Dubai: The favourite tag can be a millstone around the neck of fancied teams simply because it brings enormous pressure. A pressure to win. And that can undermine even the most powerful teams.
Look at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. The final will be contested by two teams that none of the cricket experts picked to win. Moreover, Australia and New Zealand were placed second in their groups. That means they have lost one of the five league games.
Where are the favourites? One of the pre-tournament favourites, India took such a shellacking in their first game against Pakistan that they never recovered before they ran into New Zealand. They lost that too, and their World Cup campaign sank.
England was another red-hot favourite. They justified the billing with dominant performances. Going into the semi-finals, they were the most feared side as they took down opponents with devastating displays. The lone loss was a narrow defeat against South Africa. Even in the loss, they paraded their batting might.
England ran into an inspired New Zealand in the semis and exited. The injuries to Jason Roy and Tymal Mills hurt, but they have such depth that these setbacks shouldn’t be a problem. Remember, England came into the tournament without three top players: Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Sam Curran. It’s just that the Kiwis were the better team on the day.
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After defeating India and New Zealand in the league games, Pakistan were installed as one of the favourites. They lent credibility to that with crushing displays and remained the only undefeated team in the league phase. But they came across a resurgent Australia, and journeyman Matthew Wade crafted his finest moment with a hat-trick of sixes to oust Pakistan.
The final is between two unfancied teams. Two teams who haven’t won the T20 World Cup. So we will have a new winner on Sunday. That’s good for the game. A win for the underdogs is a win to cherish.