23/04/2024

Netherlands recorded a colossal win over South Africa at Adelaide Oval. (Photo: @KNCBcricket Twitter)

Whilst either England or Pakistan will ultimately be crowned winners of the 2022 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, the success achieved by some of the “smaller” nations on Australian soil should not be undervalued.

For many sporting fans, the ‘underdog’ story is one that is looked upon with great admiration. Winning against the odds is viewed as a badge of honour, a sign of immense spirit, grit, and determination.

The last month of T20 World Cup action has been filled with remarkable upsets, with the so-called “minnows” upstaging the household nations in international cricket. Yet despite surprising many onlookers, the momentous performances of the lower-ranked countries indicate a gradual narrowing of the gap between the perennial powerhouses and their “lesser” counterparts.

From the very first ball of the tournament, it quickly became apparent that winning was not a given for the more fancied cricketing nations. 

The opening match of the Group Stages saw Namibia defeat Sri Lanka by 55 runs, a result which sent shockwaves throughout the cricketing world. To put the victory into context, Sri Lanka was the reigning Asia Cup winner just weeks before arriving in Australia, previous T20 World Cup champions in 2014, as well as runners-up in 2009 and 2012. 

This was merely a sign of things to come as Scotland inflicted the first of multiple blows on a West Indies outfit largely bookmarked to progress to the Super 12s. Led by George Munsey (66* off 53 balls) and Mark Watt (3-12), the ‘Saltires’ outclassed the two-time champions, winning comfortably by 42 runs. 

Days later and Ireland would put the final nail in the West Indies’ coffin, all the while securing themselves a spot in the Super 12s for the first time since 2009. It was far removed from a bit of mere Irish luck at Hobart, but rather a comprehensive nine-wicket victory.

Ireland, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, and the Netherlands would be the ones to advance past the group stages. All would play a defining role in the evolution of the tournament. 

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Ireland

A day beset with rain saw Ireland pull off a famous win over old foes England at the MCG, simultaneously blowing Group A wide open. 

Ireland’s top order set the tone with the bat, headlined by fearless knocks from captain Andrew Balbirnie (62 off 47 balls) and Lorcan Tucker (34 off 27 balls). Not even a late collapse would spoil the historic occasion.

Left-arm seamer Josh Little swung the game into Ireland’s favour, removing prolific short-form batters Jos Buttler and Alex Hales early in England’s run chase. This was one of many strong performances from Little that will surely capture the attention of T20 franchises worldwide. 

A steady flow of wickets from that point onwards ensured that Ireland would be ahead of the game upon the intervention of rain during the 15th over. As the rain continued to fall, Ireland was declared deserving five-run victors under the DLS method.

The inclement weather certainly didn’t dampen the spirits of a vocal contingent of Irish supporters, who had witnessed their country’s maiden win at the MCG.

George Dockrell and Lorcan Tucker celebrate with fans after Ireland’s victory over England at the MCG. (Photo: @cricketireland Twitter)

Meanwhile, despite tasting defeat against Australia, a late fightback from Ireland’s lower order had major implications on the semi-final qualification hopes of the host nation. Spearheaded once again by Tucker (71* off 48 balls), the Irish recovered from a precarious position of 5-25 to post a total of 137, 42 runs short of the Australians. 

With the Aussies ultimately bowing out of the tournament due to an inferior net run rate, the fighting spirit of Tucker and co proved to be a defining narrative during the World Cup. 

Zimbabwe

Fresh off a heartbreaking loss to rivals India, Pakistan was all but pencilled in to return to winning ways when they faced Zimbabwe in Perth. Having restricted the Zimbabweans to a total of 8-130, the Pakistanis appeared destined to kickstart their T20 World Cup campaign.

Yet what followed was a quite remarkable chain of events, culminating in a pulsating finish that saw Zimbabwe record a thrilling one-run win.

All-rounder Sikandar Raza produced a match-defining performance. Raza single-handedly shifted the course of the contest in the 14th over, picking up wickets in consecutive balls to leave Pakistan vulnerable at 5-88. He then proceeded to dismiss the set batter in Shan Masood with the very first delivery of his next over.

Raza’s influence would also extend to the field as he affected the all-important run out of Shaheen Shah Afridi off the final ball of the match. 

The immediate aftermath generated heart-warming scenes amongst a loyal faithful of Zimbabwe fans in Perth, who likely danced long into the night. Closer to home and ecstatic viewers at the Harare Sports Club celebrated the joyous occasion in style. 

On the flip side, Pakistan now found themselves in desperate need of a miracle to keep their slim T20 World Cup dreams alive. 

Netherlands

As the only associate member of the ICC to have qualified for the Super 12s, the Netherlands waited until the final day to cause a major boilover and clinch arguably the biggest win in their cricket history.

A South African outfit simply needing a win to book their spot in the semi-finals was left red-faced by a Dutch eleven determined to leave an indelible mark on the tournament.

Defending 158 for victory, Ryan Campbell’s side clamped South Africa’s batting department, denying them any momentum in the run-chase. With wickets falling at regular intervals, the Netherlands slowly closed in on a momentous 13-run win.

For South Africa, it was another heartbreaking chapter of World Cup exits and chokes, drawing the curtain on another campaign gone wrong, with Pakistan overcoming Bangladesh hours later to secure an unlikely semi-final spot.

However, the main headlines belonged to the Dutch, who had defied the odds to forever etch themselves in the T20 World Cup history books. It truly was a magical afternoon for those wearing orange.

What does it all mean?

Given the quality of cricket executed by the likes of Ireland, Zimbabwe, and other associate members of the ICC during this year’s T20 World Cup, there are promising signs regarding the future of the game moving forward. 

These performances may also pave the way for more international fixtures to be scheduled between the lower-ranked countries and those in the higher echelon.

From Australia’s perspective, a home ODI series against Zimbabwe in late August was the first time that the ‘Chevrons’ had toured the country in over 18 years. It resulted in Zimbabwe claiming a stunning victory in the 3rd ODI, their first-ever win on Australian soil. 

Zimbabwe veteran Sean Williams lauded the high standard of cricket played during the Group Stages, highlighting its importance for the sport as a whole. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Daryl Mitchell acknowledged the evenness of the competition over the last month of T20 World Cup action, indicating the ability for anyone to beat anyone on any given day. 

The next ICC Men’s T20 World Cup will see the USA participate in a major cricket tournament for the first time as joint hosts, whilst the Netherlands, having beaten South Africa and finishing in the top eight teams on the combined points table, already automatically qualified for the 2024 edition.  

With another two years under their belt, there’s every reason to suggest that the lower-ranked countries will make even more significant gains in their development and continue to contribute to the magic of the cup. 

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