ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2021
Keep the receipts: Heartache, doubters fuel Cup triumph
Go inside Australia's T20 World Cup celebrations and see how criticism helped power them to a maiden men's title
21 November 2021, 03:47 PM AEST
As Australia's triumphant World Cup winners huddled together in the depths of the Dubai International Stadium late last Sunday night, the focus of the playing group turned to Adam Zampa, the team's official song master.
But before the leg-spinner led his teammates in the traditional rendition of the team song, he had some words to share. Other people's words.
He read out some quotes to remind the Australians what they had been told for weeks and months leading up to and during the tournament. They weren't good enough. Their side lacked balance. They couldn't win.
Later, Zampa gave the public a small taste of what was said by posting a pre-tournament prediction from former England skipper Michael Vaughan, which read in part: "I'll say it now, I don't give Australia much chance. In t20 cricket they have struggled. I don't see Australia doing too much".
In the hyper-scrutinised world of top-level sport in the social media era, Zampa proudly spoke of how he'd "kept the receipts" of the wide-ranging criticism that had fuelled a Cup triumph almost no one saw coming.
Spoken about in hushed tones throughout the tournament and largely internalised as individuals, it was suddenly out in the open.
"As athletes, you sometimes remember the things the journos say," allrounder Marcus Stoinis said this week as the Australians showed off the World Cup trophy at the MCG.
"You write it down and you add it to the fire in the belly just to keep you going.
"We didn't indulge it too much during the tournament. As individuals, people get written off … that's part of team sport, and it bonded us.
"We're supporting each other, we enjoy each other's company, we've got each other's backs. And sometimes you need that stuff."
All 11 players who triumphed in Dubai had been questioned over the past 12 months, some more than others.
Opener David Warner was out of form and could well have been out of the team, but ended up being named player of the tournament, with skipper Aaron Finch later thanking the left-hander's critics for "poking the bear".
Finch himself was under so much scrutiny during a run of outs earlier this year that selector George Bailey was moved to publicly declare he would be retained as captain, and he became the first Australian male to lead his side to the top of T20 cricket.
Steve Smith and Josh Hazlewood were viewed as Test players wedged into a T20 team, Stoinis and Matthew Wade were said to be batting out of position, while Zampa remarked that he's spent his whole career being underestimated and didn't expect it to change anytime soon.
For Stoinis, the pain of an injury-ravaged one-day World Cup campaign two years ago, which ended in the semi-finals and was followed by a 12-month absence from the national set-up, provided added motivation as he continued on cricket's endless carousel of touring.
"It's a long time since then … you're playing consistently, you're away from home, you just keep going, you're on the grind. As much as we love it, you need to add a little bit of that fire to the belly to keep you going," he said.
Wade, too, had the heartache of previous World Cup campaigns spurring him on.
"I felt close to the 2015 World Cup (which Australia won)," he said. "I'd played a little bit beforehand and got dropped just before it.
"I'd always wanted to play in a World Cup (win). I played in Sri Lanka (in 2012) and we made the semis there, but I thought the horse had bolted.
"To see guys you've played with for a long time win a World Cup, it certainly drives you to try and achieve what you can."
Finch, a key part of the 2015 triumph when the Australians had been one of the pre-tournament favourites, agreed the public criticism had spurred his side forward and made it extra special when they achieved the ultimate success.
As skipper, he had been happy to let his players privately acknowledge the outside commentary rather than speak about it as a collective – at least until the final stages of the tournament.
"The great thing about it was everyone wrote us off from the start," he said.
"Especially after some really difficult series, the way the boys banded together was special.
"(The first time it was mentioned as a group was) straight after the Pakistan game; we had a quick debrief and we talked the fact that everyone had written us off and we were into a World Cup final.
"There wasn't a huge amount spoken about it. But just enough."