All the things that went wrong this morning – and a couple of reasons to look on the bright side.
This story first appeared on The Bounce, a Substack newsletter by Dylan Cleaver.
I’ll never know what it feels like to spend a couple of days inflating a bouncy castle with a foot-pump only for some thugs to take a blade to it on the morning of the party – but I imagine it feels really empty. A bit like this.
Monday morning, it turns out, was just as bad as Sunday morning. Maybe a bit worse because, you know, who happened to be holding the Stanley knife this time.
Australia did to the Black Caps what Ireland did to the All Blacks and what France did to the Black Ferns – and of course it hurts more because it means more.
That’s four ICC finals in the last five tournaments for this extraordinary New Zealand side. And that’s one win, one tie that was a loss and two thumpings at the hands of our neighbours.
There’s no point sugarcoating it: this morning’s ICC World T20 final was a thumping, a brutal eight-wicket demolition of what should have been a tricky chase of 173.
There’s a temptation with T20 cricket to shrug your shoulders and say “that can happen”, and while it most certainly can (and did), it undersells the game. Cricket teams are becoming more and more resourceful when it comes to the T20 format and approach it far more analytically than many of us who view it from the couch realise.
So in the interests of science, let’s drill down what went right and what went badly wrong.
What went right
Kane Williamson, in a nutshell.
In all the scenarios I had in my head that would lead to New Zealand posting 172-4 or something in that range, none included the skipper swatting one-handed sixes into the stands of the Dubai Sports City Stadium.
Williamson has struggled with a niggling elbow injury and it put a squeeze on his ability to practice during the tournament. As a result, he has looked less fluent than usual and it culminated in such a painstaking performance in the semifinal against England that it felt like a merciful release when he was dismissed for 5 off 11 balls.
He didn’t look a whole lot better here intially. After the early loss of Daryl Mitchell, he and Martin Guptill cribbed their way to a subpar 32-1 at the end of the powerplay. After 10 overs, New Zealand was a paltry 57-1 and midway through the following over Williamson, on 21 from as many deliveries, was dropped at long leg.
His next 27 balls saw him score 64 and he played some ridiculous shots, turning Mitchell Starc, New Zealand’s tormentor in the 2015 CWC final, into his personal plaything. Williamson and the usually hard-hitting Glenn Phillips put on 68 for the third wicket – Phillips scored 18.
As a final illustration of how good Williamson was he scored more and at a higher strike rate than man of the match Mitchell Marsh, who will be rightly lauded for his brutal knock.
“He’s a superb player and he has been for a long time now,” said Josh Hazlewood, Australia’s best bowler on the night, to the host broadcaster. “Another classical Kane innings really, scored all around the ground and hurts you when you bowl poorly.”
Trent Boult deserves kudos, too, for a standout performance in a sketchy bowling unit.
He knocked over Aaron Finch early and gave New Zealand a glimmer of hope when he bowled David Warner for 53.
If he’d held on to a tough caught and bowled chance late off Marsh, his 2-18 from his allotment of overs would have read 3-17 and his team would have likely pushed the match into the final over, if that really matters.
What went wrong
Quite a bit, including the toss.
Both teams were desperate to chase and it was easy to see why as the ball stuck in the pitch a bit under daylight, then quickened up and came on better when coated with sheen of dew.
It’s not the reason New Zealand lost – 172 was still defendable – but is a reason, one happily acknowledged by Australian captain Finch.
“It did play a big factor, to be honest,” he said. “I tried to play it down as much as I could… but it did play a big part. You saw at the end there the dew factor: the slower balls weren’t holding in the wicket as much.”
Although these things are stupidly easy to say after the fact, that total should have been even higher. The powerplay performance (first six overs) was poor, despite a promising start. How 23-0 halfway through the powerplay became 32-1 is inexplicable.
Martin Guptill finished with 28 from 35 balls and scored 13 runs from the final 21 deliveries he faced, right about the time he should have been accelerating (in fairness he was eventually caught on the boundary trying to hit a six).
He is such a clean striker but there are times when it is hard to tell whether Guptill is out of form, playing to instructions or going off script. All three of those options seemed plausible across the space of any three deliveries this morning. He was a dot-ball generating machine, accruing 16 of them.
Again, this is an easy argument to retrofit, but when you watched how Warner and Marsh attacked from both ends, it felt like New Zealand’s approach was too conservative, though they might argue the only reason they posted such a competitive score was because the wickets in hand allowed them an extended “death overs” period.
To defend the total, the spinners had to be effective through the middle overs and there was every reason to believe they would be given Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner’s records and the fact Australia don’t traditionally play spin well in Asian conditions.
Santner (0-23 off 3) was okay, Sodhi wasn’t.
Sometimes you just have to say what is in front of you: Sodhi (0-40 off 3) was dreadful. He lost his action and his confidence, though it might have been the other way around. His last over was the worst, coming straight after Boult had bowled Warner.
It included three rank wides, a six and a four. Any semblance of pressure was instantly released.
If Williamson could take a mulligan, it would have been bringing Sodhi back in that situation.
When you combine Sodhi’s three with Neesham’s single over that cost 15, that in essence is your fifth bowler going for 55.
You could get away with that if the other four are at the top of their game but it was an off day for Tim Southee, too, whose 3.5 overs cost 43. Warner, Marsh and then Glenn Maxwell just sat on his slower one, which is really slow and because of the dew not grippy enough, and punished it.
“Their bowling attack was the thing that had got them this far, they had so many strengths and options and varieties, so that’ll be disappointing to them,” said Daniel Vettori to Cricinfo of New Zealand’s second innings display.
The silver lining
This was an excellent campaign for the Black Caps who cemented their reputation as one of the modern powerhouses of tournament cricket. Having lived through the ’90s and noughties, it still feels weird to write that.
This is the format they’re least accomplished at being played in conditions they’re not accustomed to, and they had to come out of a group that included Pakistan and India before beating world No 1 side England in the semifinal.
Yes, it has to be acknowledged that Australia occupy a space in their collective heads, and there are still to be battles won there, India and South Africa, but this is a side that remains on an upward trajectory led by a captain who I believe will end his career as the greatest New Zealand cricketer of them all (sorry, Sir Richard).
Yeah, the air leaked out of the bouncy castle this morning but there’s no reason to lose that spring in your step this summer.