Marcus Stoinis
Australia’s Marcus Stoinis reacts during the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2024 Super Eight cricket match against India at Daren Sammy National Cricket Stadium in Gros Islet, Saint Lucia, on June 24, 2024. Australia lost by 24 runs. Image Credit: AFP

Australia in cricket are like Germany in football. You can never write them off. Not even when they are on the brink of elimination. The fighting spirit and the never-say-die attitude are what mark them out. That’s the mark of champions.

Unfortunately, Australia won’t have any comebacks in the T20 men’s cricket World Cup 2024. Afghanistan ensured that. First, they dealt a wincing blow, beating Mitchell Marsh’s side in the Super Eight, and snuffed any glimmer of hope with a win over Bangladesh.

Australia, reigning ODI world champions and world Test champions, crashed out without making the semifinals. A mighty fall, indeed. In fact, the tournament hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Aussies, winning the cup only once in nine editions.

Why Australia are favourites

What makes Australia favourites every time a World Cup comes around? That’s because they are a cricketing behemoth. The most successful Test team in history with a win rate of nearly 47%, Australia’s white-ball record is imposing, especially in One-Day Internationals.

Winners of six ODI World Cups, Australia are the only team to win three consecutive tournaments: 1999, 2003 and 2007. They were undefeated for a record 34 consecutive World Cup matches. None of that dominance spilt over to the T20 World Cup, so their exit wasn’t a surprise.

Before the tournament began, I had tipped them as winners. That was born out of the upswing in their cricketing fortunes. The 2023 World Test Championship win was followed by the ODI World Cup triumph the same year. The two victories were fashioned by almost the same set of players. Many of them, including Marsh, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, David Warner, Adam Zampa, and Josh Hazlewood, turned up for the T20 event in the US and the West Indies.

The riddle of West Indian pitches

They started brightly, too. Even on the slow pitches of the West Indies, Australia acquitted themselves quite well — so well that they swept aside defending champions England in the first-round league match and quelled Scotland’s spirited challenge. But they ran into problems in the Super Eight.

The loss to Afghanistan was unexpected. It was an uncharacteristic loss. The Afghan victory in a low-scoring thriller was masterminded by their pacers, not their famed spinners. Even a rampage led by Travis Head could help them overhaul India’s mammoth total, and the die for their ouster was cast.

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The irony is inescapable. An Australian win over Scotland helped England stave off a first-round elimination, and after the loss to India, Marsh’s side were forced to pray for a Bangladesh win to harbour hopes of qualifying for the last four. And it never came.

Where did it go wrong for Australia? Was it the over-reliance on their pace pack? Were they thin on spin resources? Was it their misfiring batting?

The short answer is all of the above.

Why my prediction failed

True, they racked up the first 200-plus total of the tournament, but the Aussies struggled on slow wickets that offered turn. Head was inconsistent, and so was Marsh. Warner’s early form withered as the tournament progressed. While Marcus Stoinis rescued them in the early matches, Glenn Maxwell struck form in the Super Eight. There were not many concerted batting efforts, which is so unlike Australia. Yet, that’s okay in a tournament rife with low scores.

Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins form a formidable pace attack but lacked incisiveness on pitches that assisted spin. In many games, Australia relied on leggie Adam Zampa to strike lethal blows in the middle overs. Left-arm spinner Ashton Agar played only two matches as Marsh didn’t have enough faith in him, and Maxwell was used only sparingly.

Finally, it came down to one batting failure. In the Afghanistan game, Maxwell waged a lone battle as the Aussies unsuccessfully chased 148. That loss hurt them badly and ruined my prediction.