With the consistent New Zealand and never-say-die Australia to vie for the trophy on Sunday, former India batsman VVS Laxman believes “there’s little to choose” between the two teams.
“There is little to choose between the two finalists, with Australia having the slight edge following the freak injury to Devon Conway. But as history will testify, New Zealand is a side than can be taken lightly at one’s own peril,” Laxman wrote in his column for The Times of India on Saturday.
Two close semifinals was the best the tournament could have asked for after excitement dipped following India’s exit. The unpredictable nature of the T20 format came to the fore and “short, sharp passage of play” dictated the outcome in both the matches.
“There was a touch of similarity to the way the two last-four clashes played out. First Kane Williamson and then Aaron Finch hit it lucky with the coin. Those were significant off-field developments, for this tournament has favoured teams chasing,” said Laxman.
“The toss, however, is only one component; it doesn’t guarantee success. In T20 cricket, it’s not even the team that plays better on the day that comes up trumps. It often boils down to a short, sharp passage of play.”
The former Test specialist then went on to point out the crunch moments in the two semifinals that helped New Zealand and Australia to turn the game on its head.
“Against formidable England, the thrust was provided by Daryl Mitchell and James Neesham. England seemed to have things under control; all the potential thorns had been packed off and Eoin Morgan’s men were defending 60 off the last five overs.
“Nine times out of ten, they would have gone on to win, but on this occasion, they ran into tartar. The turning point came in the 17th over sent down by Chris Jordan, when Neesham flexed his muscles and smashed a couple of sixes. The momentum had swung the Kiwis’ way, and Mitchell stepped up to deliver the knockout blows,” Laxman wrote.
“Clearly, the English missed Jason Roy at the top of the order, but more influential was the absence of Tymal Mills, because it robbed them of crucial expertise in the death overs,” he analysed.
Pakistan looked all set to maintain their unbeaten status intact in their semifinal against Australia, until Matthew Wade and Marcus Stoinis unleashed themselves against arguably tournament’s best bowling attack.
“Pakistan were equally in command of their semifinal against Australia for nearly 90% of the way. They had batted with authority and flair to post 176, and in the absence of dew, should have made it six wins on the trot,” Laxman reckoned.
“Despite David Warner’s fluency, they (Pakistan) had moved into the ascendancy after Shadab Khan’s four-wicket haul, leaving Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade holding the baby.
“The two had joined hands to steer the Aussies to a nervy win over South Africa in the opener, but the stakes were higher this time and the task stiffer. Again, they were equal to the task. There is no gain saying what might have happened had Hasan Ali not dropped Wade with 20 needed off 10.
“That ‘life’ sparked something in the Aussie ‘keeper, who finished off the match with sixes off each of the next three deliveries. That they came against Shaheen Shah Afridi, easily the bowler of the tournament, merely reinforced the value of intent and belief in a game of extremely small margins,” he conluded.