Sri Lanka pulled off an overdue tournament win in the ICC World Twenty20 final on Sunday, defeating 2007 champions India by 6 wickets and with 13 balls to spare. Having finished runners up in 2012 and 2009, the Lankans certainly deserved it. While the life spans of Twenty20 careers are still to be fully determined, the victory may be the last appearance in the ICC World T20 for two big guns of the contemporary cricketing era: Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who are 36 and 37 respectively. Sangakkara, who had had an uninspiring tournament prior to the final, came true against the Indians, with an unbeaten 52 from just 35 balls, to grant the Lankans their first ICC tournament championship victory since the Champions Trophy in 2002. Aside from the South Asian smashes in the final, there were several other phenomena that, in hindsight, deserve attention.
The Association Nations
Widened access granted 6 ICC-associated nations – Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and UAE – places in the first stage of the tournament, and whilst the intensity of the competition did not pick up until the entry of the big guns in the ‘Super 10s’, the associated nations produced some exciting and top quality cricket. Hong Kong impressed with their deposition of the hosts Bangladesh, chasing down 108 with 2 wickets and 2 balls in hand. Kiwi-educated middle-order batsman Mark Chapman, just 19 years of age, caught the eye with some graceful left-handed cover drives – expect him to be snapped up into either English county or New Zealand state cricket sometime soon.
Elsewhere, the Netherlands impressed against Ireland, breaking world records to chase down 190 in just 13.4 overs; swift and hefty contributions from Borren, Myburgh, Barresi and Tom Cooper made a fantastic run chase. Qualifying for the Super 10s, and despite making a pitiful total against the eventual champions Sri Lanka, the Netherlands impressed again, this time against England, defending a total of 133 by bowling their under-par opponents out for just 88. It was a repeat of the opening match of the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 tournament at Lord’s in the UK, in which the Netherlands chased down England’s total with the last ball of their innings. All in all, the associated nations put on a good show, far better than previous instances of their involvement in ICC tournaments, where they have usually been placed in immediately difficult groups with no sense of progression or opportunity for cricketing development.
England’s Moment of Delirium
Nothing was expected of the English in Bangladesh. The squad had been chopped and changed due to injury and controversial selection policies more times than coach Ashley Giles would care to remember, and when they lost their first game to New Zealand on the Duckworth/Lewis Method just a few balls after the innings length requirements (with still a significant chance of defending their decent total), the English looked downtrodden and out of their depth. This continued during the first innings of their second match against Sri Lanka, in which Dilshan and Jayawardene both passed 50 to post a total of 189/4. 90 minutes of magic were to follow, however, from Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales who knocked 116 from just 64 balls – with help from a superb half century from Eoin Morgan – to bring England victory, their only one of the tournament. Hales’ innings began purposefully and fluently, getting steadily more aggressive, until he became the first English centurion in Twenty20 internationals – surpassing both Luke Wright’s and his own 99s – by which time he seemed to be able to launch leg-side sixes at will. England reached 190 with 4 balls to spare; the chase was their highest ever in Twenty20 internationals. For about 24 hours, England fans attributed their loss against New Zealand to hard luck, firmly believing that the team spirit generated by their win against Sri Lanka – who were firmly up their with the favourites at the time – woould pull them through in their subsequent matches.
Unfortunately, in true England fashion, this was not to be. The scorecard in their next match against South Africa, which England lost by 3 runs, is far more generous than it makes out. England were in fact far behind coming into the last couple of overs, and it was only Tim Bresnan’s 17 from 4 balls that made the result anywhere near respectable. There was no such veil to hind behind against the Netherlands however, which, as mentioned, England lost to by a huge margin, having been thoroughly outplayed. By the end of the tournament, Hales’ innings had been labelled as a bit of a flash in the English proverbial frying pan. The side goes back to the drawing board before the summer season as it attempts to work out what on earth its best team is, and how to develop players that can contribute to all formats at international level.
The Top Performers
Virat Kholi, who produced a chunk of India’s runs in their defeat in the final to Sri Lanka, was the tournament’s highest run scorer. He hit four half centuries in the tournament, two of them unbeaten, and never made less then 23 – including an unbeaten 36 in India’s defeat of Pakistan. His combined fluency and power prompted much discussion of Kholi as the complete Twenty20 batsman on the world scene at the present time. At the age of the just 25, and already with 24 tests, 134 ODIs and 27 T20is under his belt, a long and fruitful career lies ahead. He couldn’t, however, propel India to victory in this tournament, as his side were tied down by some impressively disciplined bowling from their South Asian rivals.
In the bowling department, the death paceman proved to be just as valuable as he was a few years ago. South Africa’s Dale Steyn, for a couple of years now the best fast bowler on the planet in tests, found a new role bowling at the end of the innings, highlighted by his 4/17 against New Zealand. Pakistan, for whom Umar Gul and his death bowling was instrumental in winning the 2009 tournament in the UK, also bought into the tactic, not least against Australia, when Gul and Bilawal Bhatti took several late wickets between them to push through a 16 run victory.
Cricinfo labelled the tournament ‘a two-tiered success’, and this could be considered a just testament. The Bangladeshis put on a great show, maintaining a constant excitement and enthusiasm that included supporting sides they were watching with vigour. Impressive performances from the associated nations and unexpected results in the super 10s added to the spectacle. This tournament showed that Twenty20 at an international level, and not just in the IPL or Aussie Big Bash, is important to the global game, and can draw in new markets for the sport, which is admittedly narrow in scope.