Not blitzkrieg but quality batsmanship highlight of Aus-NZ T20 final 

Australia were well led by Aaron Finch, who found a way to put his batting tribulations aside and rally the team in one direction. Even in his moment of glory, Finch couldn’t help but cast an admiring glance at his Kiwi counterpart, who played one of the greatest T20 innings of all times and yet had little to show for his exploits. Photo: Twitter/Cricket Australia and ICC

This was no ‘Carlos Brathwaite, remember the name’ stunning sting-in-the-tail kind of battle of 2016. This wasn’t a match where fortunes yo-yoed crazily before Lady Luck settled gently on one side. This was no edge-of-the-seat thriller, not a classic, not one for the ages if you are the kind that enjoys devouring nails as the denouement looms.

As a contest, the Australia-New Zealand clash didn’t produce an exciting climax befitting the final of a T20 World Cup. But while short on ultra-competitiveness, it threw up several high-quality displays of batsmanship, the best of which wasn’t destined to be from the winning side.

The touch of one-sidedness to the final boiled down to Australia’s flexing of their not inconsiderable muscle on the big night in Dubai. Their lead-up to the tournament was fraught with setbacks – they had lost all three bilateral T20 series in 2021, including in New Zealand at the top of the year – but they weren’t fretting. For various reasons, they were not in a position to put out their best players for these matches, but once they were able to summon all their first-choice options, they grew from strength to astonishing strength.

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It’s not often that Australia go into a World Cup of any ilk without the massive weight of favouritism bestowed on their sturdy shoulders. If they flew under the radar this time around, there were multiple, potentially deserved reasons. For one thing, their T20 record over the previous 10-and-a-half months. For another, the question marks over coach Justin Langer’s style of functioning and the alleged schism in the ranks because of that. For good measure, their barren run in previous T20 World Cups – in six previous editions, they had made just one final and never seriously threatened to grab the silverware that mattered.

Their start to this campaign seemed to suggest that the lack of backing wasn’t misplaced. They stuttered and stumbled to a nervy win in their first game against South Africa and were well beaten – hammered, actually – by England in their third. Placed in the tougher of the two Super 12 groups, they seemed in danger of not making it through to the last four, indicating that their T20 World Cup drought would extend to another competition.

Great, proud teams, however, have a way of digging deep and delivering when pushed to the wall. Australia did so in the manner they know best, with aggression and flair and style and flamboyance in a throwback to the Ricky Ponting days when they crushed all before them in 50-over cricket.

Towards that end, they were well served by a stocky opener under a huge cloud coming into the tournament, a No. 3 who has polarised opinion back home and a little leg-spinner who has been one of the unsung heroes but has been instrumental in a remarkable resurgence, thanks to his wicket-taking ways in the middle stages of every innings.

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David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, and Adam Zampa make an unlikely trio, but their role in Australia’s spectacular run can’t be underestimated. The first-named was the Player of the Tournament for his consistency that brought him 289 runs in his inimitable bruising style, a far cry from his hesitancy and lack of intent that first cost him the captaincy of the Sunrisers Hyderabad and later a spot in the playing XI.

Marsh, the younger son of former Aussie opener Geoff, is an outrageously talented young man of whom great things have been expected for so long. While he has threatened occasionally to make good on that promise, a string of injuries has pegged him back. In Australia, cricket-followers either love him or hate him, there are no grey areas. After this tournament, and especially the final when he pulverised the Kiwis with a magnificent unbeaten 77, he would have converted quite a few of the doubters.

Zampa is an under-rated, largely anonymous presence in a bowling attack headlined by Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Pat Cummins, but the way he controlled the mid-innings mayhem throughout the tournament was extraordinary. He did so through old-fashioned flight and turn and guile, not by firing the ball in and looking to restrict. 13 wickets in seven games was just reward for one exceptional performance after another; he must count himself desperately unlucky that the adjudicators backed, as per norm, a batsman for the Player of the Tournament honours.

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Australia were well led by Aaron Finch, who found a way to put his batting tribulations aside and rally the team in one direction. Even in his moment of glory, Finch couldn’t help but cast an admiring glance at his Kiwi counterpart, who played one of the greatest T20 innings of all times and yet had little to show for his exploits.

Under Kane Williamson, New Zealand have become a stunningly consistent side on the big stage. They were ‘losing’ finalists at the 2019 50-over World Cup despite not being beaten in the final, and earlier this year, won the inaugural World Test Championship. It will be puerile to keep referring to them as a team that punches above its weight because their weight is far more than most perceive it to be.

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On Sunday, they struggled in the first 10 overs, reaching just 57, when Williamson unfurled a mind-boggling array of strokes. Mocking those who write off orthodoxy as a means to success in this format, he beautifully married the conventional with the innovative in an eye-catching, aesthetically mesmeric 85, an epic given the next highest score by a teammate was 28. He deserved better, but he didn’t have the requisite bowling firepower on the night to keep the marauding Australian juggernaut in check. Not with Warner in the mood, not with Marsh teeing off from the off, not with Australia willing to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Australia have got the monkey off their back by clinching the T20 World Cup. Now, to attempt to become the first home team to do so, when they play hosts in 11 months’ time.

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