The ‘Z’ factor that has dragged Australia into a World Cup final

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13 Nov 2021 | 01:32 PM
authorAnirudh Suresh

The ‘Z’ factor that has dragged Australia into a World Cup final

Adam Zampa was underestimated, but he is now on the brink of clinching Australia their maiden T20 World Cup title

If you’re a spinner who has managed to maintain an economy rate under 7.00 having played 50 T20I matches, you are good. If you’ve managed to average more than a wicket per game while doing so, you are very good. If you’ve racked up those numbers while playing 75% of the matches in conditions alien to you, you are elite. 

But.......what if your name is Adam Zampa? Would this logic above still apply to you?

By his own admission, it doesn’t.

"I've always been underestimated," Zampa told on Friday.

"Even as a 15 or 16-year-old growing up in the country, there was always a city guy that's better than me or there's always been someone that turns their leg-spinner more than I do.

"Even after this tournament, there'll be another series that comes up and I'll be underestimated again.

"I do thrive off that."

Quite a diplomatic answer from one of the most well-spoken and articulate cricketers in the world. 

But after the kind of campaign he’s had, Zampa would be excused even if he grabs the mic publicly and shouts uncensored, “Underestimate me now, b****.”

12 wickets in 6 matches. The highest wicket-taker since the start of the Super 12 stage. The only bowler in the competition to average under 11 and the player with the best bowling figures in the tournament. 

An all-time-great campaign if there ever was one. 

For Zampa, though, despite little-to-no hype surrounding him ahead of the tournament, such a campaign has always been in the offing. When he says that he’s been underestimated, he means it. 

The likes of Rashid Khan, Wanindu Hasaranga, Tabraiz Shamsi, and even Varun Chakravarthy hogged the headlines heading into the competition. And quite rightly so, given the buzz, they’d created at the IPL and/or the international level.

Yet while drooling over the shiny new toys, the whole world ended up sleeping on the sustained brilliance of Zampa, who for five years had been a consistently reliable bowler who was always on the cusp of something special. 

His remarkable run in this World Cup is merely a culmination of years of hard work which has seen the leggie go from a raw-but-talented bolter in the 2016 World T20 to now a world-class spinner who is considered among the best in the business. 

How Zampa has proved to be Australia’s secret weapon in this World Cup

Surprise finalists, really, Australia’s run in this T20 World Cup has been interesting. They’ve not been invincible or unbeatable, yet they’ve always found a way to get over the line. In each game they’ve had different players put their hands up and make minor yet invaluable contributions that have ultimately proved decisive. 

One individual, though, has played a crucial hand in all of Australia’s victories, and that is Zampa. 

2/21, 1/12, 5/19, 1/20 and 1/22 read Zampa’s figures in this World Cup in matches which Australia have won, but even these numbers won’t do justice to how good he has been. 

In at least three of the wins, it was Zampa’s spell that swung the momentum in Australia’s favor and set them on the path to victory.

The first of those match-turning spells came against Sri Lanka in Dubai. 

Skipper Finch won the toss and put Sri Lanka into bat, but in no time the Aussies found themselves in deep trouble. 

Post the early wicket of Pathum Nissanka, the duo of Charith Asalanka and Kusal Perera cut loose, and Sri Lanka found themselves at 61/1 off just 7. At this point in time, even 180 looked gettable.

But enter Zampa in the eighth over, and he immediately arrested the flow of runs, conceding just 4 runs. The cheap over stalled Sri Lanka’s momentum, and the leggie eventually, in his second over, claimed the huge wicket of Asalanka through a smartly-executed googly.

Zampa would go on to take one more wicket in the match, and his astonishing spell of 4-0-12-2 helped Australia restrict Sri Lanka to just 154 and chase the target down in just 17 overs.

Then there was the five-wicket haul against Bangladesh which set up a thumping win for Australia and effectively thrust them into the semis. 

His best spell of the tournament, however, came against Pakistan in the semi-final on Thursday.

Like against the Lankans, Finch had won the toss and had inserted Pakistan into bat. Come the big occasion, though, Australia were under the pump in the blink of an eye. 

Pakistan raced to their highest powerplay score of the tournament (47/0) with Babar Azam, in particular, looking in sublime touch. With both Hazlewood and Cummins looking off-colour, the Aussies desperately needed Zampa to pull things back to avoid being batted out of the contest.

But being the genie he is, Zampa fulfilled his captain’s wish. With a spot in the final at stake, the leg-spinner nailed arguably the most important spell of his career, yet, to not just keep his side in the hunt, but give them a realistic chance of progressing to the final.

Brought into the attack immediately after the powerplay, Zampa, just like the SL encounter, stalled the momentum by bowling a four-run over. 

In his second over he accounted for the big wicket of Babar Azam, but it was how Zampa tied down the Pakistan skipper that highlighted his dexterity.

Zampa dismissed Babar in the eighth ball he bowled to the right-hander, but the first seven balls yielded just three runs. He did not allow Babar to settle, and frustrated the batter by tying him down by varying his lengths and pace.

Ultimately, it was the Pakistan skipper who lost patience and blinked first as he perished aiming to slog-sweep a ball that was slow and tossed-up outside off-stump.

This four-over period for Pakistan yielded just 23 runs, and it meant that, despite a fine finish, 176 was all they could post. 

Australia knocked the target off thanks to Warner, Wade and Stoinis, but it was Zampa who was the silent architect in the victory.

Stoinis acknowledged the same post the encounter.

"He (Zampa) was brilliant (in the semi-final) and took complete control of his four overs and of the innings at that stage where (Pakistan) were going really well,” Stoinis said.

The absence of Ashton Agar has meant that all the spin-bowling load in the middle-overs has fallen on the shoulders of Zampa, but he’s thrived under immense pressure. Since the start of the Super 12 stage, no bowler has taken more middle-over (7-15) wickets than Zampa. Quite stupendously though, he’s also been one of the most economical bowlers in the phase. 

And a big part of Zampa’s success is that he keeps things simple. Barring the slider/flipper and googly, Zampa does not possess any variation. In this T20 World Cup, in fact, over 66% of Zampa’s deliveries have been stock leg-breaks. 

But the infrequent usage of the variations mean that they automatically become a weapon when executed correctly, for the batters are not expecting them. 

Zampa is a bowler who understands his limitations, and, most importantly, knows how to maximize his potential. In a format like T20 where efficiency is everything, it is an invaluable trait to possess. 

A chance to create history, but lying ahead is a challenge he hasn’t been able to conquer

In his 56-match T20I career, there are only two countries against whom Zampa has struggled, conceding at over 7.5 runs per over. One of those two teams (England, who demolished him last month) is no longer in the competition, so Sunday will be Zampa’s final frontier of sorts. 

In 7 T20Is against New Zealand, Zampa has taken just 5 wickets, while conceding at nearly 9 an over. He had a horror series against the Kiwis earlier this year too, taking just 4 wickets across 5 games at an ER of 9.48. 

For all his skills, Zampa simply hasn’t been able to get the better of the BlackCaps.

It is only fitting, then, that on Sunday, Zampa will have to get through one of his least favourite opponents to finally get his hands on the biggest trophy of his career. 

An anti-climatic end cannot be ruled out, but in the form he is in, would it really be wise to bet against Zampa marching on and winning Australia the whole damn thing?

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New Zealand vs AustraliaICC World Twenty20, 2021AustraliaNew ZealandPakistanAdam ZampaRashid KhanWanindu HasarangaTabraiz ShamsiBabar Azam

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