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T20 World Cup was flawed, fun and must be viewed through dewy highs | Simon Burnton

It was not the final we wanted, but it was the final we deserved. There was some drama, certainly some skill, and then the team that batted second won, all watched by a crowd that fell some way short of a full house. The T20 World Cup has been a deeply flawed tournament but it nevertheless proved one basic fact: Twenty20 cricket is enormous fun. It also showed that assembling the world’s best practitioners in a single place to play loads of games in a short space of time is a very good idea. Which is just as well, as it is happening again next year, and then every two years after that.

It will be remembered for the match-winning batting power of Matthew Wade, Jimmy Neesham, Asif Ali and David Miller, for David Warner showing his critics where they can stick their scepticism, for hard lengths, hard graft and the thrill of seeing the magnificent Shaheen Shah Afridi standing at the end of his run-up, new ball in hand. For England there was glorious failure, the awesome steamrollerings of West Indies and Australia and the combined excuses of injuries, a lost toss and a successful chase of 57 runs from 24 balls by Neesham and Daryl Mitchell to beat them.

It has been a tournament of match-ups and mess-ups, of inspiring catches and dispiriting drops, one that while not being won by one of the favourites also featured only one genuine, 21-carat shock – and that on its very first afternoon when Scotland beat Bangladesh, an upset that sagged in significance with the dawning realisation that Mohammad Mahmudullah’s side were actually completely rubbish.

The uneven bounce and unpredictable pace has made this a better tournament for bowlers than for batters, and despite the rising power, skill and aggression of short-form batting it has been the slowest-scoring T20 World Cup ever. However, given that there were less than 48 hours between the last game of the IPL and the start of the World Cup, and the same venues were used for both competitions, they held up admirably. Between them the three World Cup venues have hosted 70 competitive T20 matches in the last two months, an almost unbearable workload. On the subject of workloads, New Zealand played the final on Sunday night and start a T20 series against India on Wednesday, surely some mistake.

Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi was a thrilling sight with the new ball.
Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi was a thrilling sight with the new ball. Photograph: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

Thankfully it is not a competition that will be remembered for the impact of Covid-19, with not one case leaking into the players’ rigidly-enforced bio-bubbles – the only positive test among players, officials, staff and assorted match-going professionals involved an English journalist. The one significant impact of the pandemic was to force its relocation from India, at which point there were not many alternative hosts to the UAE, headquarters of the ICC and established now as cricket’s equivalent of the mate you used to call when you needed somewhere to crash for a few nights.

Unlike next year’s football World Cup in Qatar, little has been made of these hosts’ use of forced labour and history of human rights abuses – Dubai’s reputation having long since been painstakingly fivestarbeachholidaywashed – but moving the competition threw up practical as well as moral issues.

Daryl Mitchell and Jimmy Neesham bludgeoned New Zealand past England by chasing an improbable 57 runs from the last 24 balls in their semi-final.
Daryl Mitchell and Jimmy Neesham bludgeoned New Zealand past England by chasing an improbable 57 runs from the last 24 balls in their semi-final. Photograph: Aijaz Rahi/AP

The weather changed markedly during the tournament, from intense heat at the start to verging occasionally on the mild towards its conclusion. But to avoid the worst of the heat and to maximise viewing figures in key Asian markets as many matches as possible were pushed into the evening, at which point the dreaded dew descended. The advantages already built in to chasing really did not need to be further amplified, and the effect has been to massively disadvantage the team batting first, to the extent that it seriously detracted from the sport.

In effect, diverting as many have been, every evening match has seen 22 highly skilled sportspeople spend several hours straining to see if they can have a greater impact on the result than the momentary flight of a small metal disc before the action began, and in general they have failed. There are more reasons than just the toss that this became a chasers’ championship, but it is not a good look.

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For all that every one of the knockout matches followed this script, the two semi-finals were thrillingly tense. A similarly gripping final, ideally won by the side batting first, and the tournament would have been redefined as a sporting success. But Australia took a sledgehammer to that idea, and then used it to set about New Zealand’s bowlers. The result was a sense that this had generally been a tournament of high skill and low drama, and that the next will have much to live up to but a great deal to improve on. Same time next year?

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