, is unavailable for Sunday’s final against Australia. He fractured his hand soon after being dismissed, striking it forcefully against his bat in acute disappointment, not knowing at that point in time his team would win the match.

It’s a massive blow since Conway was not only an in-form batsman, but also their wicketkeeper. Characteristically for New Zealand, though, there is no brouhaha surrounding the injury, no cluck-clucking at the misfortune that struck them with the most important game still to be played. The Kiwis simply buckled down to the task ahead.

Two things emerge from Conway’s accident, if it can be called that. One is the intense ambition with which New Zealand have played this tournament, expressed through the batsman taking out the frustration of his batting error that cost his wicket, on himself. The other is the stoic acceptance by the team management that Conway will be out of the final, not letting this take their focus away from the match.

Before the tournament began, T20 specialist bowler Lockie Ferguson, after a successful IPL season, injured himself and was ruled out of the World Cup. The Kiwis didn’t let that loss deter them. Now Conway is lost too. Of course, New Zealand have a ready replacement for Conway in Tim Seifert, a hard-hitting batsman and wicketkeeper. But losing a player of Conway’s ability and the maturity he has shown in his brief career as yet would have been unsettling.

Seifert, remember, had played in his team’s first match this tournament, and didn’t make much of an impact and was relegated to the dug-out as New Zealand plumped to enhance their bowling options, a tactic that has paid rich dividends. Conway’s injury brings them back to square one, so to speak, in finding the best combination to take the field.

However, to handle crisis with equanimity and resilience, has been the hallmark of this New Zealand team, so concerns about Conway’s injury and absence have been muted. One, the Kiwis wouldn’t want to show any sign of panic at this stage of the tournament. Secondly, and more important, they believe someone will fill the breach.

Coach Gary Stead has spoken about the never-say-die attitude of his team, and this has been reflected often enough in the past couple of years, from the ODI World Cup campaign, the passage and subsequent triumph in the taut final of the World Test Championship match against India, and in this tournament, recovering from a first-match defeat against Pakistan to reach this far with excellent percentage cricket based on strong ambition and nerves.

In extolling virtues of the New Zealand team is not to diminish the quality and calibre of the Aussies. If anything, on paper, they look ahead of the Kiwis, and in light of the stunning win over Pakistan in the other semifinal, seemed to have found their mojo in this format, with several players who were below par till then, springing into match-winning form.

Adam Zampa has been the outstanding player for his team, perhaps of the tournament, picking up most wickets at the second-best economy rate after Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan. If the Aussies still looked somewhat wobbly in the league phase, it was because the batting wasn’t delivering consistently, and the celebrated pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins wasn’t really striking terror in opposing teams.

David Warner’s form became crucial to Australia’s success. When he scored runs, the team won comfortably, otherwise they struggled. In the semis, Warner played his part as did Zampa, but what saw the Aussies through was also the batting form of Mitchell Marsh at the top, and more spectacularly, Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade at the finish.

An Australia batting lineup — which also includes Aaron Finch, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell, going full throttle would be impossible to contain. New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson will want at least a couple of wickets in the powerplay, which will involve the considerable skills of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Adam Milne at the start and end, and spinner Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner in the middle overs.

Likewise, Australia’s bowlers will be wary of Martin Guptill, who can run away with a match if he bats 9-10 overs, and Daryl Mitchell, his opening partner, who finished Man of the Match in the semifinal, after a laboured start. The key wicket, however, is of Williamson. He is not a power hitter, but has the ability to steer the innings to a situation where finishers Glenn Phillips and James Neesham can run amok in the slog overs.

Neither side has won the T20 World Cup, and will strive their hardest to get their name in the record books. The two semifinals followed a similar trajectory, highlighting the varied skill sets of players from both teams. The Trans-Tasman rivalry will add an edge to the contest. The toss will be crucial, but not beyond a point hopefully.

If the how the semis unfolded is any indication, the final promises to be a humdinger.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator


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