When the T20 World Cup kicked off in the Middle East last month, few backed the Australians to be wearing the gold around their necks. India and England were the overwhelming pre-event favourites, Pakistan then joined the list following their exhilarating performances in the opening two games, some even backed the industrious New Zealand to add a second world title this year.
There were reasons too why many didn’t believe the Australians would emerge the eventual champions. The pulverising David Warner arriving for the marquee event following a pathetic run in the preceding IPL where he was even benched and embarrassingly seen waving the franchise flag from the stands, skipper Aaron Finch woefully out of form, many players reportedly unhappy with coach Justin Langer’s methods, a pace attack with a rich Test look to it, just one high-quality spinner in Adam Zampa, a middle-order struggling for consistency, slow pitches that didn’t suit their brand of cricket… the list was quite long.
However, one can never count the Aussies out in big-ticket events, and they emphatically proved this World Cup why they still remain a major force, not as mighty and all-conquering as their predecessors of 1990s and 2000s but effective and efficient in getting the job done when the pressure is high.
Take the semifinal and final as examples and you know why there are few sides in international cricket that have the ability to deliver on big occasions. Facing unbeaten Pakistan in the last-four clash, the Australians' goose appeared cooked after they slumped to 96/5 in the 13th over while chasing 177 for victory.
With the crowd too against them and no recognised batsman left in the dugout, the onus was on Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade to carry them home. And the duo did it brilliantly, forging a brilliant counter-attacking unbeaten 81-run stand — Stoinis hitting a 31-ball 40 and Wade cracking a terrific 17-ball 41 — as Aussies pulled off a sensational heist.
The final brought out the beast that resides inside every Australian team. They were cold, calculative and merciless as they yet again heaped misery on New Zealand, showing they still hold the bragging rights in the Trans-Tasmanian rivalry. Set a competitive target of 173, the bruising Warner and Mitchell Marsh turned it into a cakewalk by the halfway stage of the chase. Warner, continuing his impressive run in the event, smashed a 38-ball 53 while Marsh, hailing from an illustrious sporting family whose career hitherto could never reach the promised potential because of a series of injuries, stole the spotlight with a sensational 50-ball 77.
This is Australia, a great cricketing nation that constantly finds personnel to deliver when the stakes are high or when chips are down. Warner not just lit up the two knockouts but bossed the entire World Cup, scoring 289 runs with three fifties to bag the Player of Series awards, turning around his fortunes as champion players do. Shut up by Sunrisers Hyderabad last month, he made the bat do the talking. Marsh, Stoinis and Wade all played match-winning knocks when needed.
Bowling-wise, Zampa led the attack with gusto. The 29-year-old leg-spinner, who skipped the second half of IPL, was exceptionally consistent throughout. Not only was he Australia’s leading wicket-taker (13), he was the most economical (5.81) too. Josh Hazlewood (11) extended his brilliant IPL form while the ever-reliable Pat Cummins shone through. Mitchell Starc was expensive but got the breakthroughs when his team needed them.
Although Finch personally didn’t have a great tournament, his understated captaincy won plaudits. He backed his opening partner Warner to come good, was an integral part in deciding to promote Marsh to No. 3 ahead of Steve Smith, unified the dressing room after the mini revolt against Langer, held the team together following a pasting against England in the group game and, very importantly, won six out of seven tosses — a massive factor this World Cup.
Langer too deserves plenty of praise. It can be extremely hard for a coach when players question his style of functioning and methods. A doughty opening batsman in his days who constantly had to fight for his spot in an Australian team filled with domineering talents, Langer is no stranger to grafting when odds are stacked against him. He’s done that now. He took the feedback sportingly, made the adjustments that was required of him and delivered Australia their first-ever T20 World Cup.
He was primarily brought in in May 2018 to not only change the image of Australian cricket but return them to the heights they are used to residing in. There have been slip-ups on the way but he has risen at the right time. This Australian side triumphed without much of the brash behaviour exhibited by sides of the past.