Australia completed an emphatic victory over Pakistan in the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup.
It was one of the best T20 wins in the nation's history and will be remembered for Matthew Wade's brilliant knock of 41* (17 balls). But all eyes are now on the final against New Zealand this Sunday.
Australia reset the record
Rightly or wrongly, most of the discourse heading into - and even during - the tournament did not favor the Australians. The quality of players in the side has never been questioned, but the team malfunctioned as a collective pre-tournament.
Australia lost three away series this year against the West Indies (4-1), Bangladesh (4-1) and New Zealand (3-2). Their form clearly didn't stack up in 2021 as they sunk to No.7 in the world
That recent form, coupled with Australia's historic struggle at the T20 World Cup, saw many write them off. Other nations were also thought to be more suited to both T20 cricket and the unique conditions on offer in the UAE.
News was also circling over Australia's need to fend off strong performances from the West Indies and Bangladesh - two sides in their pool. This was in order to finish in the top eight and automatically qualify for next year's T20 World Cup.
Post the group stage loss to England, former Australian batter Steve Waugh told The Sydney Morning Herald that a reform of the coaching structure should be considered if the side was unsuccessful in this tournament. The proposed reform would include a specialist T20 coach.
The semifinals were seemingly a passmark for the Australians, let alone the final. With Pakistan undefeated heading into the semi-finals, Australia even adopted the unusual tag of underdogs.
But internally, Australia always believed they were destined for great things, led by captain Aaron Finch.
"I don't think we've exceeded our expectations whatsoever – we came here with a really clear plan to win this tournament and we're still alive to do that. It would mean a lot to win it. It will be a great challenge to test us and see where we are in the world," he said.
How did Australia find success in this tournament?
Australia won the moments that mattered most, which has propelled them into the final. The overanalysis of T20 cricket only goes so far in winning pivotal moments in the contest. An even contribution from the squad enabled Australia to seize every important moment, proving that's what matters in the T20 format.
In the semi-final, the state of play was looking ominous for Australia before Adam Zampa removed Babar Azam for 39 in the 10th over. Zampa turned the tide in the middle of the first innings, finishing with 1/22 off four overs. He added to his tally of 12 wickets for the tournament (second highest wicket-taker).
Mohammed Rizwan was looking to launch and set Pakistan into an unbackable position, sitting on 67 off 52 balls. But that was before Mitchell Starc removed him, making his strike rate of 128.85 somewhat regrettable - in comparison to what could have been. Starc is fifth for the most wickets taken in the tournament (9).
Shaheen Afridi's opening spell in the second innings left Australia battling at just 1/13 after three overs. Marsh and Warner struggled to lay bat on ball. Nonetheless, they held their nerve and steadied before launching in the second half of the powerplay. Marsh finished with 28 runs (22 balls) and Warner with 49 runs (30 balls.
Shadab Khan's spectacular mid-innings spell of 4/26 caused havoc for Australia and again the state of play looked ominous. In the 13th over, Australia slumped to 5/102, with 75 difficult runs still to get. Again, staying calm in the moment was the order of the day for Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade.
Afridi returned to bowl the second last over, but Wade again seized the moment at 18 runs to get from 9 balls. Three sixes from consecutive deliveries later, Australia were into the final.
Rewind to the first night of the main stage of the tournament where Australia narrowly defeated South Africa. Critically, that win was powered by Stoinis capitalizing on his moment as he stormed home to victory. With the equation at 36 runs to win from the last four overs, Stoinis charged home by scoring 24* off 16 balls to win it with two balls to spare.
The second match of the tournament was headlined by Warner's knock of 65, which sealed a comfortable seven-wicket win over Sri Lanka. Warner sits fourth for the most runs in the tournament with 236 runs.
Australia's only, yet major, hiccup of the campaign was a crushing eight-wicket defeat (50 balls to spare) to England. However, it called forth a very important selection change, which saw Ashton Agar replaced by Mitchell Marsh - another pivotal moment.
The unfortunate reality in tournament play is the reliance on net run-rate. But Mitchell Marsh's 16 runs off 5 balls and 53 runs off 32 balls in crushing victories over Bangladesh and the West Indies were just as important as any other moment.
Quite simply, those flattening victories are what allowed Australia to progress to the semi-finals.
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