How T20s became a serious business for Australia
Twenty20 began as a giggle for Australia, who treated it as a third-rate concept and preferred to save their focus for Tests and ODIs. It was an approach that resulted in them quickly becoming also-rans in the format, something that hurt them more than they expected. Eventually the lack of results forced a regeneration that has led to Michael Clarke's men making the World Twenty20 final against England in Barbados on Sunday.
A gimmicky new format
17 February, 2005
New Zealand and Australia turned up to a retro costume party to christen the new fad in Auckland and Ricky Ponting summed up the affair. "I think it is difficult to play seriously," he said. Ponting was the star with 98 off 55 balls, including five sixes, but never matched the performance again, or warmed to the style of play.
In modern terms he was a traditionalist, like most of his team-mates at the time, and Twenty20 was a popular gimmick. Still, Australia have beaten their initial total of 214 only once since then and Ponting wasn't totally dismissive of the concept. "If it does become an international game then I'm sure the novelty won't be there all the time."
Heading south at Southampton
13 June, 2005
Australia didn't realise it then, but the start of their Ashes defeat began at Southampton during the second Twenty20 international. They scored only 79 after being 31 for 7, and misread the mood of England. Damien Martyn outlined the outlook of the coach John Buchanan, who was focussing instead on the opening Test.
"Buck was saying: 'It's only a muck-around game, don't worry about it'," Martyn said. "We trained for four hours on the morning. So we went from the nets next door, busting a gut, into a T20 game where they rolled up playing it like a Test match and flogged us."
A World Cup isn't a big deal
A global trophy was crafted quickly for the shortest game, but Adam Gilchrist and his team-mates were more concerned with the upcoming tour of India than the matches in South Africa. "It was no secret that our attitude to Twenty20 cricket was undeveloped," Gilchrist wrote in his autobiography. "As a group, we didn't think this tournament was that big a deal."
An opening loss to Zimbabwe embarrassed them and they recovered to reach the semi-final, when they were knocked out by India. "It dawned on us that maybe Twenty20 would be the big revolution that some were predicting," Gilchrist wrote. Not winning a global tournament changed their thinking a little, but it was still more novelty than necessary.
6-8 June, 2009
It took three days and two defeats for Australia to drop from the 2009 World Twenty20, delivering more red faces and leaving them unranked for this year's event. Once again it was the first lapse on a trip that ended in Ashes defeat. "I'd like to be able to tell you that I knew what was going wrong," Ponting said after losing to Sri Lanka and exiting the tournament.
Australia had started to pick some specialists, but didn't have the batting fire power or bowling nous to counter West Indies or Kumar Sangakkara's outfit. Ponting had joked the side wouldn't lose its final group match because it would mean having to spend two weeks in Leicester. It wasn't so funny when it happened. At that point Australia had lost five Twenty20 internationals in a row and Ponting was soon announcing his retirement from the format.
16 October, 2009
Michael Clarke became the full-time captain and Cameron White, a bits-and-pieces player until now, was a surprise choice as his deputy. After years of trying to mix a couple of specialists with the Test and ODI stars, the Australian selectors show they are serious about putting together a side made for Twenty20.
"We've got a young and enthusiastic group, but we must recognise that we've got a lot of work to do in Twenty20 cricket and our recent form hasn't been good," Clarke said. "Naturally, we'll target the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean next year and I feel we have plenty of talent to genuinely mount a challenge in that tournament." It sounded more like hopeful PR talk at the time.
New team, old focus
Following a warm-up loss to Zimbabwe, Australia were experiencing déjà vu. Even though the results hadn't yet changed, the demeanour had. Clarke even said Twenty20 had "become exactly the same as one-day and Test cricket". His men quickly displayed the same steel that has driven them in the other formats through most of the 2000s, and from the moment the tournament started they were a familiar foe to the rest of the world.
In the aftermath of the unbelievable semi-final victory against Pakistan, which took their streak to six, Michael Hussey rated the winning feeling better than his 2006-07 Ashes moment in Adelaide. The comparisons may seem unreasonable to traditional cricket followers, but they prove the team is no longer treating Twenty20 like a toy.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo