CHENNAI : The bookmakers said England. They said India. They said West Indies.
After looking at the first stage, Sri Lanka, they said, could spring a surprise. South Africa, they said, were a serious side. Not one of them said Australia.
Even when they won a bum-clencher against South Africa, that was apparently a sign of their perceived weakness. When they lost to England, ‘we said so’ infiltrated the UAE air.
This team is filled with vibes and not much science, they don’t believe in actual data, was another explanation. They have got a Test team to play the sport’s shortest format was the gist behind another summary. Matthew Wade? He’s bad. Mitchell Marsh? He’s finished. David Warner? The guy couldn’t buy a run in the IPL. Steve Smith? This is T20 event. The naysayers stripped the final 15 like this.
To be fair, there was some justification to discount Australia’s chances. They had lost the last five T20 series, role clarity was an issue and some of the players didn’t seem all that equipped.
Yet, the final 15 went to sleep on Sunday night after taking turns to clutch and hold aloft the latest piece of jewellery to be added to the team’s vast trophy cabinet.
Since they started playing T20Is amid the pandemic last September, they had won exactly six out of 21 matches across five series.
While the availability of some of the leading players was a big factor — David Warner missed 19 of those 21 matches and Glenn Maxwell featured in only 11 of the 21 to give two examples — the side’s selection policies led to a lot of head-scratching. At one point, there were three wicket-keepers in the XI (Matthew Wade, Alex Carey and Josh Philippe), Marsh batted below Ashton Agar at No 7, too many openers were tried and discarded without giving any of them a proper run, they went bowler heavy one day before opting to play with just four proper bowlers the next... suffice to say there didn’t seem to be any logic. It’s in this background they arrived in the desert.
Ironically, after all the chopping and changing, the side they put out against South Africa closely resembled the one they last fielded more than a year ago in England.
Marsh was given the No 3 role in West Indies and it was the one good thing that came out of the eight losses across 10 matches in the Caribbean and Bangladesh. At the World Cup, there couldn’t have been greater clarity of thought given to him: be aggressive whatever the situation.
Even as other teams went heavy on data and tried to maximise their match-ups, Australia used only 12. Here’s a number: they had 11 openers or No 3 since last September.
At the World Cup, the top two never changed and the No 3, like modern sides, depended on entry points. If a wicket fell early, it was Marsh or Steve Smith. If they needed quick runs, it was Glenn Maxwell.
By the time they had qualified for the semifinal, the dominoes had begun to fall in place. Warner was ominous, Adam Zampa was frugal, Marsh was flexing his bicep and Wade and Stoinis, between them, showed they could fulfil a role.
What, though, really turned it around for them was Josh Hazlewood’s inputs. He had been uber impressive for Chennai Super Kings in the same venues and the same pitches and he passed on sufficient knowledge to the bowling group. Finch admitted as much in the post-tournament press conference.
“He shared his experience of CSK which was really important. To be able to bowl particularly at the end of the tournament where the wickets started to get more worn and hard length, which is Josh’s speciality, I guess, was tough to hit.”
From the Super 12 stage onwards, he picked the third-most wickets (11) and bowled the fourth-most dots (73). His familiarity meant he was also the best Australian pacer for metrics including strike rate (13), average (15.9) and figures (4/39).
The move to play him ahead of Richardson and deciding to stick to Marsh at No 3 ahead of Smith was what worked in their favour. Finch was super intimate with the details behind promoting Marsh.
“Mitch’s move to No 3 was a really important one in the West Indies. We felt as though he’s someone who could play — he obviously plays fast bowling very well. We committed to him batting No 3 for a long time. He knew that, and that was — that’s all you need sometimes. You need a little bit of backing and you need some confidence from everybody else.”
Listening to the skipper on Warner was also interesting. In essense, he was also describing a bit about the Australian psyche itself. “he’s a fighter. He’s someone who when his back is against the wall, that’s when you get the very, very best...”
Lastly, it would be remiss to not mention about the luck factor. They got lucky because of the toss. Finch won six of seven tosses and they ended up winning all of those games. “It did play a big factor to be honest.
I tried to play it down as much as I could because I thought at some point in the tournament I’m going to lose a toss and we’ll have to bat first. “But it did play a big part. You saw at the end there, the dew factor, the slow balls weren’t holding in the wicket as much. I don’t know how I did it. Maybe it was just fate.” Maybe.
XI to win it anywhere
Here is our team of the tournament...
Jos Buttler (Eng, wK) Runs 269
Showed his worth against Sri Lanka with the only 100. Will take the gloves and won’t affect balance of the team.
David Warner (Aus) Runs 289
The southpaw was back to his best starting like an express train. A big-match player if ever there was one.
Babar Azam (Pak, cap) Runs 303
Will bat one drop in this team and captain. The only anchor in the classical form, adept against both spin and pace.
Charith Asalanka (SL) Runs 231
Emerged from nowhere to be Sri Lanka’s aggressor in the top-order. Hit both spin and pace, keep an eye on him in the future.
Aiden Markram (SA) Runs 162
Finally showcased his potential after years of threatening to do so. Did fail a few times but did just enough, a reflection of how hard batters found the WC to be.
Moeen Ali (Eng) Runs 92, W 7
An elite spin-hitter in this side and will also help with right/left combination. Finds his place here for his ability to bowl in the powerplay as well.
Mitchell Marsh (Aus) Runs 185
The side’s floater who will go up and down depending on the situation. Will fill the fifth bowler’s quota with Moeen and Markram.
Wanindu Hasaranga (SL) W 16
The leading wicket-taker in the tournament, showed why he is a master at what he does. Will likely lead Sri Lanka’s charge next year.
Trent Boult (NZ) W 13
The left-arm pacer found swing and picked up key wickets. Will bring variety to the attack as well as experience in the line-up.
Josh Hazlewood (Aus) W 11
Was the best Oz pacer on view, with his cutters and hard lengths posing all sorts of problems.
Adam Zampa (Aus) W 13
Two leg-spinners in the same line-up is questionable but you cannot leave out either. Zampa’s control and execution after the powerplay was critical.
Despite entering the T20 World Cup as rank outsiders after winning only six of their previous 21 matches, Australia players managed to hit the right notes and find the answers to surprise many and finish as champions in UAE