After notable missteps, marked by eye-rolling jargon, stubbornness and an inability to read the room which threatened to pull the rug out of his coaching tenure, the Justin Langer era finally appears to have arrived.
Played in Dubai on Sunday night, beamed back home in the early hours of Monday, an unwavering Australia produced a tour de force eight-wicket victory over New Zealand to win the T20 World Cup for the first time in their storied cricket history.
It was an emphatic victory for Australia, who withstood an onslaught from Kane Williamson in a New Zealand recovery with the bat to conjure a performance filled with swagger and self-belief reminiscent of their long-held dominance in ODI World Cups.
Few could have seen this masterclass coming after Australia were hammered by England early in the tournament. They had been unfancied coming into this year’s showpiece ICC event after an off-season of tumult marked by head coach Langer facing intense scrutiny and being seemingly on the cusp of a mutiny from disenchanted players.
Knowing his job was probably on the line, Langer has been able to soften his hard-edge and galvanize Australia who hadn’t played much across the formats since the pandemic. Most importantly, Australia played like a team very much united in a far cry from the animosity bubbling away in the backdrop just a few months ago.
Backs to the wall, the way the dogged Langer likes it, Australia defied the doubters to peak perfectly culminating in a breath-taking triumph over New Zealand, who had stunned favorite England in the semi-finals.
Australia’s hero was Mitchell Marsh, the man-of-the match with a brilliant 77 not out from just 50 balls. The muscular Marsh has long been deemed an unfulfilled talent and, thus, maligned by even his own supporters. But much like newly-revered broadcaster Shane Watson – Marsh has long been one one of cricket’s nice guys who had been unfairly a punching bag.
This was his moment with the No.3 taking the game away from New Zealand after the early loss of skipper Aaron Finch. It was surely even sweeter for Marsh knowing he had spearheaded a triumph for his besieged coach who has long been a mentor. When Langer was appointed coach of spiraling Western Australia in late 2012, he helped turn around the fortunes of the then 21-year-old Marsh who had been embroiled in off-field trouble.
While Marsh and even the renowned grumpy Langer were beaming after taking the spoils, New Zealand were once again left with a bitter feeling having fallen agonizingly short of victory at the 2019 ODI World Cup final against England.
In a sport so dominated by the ‘big three’ countries of India, Australia and England, New Zealand, a nation of just five million people, have been a breath of fresh air – often outwitting more resource-heavy teams through planning and cohesion.
But they just couldn’t stop Australia’s out-of-control momentum, which history suggests can’t be halted on the big stage.
After being sent in on a flat deck, albeit one that played a little two-paced, New Zealand hoped for a total beyond 180 but fell a little short at 172 for 4 despite a brilliant recovery led by heroic captain Williamson.
Veteran opener Martin Guptill, part of the Black Caps’ ill-fated debacle against their rival six years ago in the 2015 ODI World Cup decider, came out swinging in an assured start for New Zealand.
But Josh Hazlewood helped Australia claw back the run rate with brilliant accurate bowling marked by a superb slower delivery to deceive opener Daryl Mitchell for the first wicket of the final.
The tall quick once struggled to establish himself in limited-overs cricket due to a perception that he doesn’t possess the trickery needed in the shorter formats. He made a mockery of that with a canny early spell against a suddenly tentative New Zealand mired in quicksand as their run rate spiraled.
They appeared far too cautious, a dangerous approach against an increasingly confident Australian side who had seemingly peaked to perfection in a tournmanent they were originally meant to host 12 months ago.
New Zealand, though, had a plan. Guptill and Williamson wanted to ensure a platform was laid before putting the foot down late – a meticulous strategy which worked perfectly in their upset over favorite England in the semi-final.
Mid-innings, the ice cool Williamson had enough of the dawdling. After New Zealand went 32 deliveries without a boundary – an eternity in the crash and brash of T20 – the diminutive skipper, who is a stylish, classical batter, played a blinder.
He had an ounce of luck – essential in this cavalier format – on 17 when Hazlewood blighted his gem of a performance by dropping a chance on the boundary. It would prove costly with Williamson smashing 85 from just 48 balls to confirm that he might have overtaken India talisman Virat Kohli as cricket’s best all-format batter.
Williamson proved he can match muscular batting with the best of them, highlighted by outrageous consecutive sixes off spinner Glenn Maxwell – the first an astounding one-handed slog over deep mid-wicket that somewhere had India dynamo Rishabh Pant nodding in approval.
Feeling it, the 31-year-old conjured a blistering 22-run assault in the 16th over against a ragged Mitchell Starc, who at the end of the humiliation could only retort with a sheepish laugh. It was a far cry from the left-armer’s man-of-the-match winning exploits in the 2015 World Cup decider with Starc finishing with the eyesore figures on this night of 0 for 60 from 4 overs.
Still, you had the feeling it wasn’t just quite enough against Australia’s power-laden batting order. And that proved the case with Marsh and David Warner’s fireworks rendering the chase to an inevitability much like those romps during Australia’s heyday.
In front of a sparse crowd in Dubai – the lacklustre atmosphere exacerbated by a pair of particularly obnoxious ground announcers woefully failing as hype people – Australia deserved better surrounds to celebrate such a momentous victory.
But they won’t care because Australia are back as world champions.
An exciting period now beckons for Justin Langer and his men who have rallied together to produce one of Australia’s sweetest victories.