From left: Aaron Finch of Australia, David Miller of South Africa and Brandon King of the West Indies. These three cricket heavyweight teams are missing from the semifinals of the T20 World Cup 2022. Image Credit: AFP & AP

What a World Cup this has been? Full of twists and turns. Upsets and shock exits. This is T20 cricket, where unpredictable results and giant-killing acts are commonplace. Games where sixes come by the dozen and hat-tricks never a rarity.

A World Cup in Australia would be different. We knew it. And that held true. Longer boundaries resulted in fewer sixes and more dismissals. Bowlers loved the bounce and pace of pitches, which made the matches lively. The contests were more even, unlike the usual high-scoring encounters in white-ball cricket.

Unseasonal rains from the La Nina weather phenomenon added more uncertainty to a tournament full of surprises. Rain deprived full points to the heavyweights in the Super 12 and infused spice into the race for the semifinals.

Irish Eden Belleza/Gulf News

So, here we have the semifinals without Australia and South Africa, two of the pre-tournament favourites. Long before the semifinals, the West Indies had crashed out in Round One with uncharacteristic losses to Scotland and Ireland. But then, the two-time champions have always been an unpredictable side.

Australia’s stumble was perplexing. A ruthlessness so characteristic of the Baggy Greens was sorely missing. Thoroughly outplayed in the Super 12 opener by New Zealand, Aaron Finch’s team was so unconvincing in the rest of the matches that their ouster wasn’t unexpected. It looks as if they never recovered from that body blow. Their batting and bowling were never incisive enough to lift their net run rate.

Former captain Michael Clarke described the Australian performance the best. “We picked an aggressive 11 in this World Cup squad yet played so defensively. Very un-Australian,” he said during the Australian radio show Big Sports Breakfast. Un-Australian, it was. There was no fight in them.

How the Proteas wilted

The bigger surprise was South Africa’s elimination. They have choked so often in World Cups that the humiliation at the hands of the Netherlands wasn’t out of character. They choked again, after dominating in the early part of the Super 12, including a hard-fought win over India. The defeat at the hands of Pakistan seemed to have had a demoralising effect on the Proteas. How else do you explain the defeat to the Dutch?

South Africa’s pace attack is one of the best in the tournament, with Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje beating batters with speed and bounce. Kagiso Rabada was not at his best, yet the Proteas had enough firepower. They were let down by batting since only one or two batsmen scored well in each game. Skipper Temba Bavuma had an unforgettable tournament, but South Africa won the games when Quinton de Kock, Rilee Rossouw, Aidan Markram and David Miller scored. They all failed to fire against the Netherlands: a shock defeat that gave Pakistan a lifeline.

Sri Lanka’s underwhelming show too was bewildering. True, they are a team in transition. Their rebuilding phase had been marked by bad losses, but they seemed to have turned a corner with the Asia Cup win in the UAE early this year.

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Injuries to several fast bowlers, particularly Dushmantha Chameera, have been a factor in the losses on the pace-friendly pitches. Poor batting and fielding too undermined them. Barring Kusal Mendis and Pathum Nissanka, no other batter could find the scoring touch. Charith Asalanka came good in one game, and Bhanuka Rajapaksa struggled throughout: these two were batting bulwarks in the last World Cup.

Spinners Maheesh Theekshana and Wanindu Hasaranga provided proof of their talent fount. Looks like Sri Lanka have a long way to go before they can become world champions again.

Bangladesh didn’t have a good World Cup, yet they came close to a semifinal spot after the Dutch shocked South Africa. But they couldn’t upstage Pakistan due to a below-par performance that was consistent in the tournament. Only against India did Bangladesh look like winning, but a rain stoppage upended their chase. Bangladesh can still take some positives as they continue to rebuild the team.

No more the minnows

Among the string of upsets, the rise of minnows has been a feature of the World Cup. The best performers were the Netherlands, which won two of their games at the expense of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Ireland sunk England and Zimbabwe stunned Pakistan in a tournament where every team fancied their chances. No team can be taken lightly, was the refrain of captains.

When the pitch assists bowlers, each team will believe they have a chance. That’s what happened in Australia. The wicket was the leveller.