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The best T20 World Cup since the first

Australian conditions, a blockbuster format, and edge-of-your-seat competition made the 2022 competition the best T20 World Cup ever

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Call it recency bias if you must, but the 2022 T20 World Cup was the best edition yet of the tournament, at least since the first. With a mandatory quota of those spine-tingling “where were you when…” moments, punctuated by a plethora of upsets and a dramatic final in which England prevailed, first-time hosts Australia delivered a spectacle that captured the attention and imagination like no other T20 World Cup tournament has managed in a long time.

There is something to be said for a close-fought tournament with the right dose of mystery and a regular cadence of twists and turns; where the semi-finalists were not known until the dying group stages, helped by results like Zimbabwe toppling Pakistan, Ireland defeating England and the Netherlands taking down a rampant South Africa. These were surprises, but rarely shocks: the T20 format is cricket’s biggest leveller, and there was a great deal of quality and talent in each team.

When India lost to England at the ICC T20 World Cup semi finals at Adelaide
Semifinals: Ind V Eng at Adelaide Oval (Photo: AP)

The players

The players, of course, lay at the centre of it all. T20 cricket is now the most professional form of the game – given the sheer sums of money involved – and it showed in the way even Associate nations matched it with the best in the disciplines of fielding and fitness, the hallmarks of professionalism in a cricket team.

The local conditions

Beyond the players, the most important role was played by the near-perfect Australian conditions. This is not a nod, of course, to the relentless rain – particularly in Melbourne – for which the malingering La Niña system can be thanked. Even then, as Sydney residents will attest to, it is no small miracle that all games at the Sydney Cricket Ground were completed without interruption, such has been the volume of rain in what is already the city’s wettest year on record. But it is the other elements which set the scene for an enthralling tournament. While flat pitches, small grounds and the absence of seam or swing are the scourge of those who covet a close contest, Australia delivered the very opposite, and it showed in the closeness of the contests.

AustralIA NZ match super 12 ICC T20 World Cup SCG
Aus V NZ Super 12 match at the SCG (Photo: AP)

The size of Australian grounds, for instance, ensured that teams stacked with power hitters could not simply blast their way to unsurpassable totals. This is because large boundaries mandate not just powerful, but smart cricket. A canny fielding captain and disciplined bowling are far more effective on bigger grounds, while the fittest, most resourceful batters – Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson – can also often extract more value here than they otherwise might.

India's Virat Kohli reacts after winning the T20 World Cup cricket match against Pakistan in Melbourne, Oct. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)
Ind v Pak, MCG (Photo: AP)

The timing of it all

Staging the tournament in October – a necessity to preserve the Australian summer of cricket – also paid dividends, with pitches still carrying a heartbeat. It gave us a sight that has been absent from cricket down under in recent years: a swinging, seaming white ball. Swing and seam rebalanced the dynamics in the critical powerplay, when bowlers would typically be on a hiding to nothing; indeed, this was, statistically one of the hardest T20 World Cups in history to be an opening batter. Reflecting on the likes of Arshdeep Singh, Shaheen Shah Afridi, and the fearsome South African pace quartet, it is no surprise why.

Kudos to you, ICC

The ICC too, must be given credit where due: it has absolutely nailed the format of the T20 World Cup. The qualifying stage, typically a perfunctory curtain raiser between weaker nations, was riveting and, thankfully, subject to the same broadcast production standards as the Super 12 stage. It gave us an early exit by two-time champions West Indies, a staggering upset by Namibia over Sri Lanka, and a last-gasp qualification by the Netherlands – who would go on to defeat South Africa in perhaps the most consequential upset of all.

The Super 12 format is also perfectly punishing; even a single loss can be devastating, and a big loss tournament-ending, as Australia suffered at the hands of New Zealand. This is how it should be: world titles should not be easily won, and each game must be given context. By winning their last match against South Africa, for instance, the Netherlands secured automatic entry to the 2024 T20 World Cup in the USA and West Indies, a much more powerful motivation than the opportunity to merely play spoilsport.

Even in the afterglow of a tournament as successful as this, the ICC has one key lesson to learn: Associate cricket must not be taken for granted, and ongoing investment is critical. Governing boards, too – particularly the “Big Three” of India, Australia and England – must open up to novel ideas, such as permitting Ireland and Scotland to participate in The Hundred, or playing warm-up matches for England tours against the Netherlands, instead of against county sides. The ICC is onto a winning formula here; one can only hope that the ICC recognises why.

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Ritam Mitra
Ritam Mitra
Ritam is an award-winning journalist and lawyer based in Sydney. Ritam writes on domestic and global politics, human rights and social justice, and sport.

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