And then there were two. Forty-four matches and 25 days on from the opening delivery in Oman, the finalists for the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2021 have been decided.
New Zealand were the first team to secure their spot in the decider, winning a thrilling semi-final against 2016 runners up England, triumphing in a match that was billed as a rematch of their 2019 Cricket World Cup final. It is the third straight ICC final they have made across three formats, having taken out the inaugural World Test championship earlier this year and finished runners up in the aforementioned Cricket World Cup. They were also runners up in 2015, giving them a run of three World Cup finals across four limited-overs competitions, with the 2016 T20 World Cup the outlier.
Australia qualified for the decider after beating Pakistan in Thursday's second semi-final.
New Zealand v Australia, 6pm local, Sunday, 14 November
Road to the final
New Zealand's T20 World Cup campaign got off to a rocky start when they were defeated by five wickets by Pakistan in their opening match. Just as when Pakistan beat India, the nature of the loss raised question marks over New Zealand's credentials as contenders.
They quickly put those questions to bed by trouncing India by eight wickets as their all-star attack dismantled a highly vaunted batting order. It was Trent Boult who did the majority of the damage as India were restricted to just 110, and the Kiwis chased it down with five and a half overs remaining.
Scotland pushed them in their third match, coming within 16 runs of chasing down a target of 172 and there was a scare against Namibia too, but by the time the Black Caps reached their final group match, they had their fate in their own hands.
And they made no mistake against Afghanistan to once again seal their spot in the finals of an ICC event. It was Boult and Tim Southee who did much of the damage to restrict Afghanistan to 124/8, and the chase was conservative but comfortable. In the semi-final, they were pitted against England, with it quickly becoming impossible to ignore the elephant in the room that was the 2019 Cricket World Cup final, when New Zealand lost by what Ian Smith called "the barest of margins" at the time. In the lead-up to their rematch in Abu Dhabi, ICC commentator Mike Atherton backed England to win "by the barest of margins again". For much of the game that looked set to be the case, with New Zealand struggling to get going chasing a target of 167.
With New Zealand needing 57 from 24, Jimmy Neesham turned the tide of the game in a 23-run over in which he contributed 19. In scenes reminiscent of Trent Boult stepping on the ropes off as he caught Ben Stokes in the 2019 final, Jonny Bairstow's knee kissed the advertising cushions to grant Neesham a reprieve in the fourth ball of an expensive over. From the Daryl Mitchell saw the Kiwis home, finishing unbeaten on 72 off 47 to win with an over to spare.
Daryl Mitchell - Surprisingly moved to the top of the order this tournament, Mitchell has brought impetus to the Black Caps to the Powerplay and allowed them the assuredness of Devon Conway in the middle-order. The signs were promising in New Zealand's opening loss again Pakistan where he made 27 off 20, and he impressed in their crucial win over India with 49 off 35, but he was starting to look an ill-fit for the role going into the semi-finals.
It was here that he produced one of the tournament's finest innings to date, anchoring a chase of 167, before finishing with a bang to end not out on 72* off 47. It was an expert chase by the Kiwis and he was at the heart of it.
He is now their highest run-scorer for the tournament and will go into the final full of confidence.
Trent Boult - New Zealand's star fast bowler has been humming at the showpiece event, proving both dangerous and economical.
His 3/20 against India set New Zealand on a path that would see them win four matches on the bounce to reach the semi-finals, and he delivered a consistent quality throughout the Super 12 stage.
He had his first quiet match of the tournament in the semi-final, taking 0/40, and New Zealand will need him to rediscover his groove given the calibre of the top-order they find themselves again.
Road to the final
The final-over victory over South Africa at the start of the Super 12 stage felt like an important result at the time, and so it proved, with the five-wicket win meaning ultimately proving pivotal.
It was a match that always felt like it was in control for Australia, yet one that was consistently threatening to get away. With their all-star attack back together again, they had reduced South Africa to 23/3 inside the Powerplay and held them to 118/9.
That proved a far more difficult chase than they would have liked as they slipped to 38/3 and 81/5, only getting home with two balls to spare.
The campaign picked up steam from there as they dispatched Sri Lanka with ease, with openers Aaron Finch and David Warner both finding their groove.
That momentum they had built dissipated quickly as they were crushed by England by eight wickets with 50 balls to spare. Just as the narrow victory over South Africa had felt vital, so too did this one feel potentially tournament ending as it had decimated their net-run rate.
Thankfully, from an Australian perspective, that NRR damage was short-lived, as they bowled Bangladesh out for 73 next up. The fact that Finch, Warner and Mitchell Marsh chased it down in just 38 balls more than made up for the run rate losses to England.
And another eight-wicket win over West Indies on the final day proved enough, though there was a nervous wait.
Qualification wasn’t confirmed even after that fourth win, with South Africa needing a victory and a significant but gettable run-rate swing against England to leapfrog the Australians. But while the Proteas got the win, they didn’t overturn the NRR difference, with Australia going through in second place to line up a semi-final against Pakistan. With Warner in hot form, they chased down 177 against Pakistan to make the final.
David Warner – 236 runs at an average of 47.20 and David Warner has gone from Australia’s worry at the top of the order to their most in-form batter. He has a penchant for making runs at big tournaments, so his success here should not surprise anyone.
Warner has two half-centuries to his name this T20 World Cup but his most important performance where his 49 set the chase up perfectly for Australia.
With the southpaw in form, Australia have every reason to be confident going into the final.
Adam Zampa – Only Sri Lanka’s Wanindu Hasaranga has taken more wickets than Australia’s x-factor spinner, and Zampa’s threat is a real boost to the attack. His ability through the middle overs has been particularly important for Australia, and it was he and Glenn Maxwell who put the brakes on Pakistan’s fast start before the leggie dismissed Babar Azam.
In an attack that features Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, it speaks volumes that Zampa is undisputedly the star of the bowling pack.
If Australia go all the way, he will be firmly in the running to be crowned Player of the Tournament status.