Amid upsets, upsets and a fierce race for places in the final, we are left with two teams jostling to lift the T20 World Cup trophy.
We were perhaps given a glimpse of what was to come after Namibia’s 55 round stunner against Sri Lanka, though few would have predicted so many upsets and close finishes in the first round groups and Super 12.
The last day of the first round of Group B turned into a near-qualification for the Super 12, and in Group A, the Super 12 places were only decided on the penultimate ball of the final match, where after giddy, giant-killing heights, a dispirited Namibia failed to drive the 148 out of the United Arab Emirates.
Pessimists predicted a bland Super 12 by comparison, though they were pleasantly surprised. Ireland continued to plunder England. Zimbabwe’s Zen beat Pakistan, although Craig Ervine’s men were canceled by the Netherlands. Rashid Khan unified Australian and Afghan support and nearly dampened the mood of fans of the former, raining down sixes at his Adelaide Oval abode.
And just when we thought we knew the script, the Dutch came back to ruin South Africa’s chances. Proteas slipped and Pakistan prevailed, all on a great Sunday.
Of course, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the blockbuster ending India v Pakistan at the MCG – a game that needs no further context – although for so many games the mere fact of being in the same conversation as Virat Kohli’s masterclass speaks volumes about how entertaining the event was.
It’s fair that many only dipped their toes in the water before diving into the T20 cricket pool almost twenty years ago, but now you’d be a fool not to dive. Surprises at every turn, and almost a dozen of 43 games come down to the finished final. Aren’t you amused?
Consistency of the competition that fills in the gaps, embellished with highlights. From the classic takes of Roelof van der Merwe and Glenn Phillips, to the hat tricks of Karthik Meiyappan and Josh Little. Virat Kohli’s surgical chases were timed to perfection, with Suryakumar Yadav reaching for the skies, among hundreds of Rilee Rossouw and Phillips in the thick of it.
Pakistan, once battered and lying on the canvas, are now T20 World Cup finalists, as the odds at one point give them a 2% chance. Fifteen of the sixteen teams tasted victory in Australia, with winless Afghanistan not only inches from bringing down the hosts, but luckless, and rained twice.
Two teams watch the T20 World Cup trophy on October 14, and even after breaking down every ball and every game, the dominant team often goes by intuition among other intangibles. Who can hold their temper at the moment of pressure? Who can find the extra split second to rate? Kohli’s shot epitomized focus and composure, although others showed they were just as collected.
We’ve seen multiple final chases, nearly ten chances of teams winning by ten points or less, and games to the last ball. Add the shocks and surprises, and you have almost every match delivering drama in high doses.
When skipper Gerhard Erasmus took the hold to complete Sri Lanka’s rout of Namibia, the celebration mutedn implied that victory was just the next step in their ascent. “Act like you’ve been here before” is often the mantra, the same mentality as others who aren’t intimidated by bigger teams on paper.
Cricket motivates us. After a euphoric high, one is often treated with a low. The players talk about keeping a balance so as not to be thrown off by the waves of emotion, although the level of competition throughout the event gives this regularity another dimension. Namibia’s failure to progress was a heartbreaking end, although it was not due to their failure per se, but rather a reflection of talent at all levels. After all, the Dutch delight in knocking South Africa out of the event and Sri Lanka’s moments in the Super 12 stage reinforce the high standards that must be upheld.
Our game can be finicky. Had Australia pared their losses in their failed 200m pursuit of New Zealand, a place in the semi-finals on net run rate might have been possible. As for Ireland and Afghanistan’s late partnerships, it shows just how much each race matters in the grand scheme of things.
For some, all the calm and calamity of cricket was felt in moments. Take Bas de Leede, which has seen all the ups and downs.
De Leede made just seven runs in two sets in last year’s forgettable campaign, failing to make any progress with the ball. Fast forward 12 months and the 22-year-old looks like a generational talent.
Two player of the match awards, 13 wickets, runs with the bat. Endorsed by Ricky Ponting, rattled by a short ball from Haris Rauf and forced to eat cereal for breakfast, although the man closed out the Dutch win over South Africa. Belying his age, but not his talent, we may not have seen his best yet.
And Leede is no aberrant. From Sikandar Raza reflecting on Ponting’s applause, Roelof van der Merwe’s grab, Muhammad Waseem defending the UAE, Mark Watt’s running sheet, or even Mohammed Haris coming on as an injured Pakistan replacement to provide runs at the top of the Pakistan’s batting order, throwing a lot – needed impetus in Pakistan’s batting order. Shadab standing in three facets, with its captain Babar answering questions from critics. Arshdeep Singh stepping up when his team called, Suryakumar Yadav reaching kind of dizzying levels.
Testifying to the parity within the competition, it took until match 30 to eliminate the Netherlands, qualified in the first round, from the semi-finals. Afghanistan were alive until game 32 on November 1, when they fell to Sri Lanka in Brisbane.
With all of this and two solid semi-finals behind us, who writes the final chapter? How the hell can we predict what’s next? History is written by the winners, although the fairy tales of Pakistan and England have parallels.
For Pakistan, the complications of history were felt just days ago. A dime for Babar’s thoughts when Regis Chakabva canceled bail to chase Shaheen Shah Afridi, only for the likes of Shaheen, coming back from adversity in his own right, to play a part in the comeback. The Mohammad Rizwan/Babar opener partnership had often misfired, but now looks dialed in for Melbourne.
For England, it was a throwback to 2021, in a bid to justify a heavy concentration of the clean ball that saw them lift the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Their campaign in the United Arab Emirates was so promising, only for dreams of holding both limited trophies simultaneously undone by a Daryl Mitchell maelstrom.
The game to watch in Melbourne? No doubt England’s Powerplay batter.
The English are the most devastating side to bat in the first six overs, scoring an average of 52/1 to set up their charge. Pakistan on the other side is the most ruthless in the same period with the ball, taking 2/37.
Something has to give in the final, but who will move first? Can Jos Buttler and Alex Hales emulate their success at the Adelaide Ring, battling India’s fire with fluidity and flamboyance? Or can Shaheen Afridi spearhead a blitz in Pakistan?
The world turns its attention to the MCG and 22 men wanting to engrave their name in the record books.
Although to do so, it is time for the big players to rise up at the business end of Big Time.