If there were any surprises in the ICC T20 world cup this year, it was that England turned out to be the most in-form side and that Australia very nearly didn’t make the final. Beyond that, everything pretty much went by the script: India and South Africa were over rated; the minnows dropped out at the group stage; Sri Lankan bowlers scared us all half to death while their batting was ordinary; Pakistan was inconsistent yet lucky and Australia showed they have major flaws but also the ability to always fight back when it counts.
Well, almost always.
Australia failed miserably in their semi-final against Pakistan and were saved by the near miraculous batting of one man. They shouldn’t, by rights, have been in the final at all and they seemed to know it when they went up against England. Batting first, the Australian top order was shakier than ever. Clarke, at number three again, was clearly agitated and nervous. His frustration at his side’s lack of pace under English bowling caused him to make several mistakes, including one that cost Dave Warner his wicket.
And the wickets continued to tumble until Cameron White came to the crease. He wasted little time before smacking the ball about and his 30 off 21 balls started to give Aussie fans hope. When he fell, we were left with the Hussey brothers who saved their team mates yet again and took Australia most of the way to their total of 147.
If you looked at Australia in the dugout during their innings, you saw what I saw: Mitchell Johnson and Dirk Nannes, amongst others, biting their fingernails like terrified children. It didn’t bode well for arguably the best bowling attack in the competition. By the time they took to the field the pitch was dead flat and so was the bowlers’ confidence. Despite an early wicket, England were not giving this match away. Breaking into the partnership of Pietersen and Kieswetter proved virtually impossible. Their partnership of 111 runs was crucial and made England’s win look easy. England, inevitably, won by seven wickets and with 18 balls remaining.
The Aussie fielders’ body language spoke volumes – they had given up long before it was over.
This is not to take credit away from England. Watching them throughout the tournament, there was very little that was wrong with their game. They might’ve benefited from a quick in the bowling line up but otherwise every box was ticked – batting, fielding, spin, and captaincy.
Australia lacked in the top order batting and the spin was inexperienced and unpredictable; they had a new captain, in his first major tournament as captain, who was getting criticism from the Australian media and fans over his low strike rate before the world cup even began. Add to this the pressure of a final, your first final as captain and remember that the pressure to win is always at its highest when playing the old enemy. Australians don’t like losing at all, but losing to England is unacceptable.
As there are calls across the Southern continent for Clarke’s head, I urge fans to give him more time. On paper, his opening partnership looked amazing. He cannot be blamed for their short comings. He did make a few poor decisions with the bowling, such as bowling Watson instead of Dave Hussey in the final. When it came to field placings, however, there was little problem with Clarke’s ideas and he is known to be good at rallying the troops. His nerves got the better of him in the final and this may or may not have filtered down the ranks. It was a mistake, but one that occurred once in a competition that saw his side frequently dominant. Ponting’s 2009 world cup team didn’t get past the group stage. Clarke’s went all the way to the final. His captaincy should not be under scrutiny.
What Cricket Australia need to be concerned about with Clarke is his batting. Where do you put him? He is not explosive enough to be at number three but how can you justify making way for him at number five or six when those spots are more than adequately filled by Cameron White and Mike Hussey? I don’t think Clarke will lose his place just yet, he deserves more support than that from his governing body, but the pressure will be on him to improve his strike rate.
I, for one, hope he can do it.
In the meantime, congratulations England. It was a well deserved win.
(As the youngest of five children, and with three older brothers, Kirby grew up in a house full of people who love Australian cricket, Geelong football club and rich tea biscuits. She was doomed from birth to wear the green and gold. As an adult she moved to the UK in an attempt to save England cricket fans from themselves, but in return they stole the Ashes. Twice. She firmly believes that Steve Waugh should be knighted, Graeme Swann should be castrated and Nathan Hauritz should be her pet. She blogs over at thoughtsfromthedustbin.blogspot.com)