If there was ever a statement of intent in the T20 World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand than it was made during the first three balls that Mitchell Marsh faced. The Aussies had just lost the wicket of skipper Aaron Finch and NZ skipper Kane Williamson turned to the pace of Adam Milne to provide another breakthrough.
But perhaps the move played into Marsh’s hands. The allrounder is a far better player of pace than he is of spin having played in Perth all his life and he dispatched the first ball for a six. It wasn’t an edge or a lucky shot. Rather it came off the middle of the bat as if he had already spent a lot of time in the middle. The next two balls were fours and even before New Zealand had time to catch their breath, they were pushed onto the back foot.
Perhaps the pitch eased out a bit by the time Australia came out of bat but the aggression shown by the batters was key to their first men’s T20 World Cup triumph. Contrast that to how NZ batted. The Kiwis started brightly enough but just when they lost Daryl Mitchell in the fourth over, the plan seemed to go to pieces for a bit.
After hitting a four off the first ball of the fourth over (3.1), New Zealand’s next boundary came in the ninth over (8.4). Skipper Kane Williamson later spoke about how they were trying to build a base but perhaps it took a bit too long to do it.
After 10 overs, NZ had just 57 runs on the board and even though they finished well, the blip meant they could have done better. Martin Guptill struggled to get the ball away and Williamson chose to play himself in but, in hindsight, that is when the game got away from them.
The risky approach is the only one in T20s. There is no space for what-ifs or could’ve, would’ve, should’ve. You have to go for it because perhaps if it isn’t your day, it might be someone else’s. It only takes one great innings to change the course of the match.
In the press conference after the game, Finch was asked about how they approached the middle overs when the Kiwi spinners were in effect. His answer revealed a mindset that perhaps every team needs to foster for T20 cricket.
“We were comfortable to be able to fail being aggressive because we know that that’s when we play our best,” said Finch. “I think if you go home and you don’t make the semis or you don’t make the final, you’re kicking yourself if you’re an Australian team and you play in your shell.”
Finch added: “T20 cricket, you need a bit of luck. Don’t get me wrong; of course, you need a bit of luck, and like you said, we won six out of seven tosses, which goes a long way. But we played some really good cricket. We played cricket where we put teams on the back foot because we are aggressive.”
The acceptance of failure was important. When you go for it, you are going to mess up from time to time but that is where the value of a team makes its presence felt. Marsh could go for it because he knew there was enough backup. If he couldn’t maybe someone else would, but to just eat up balls would be a cardinal sin.
The aggressive approach saw them neutralise the threat posed by Mitch Santner and Ish Sodhi. Before the finals, the spin duo had been superb with an economy rate of just 7.46. But in the finals, they were hammered at 10.50.
NZ’s T20 approach came to the fore only after the 10th over. Australia, on the other hand, just kept going at it.
“At the halfway stage we’d made every effort to make a competitive total,” said Williamson in the post-match presser. “The guys came out, committed to their plans and we weren’t far away. But credit to the way the Australians chased that total. They didn’t give us an inch.”
In the semi-final against Pakistan, Matthew Wade had spoken about how Marcus Stoinis had relieved pressure by going on the attack just after a wicket had fallen. During the tournament, the Aussies kept counter-attacking and it worked for them because David Warner also found his stride after a long period during which his form seemed to have deserted him completely.
Australia were ranked seventh in T20Is before the T20 World Cup began. A reflection of how they have never quite got it together in the format but they came into the World Cup having played the least amount of matches over the last year. Bubble fatigue was less of an issue for them and they were mentally fresher than many of the other teams.
“To be mentally fresh towards the back end of the tournament, physically fresh as well, I think was a really important part,” said Finch.
In the end, it all came together to create a perfect storm for Australia. Finch won six out of seven tosses in this World Cup, Warner roared back into form, Marsh came to the party when needed most, Hazlewood was at his best throughout, Stoinis and Wade played important roles and Adam Zampa (13 wickets at an economy rate of 5.81 in 7 matches) was simply brilliant.
T20 as a format relies on individual brilliance but the fact that everyone in the team seemed to have fired at some point emboldened the individuals to keep going for broke and in the end, that is what broke New Zealand.
After a low period for Australian cricket, there will now be the hope that victory will perhaps inspire them to new heights in all formats once again. For now, they can sit back and soak in the triumph. They risked it all and they won it all. And there is no greater feeling than that.