First place in Wisden’s men’s T20I spells of the year countdown, part of the 2022 in Review series, is Sam Curran’s 3-12 in the T20 World Cup final. Ben Gardner pays tribute to the stunning spell.

All but three members of the panel put the spell in either first or second place.

READ: Wisden’s men’s T20I Spells of the Year, Nos.5-2

Sam Curran 3-12

England v Pakistan
Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne
T20 World Cup final 2022
November 13

Sam Curran is the most expensive player ever bought in the history of the IPL auction, but if you knew nothing about him and lined up all the hundreds of hopefuls to go under the hammer on Friday, you’d struggle to pick him out. His biceps don’t bulge, his legs don’t gangle, his wrists don’t bend in weird ways. Watch him in the nets, and again you’d fail to see what the fuss is about. There’s no great pace and his box of tricks isn’t as big as some, and while he can hit sixes with unnatural ease with that free-flowing swing, there are lots of players who can hit sixes.

READ: Wisden’s men’s T20I Innings of the Year

Curran only really makes sense when you see him with his feet to the fire, because that’s when he catches alight. His self-belief is his super-strength. In those moments when the brain begins to fray, Curran stays cool. In T20 cricket, every choice is based on filtering hundreds of data point, of what the analyst has told you about the batter and what he’s actually doing out there, the state of the pitch, the size of the boundary, the humidity, the score, the previous ball and the ball before that, the tells as you run in, and your opponent is going through the same process. It can be a mind-melding experience, and it’s all for nought if, at the end of it, you second-guess yourself. All you can do is trust in your decision and let it go. Curran stands out by arriving at the right decision when the pressure is on, adapting as he goes while still conveying complete conviction in whatever he does. And somehow, the greater the stage, the more that ability is magnified.

Maybe that’s what explains his strange split this year, from going the distance in the summer to being unhittable on the road. He took 0-147 in 16 overs in England, and then 25 wickets in Pakistan and Australia at an average of 15.20 and an economy of 7.08. At the death in the T20 World Cup, he conceded just 6.56 runs per over. As the scale of the occasion expanded, so did Curran’s quality. Which brings us to the T20 World Cup final at the MCG.

Ben Stokes takes the first over, sneaking one through as Jos Buttler had planned it. By the time Curran came on to bowl the third, the opening stand was still together. There is much criticism of the approach of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, but whatever the risks of them getting out before kicking on, one thing remains true: when they go big, Pakistan win.

So 12 runs off the first two, and four runs off Curran’s first didn’t scream danger, but England will have been wary. An unbroken, near-double-century stand against England weeks earlier will have been fresh in the mind.

Back on for his second, and it takes Curran two balls, Rizwan chopping on aiming a big drive. In isolation, it looks like nothing special – a run-of-the-mill mis-execution, a risk of the trade of batting. Curran’s deception is subtle – the wider line tempting the drive, the length not quite there, the cut-in off the pitch taking the inside-edge. Mohammad Haris, Pakistan’s mid-tournament, game-changing discovery, can’t get hold of any of his first four, Curran mixing it up with aplomb. A length ball slanted across is mis-timed to mid-on. A slower bouncer is chopped to third man. Haris backs away to each of his last two and Curran beats him in two different ways, an angled-away cutter and a cramping bouncer. Pakistan are 29-1 after five and Curran has 1-5 off two.

Again sticking to the plan, Curran is held back for the death. With four overs to go, Pakistan are 119-4 and targetting 160. Curran ensures they don’t get close.

Masood is the key, on 36 and capable of accelerating. A shaky pull brings a couple, and again Curran prevents any attempt at attack. Masood backs away, so Curran goes as wide as he can. Dot ball. Masood shimmies again, Curran chooses the conventional route – shaping away, in the corridor – and Masood holes out. The new man, Mohammad Nawaz, blocks his first and gets a single off the second. Curran zips past Shadab Khan’s outside edge to finish the over.

Next over comes the killing blow. A wide ball missed, a pull mistimed, and with the pressure building, Curran seemingly offers a lifeline: full, into the pads, and Nawaz accepts. The big boundaries are what Curran is counting on, and they come to his aid. Nawaz holes out and Curran closes out. Three more balls, two more singles. In all, no boundaries, three wickets, 15 dots. An impeccable spell on the biggest night of his life. England are world champions and Curran is at the heart of it all, Player of the Tournament and Player of the Final. Underestimate him at your peril.