In keeping with the general theme that anybody can win it, New Zealand revived their World Twenty20 campaign yesterday with a pulsating finish. Their one-run victory, secured when Martin Guptill took a catch in the deep from the last ball of the game as Abdul Rehman struck for glory, will almost certainly mean, however, that the champions Pakistan will be eliminated.
It was the match that an entertaining but largely ungripping tournament probably needed, low scoring, fluctuating, in the balance to the last. New Zealand probably deserved to win because they defended their modest total of 133 for 7 so tigerishly.
That they had stuttered so far was thanks to their captain, Daniel Vettori, for whom the slogan leading from the front might have been minted. He made 38 from 34 balls when the innings might have foundered in the middle overs.
Still, New Zealand appeared not to have made enough but their changed strategy of hurling pace at the Pakistanis paid immediate dividends. In their previous matches in the tournament the Black Caps had used Nathan McCullum's moderate off breaks to open their bowling. Now they asked Shane Bond and Kyle Mills to bowl short and straight. This attack was embellished by Ian Butler who bowled his allocation in three spells, including the nerve-tingling final over.
Salman Butt provided the substance to Pakistan's reply but since he was 67 not out from 54 balls at the end it could be said that he had failed to finish the job. Pakistan lost wickets at regular intervals from the second over on but when the veteran Abdul Razzaq was in full sail it appeared they would get home. But Razzaq underclubbed to mid-wicket and that left a monumental scramble to make the runs. Twenty-two were needed off the final two overs, 11 off the last over, two off the last ball. It was in the end just too far.
If New Zealand could be relieved, the form team in this tournament are the form team in most tournaments these past two decades – surprise, surprise, Australia. They have never won a World Twenty20, an omission they are now clearly intent on rectifying.
Perhaps, in winning all three of their matches so far by a distance, they have peaked too soon. Perhaps. But they are bristling in a way that has become familiar in World Cups and was precisely how they were throughout the Champions Trophy last autumn when they won resplendently. Australia are beatable in the sense that in Twenty20 anybody is vulnerable. Hope must have stirred in Bangladeshi breasts the other day, for instance, when Australia stumbled to 65 for 6. But they recovered in a style that suggested this time they mean business.
Under new captaincy in a major one-day event for the first time since 1999, they have picked a team for a specific purpose. Michael Clarke, replacing the retired (from T20) Ricky Ponting, has barely had to show his leadership credentials. Australia are prepared to blast their way to the trophy, an ambition that the surfaces at the Kensington Oval, if not at Beausejour, will contrive to assist.
The sub-continental sides have been capricious, though you can never tell what lies in store. Sri Lanka have been kept afloat by the serene batting of Mahela Jayawardene who has made scores in the tournament of 81, 100 and 98 not out. He has been a delight to watch, giving the lie to the notion that all Twenty20 batsmanship has to be wham, bam.
But Sri Lanka have sometimes looked a weary side – being on the road day after day, year after year, does not so much dull the competitive juices as remove them. Sri Lanka's match against Australia, for whom competitive juices may as well be a replacement for mother's milk, will tell something of the story of what might happen.
India were ruthlessly dismantled by Australia, lending sustenance to the idea that the Indian Premier League may these days represent the height of their aspirations. Bangladesh were fitfully impressive but never looked as if they could seize the day.
West Indies, for all their victory against England in Georgetown when they had to bat for only six overs, look to be peripheral contenders, a disorganised mess. Australia – and now New Zealand – are far from that.