It was less of a procession than a runaway train, but no matter what, there were no stops for Australia as they raced towards their first T20 World Cup title. They had promised to attack this game with bravery and aggression, and their attack on a goal of 173 certainly made New Zealand intoxicated, Mitch Marsh leading what was equivalent to a merry pile-on on a previously excellent group of bowlers when his team drove towards the finish line with seven balls left.
It took a brilliant turn from their captain, Kane Williamson, to lift New Zealand to something approaching a par-score, but Australia made it look trivial through a flurry of brutal and often ingenious batsmanship.
After scoring 172, the Kiwis needed quick wickets to stay in the fight, but when they got one, Trent Boult dismissed Aaron Finch in the third over, Marsh simply went in and over the course of three deliveries – six, four, four – took a hammer to their fragile self-confidence.
New Zealand seemed to be beaten long before the end. Ish Sodhi has had an excellent tournament, but it ended with an over containing three widths, two limits and 16 runs, and at the end of it he looked ruined. The Kiwis’ second spinner, Mitch Santner, struck three overs of rising nonsense. It was not like anyone had wanted this to end.
Barely two hours before the start, a minor earthquake had hit Dubai as the aftershocks after a major earthquake in Iran spread across the Middle East. But even if it was more one-sided than anyone had expected, there would be no shock waves in Sports City as the final type of tournament followed a lot. The team that won the roll chose to beat number two and duly chased down their goal, just the plot that many had anticipated.
But if the ground did not move when Australia won their first T20 World Cup, the ball certainly did. Trent Boult delivered an excellent opening over that brought only a single run, but from then on it was pedal to metal cricket. Warner was always the man New Zealand feared most, not only for his strength and aggression, but because he is particularly strong against spin, and the Black Caps would need Santner and Sodhi to get through some overs at some point.
But when Warner survived into the midfield, New Zealand had no choice but to throw them away anyway, and it was at that point that things fell apart. Boult returned in the 13th over with his side in dire need of any encouragement, one blasted through the arc of Warner’s swing to rule out the middle stump – if there was any doubt as to whether he was actually out when he left the field in the semifinals. the final there was absolutely no one this time – and roared at his teammates, insisting that the game was still alive. Sodhi bowled the next and we know what happened then.
After being put in the bat – Finch had won his sixth throw in seven World Cup matches, and an odds-igniting 14th in 17 this year – New Zealand started their innings well, with Martin Guptill making a statement of intent by beating the other ball overnight points for four and looks in good shape. After three overs, they had scored 23 runs and seemed on track. But after Guptill hit the first ball in the fourth over, things took a turn for the inexplicable pedestrian. The final 17 balls in the powerplay went to just five runs and brought the wicket of Daryl Mitchell, the hero from the semifinals, who edged Josh Hazlewood on to Matthew Wade.
By the end of the sixth over New Zealand was 32 for one and in trouble. The only thing Guptill scored 15 of his first 14 balls before failing his timing and intent were problems. He reached 13 of his next 21 before finally lifting Adam Zampa to deep midfield, and through their disappointment, the Kiwis might have been a little relieved to see him leave.
If Guptill lost his accelerator pedal, it might have been because Williamson had two of them blossoming after a slow start. He scored a run of his first seven, 21 of his first 21, and then lifted his 22nd highlight against Hazlewood on fine legs, who had time to sit down, lift his hands and let the ball straight through them. He turned just in time to see it roll into the rope, and thus the New Zealand captain was gone.
It was the only thing Hazlewood did all evening that was less than impeccable. His four overs cost only 16 runs – Starcs averaged 15 each – and brought three wickets, eventually including Williamsons, but by then a lot of damage had been done.
Starc had thrown the delivery from which the Kiwi captain was dropped, and from the time the Australian was close to taking over, just that head-to-head swung brutally in the other direction. While scoring conservatively by the other specialized bowlers, Williamson relentlessly targeted the sailor with 12 balls and scored 39. To put it in some kind of context, Starc had not submitted 39 runs in any of his previous 10 games. In total, he hit 64 of his last 27 balls and had particularly fun under 16. over, inevitably bowling by Starc, edging a pair of balls for four, lifting the next over square legs for six, and adding another pair of fours for good order guilt.
Williamson eventually fell midway through the 18th over, trying to lift the ball over the long-off and failing, but even though Jimmy Neesham could not quite find the instant perfection he managed in the semi-final – there was only a six this time – New Zealand had recovered themselves in the second half of their innings from the mess they made of the first, scoring 115 from the last 10 overs, but Australia wasted some time making it clear that it would not be enough.