If you get things right in the finals of a tournament, a creaky first stage can be flattered as peaking at the right time. If you don't, it is revealed for the poor performance it was.
On Wednesday night, when the Southern Stars stumbled past England by five runs to their fourth straight World Twenty20 final, praise flowed from cricket writers and administrators.
"Outstanding by the Southern Stars," wrote Gaurav Joshi. "Brilliantly played," said Malcolm Conn. "Inspirational performance," posted Cricket NSW boss Andrew Jones.
Except… it wasn't, was it? The result was great, a close win with high stakes. The last couple of overs were great, when Australia suffocated England's batting and prevented a late flurry.
But for the most part, the Southern Stars were desperately below their best, a height that we last saw during their 2015 Ashes triumph, and were just as desperately lucky to have a lost game handed back to them.
Two rank drags from way outside off stump to the leg side, one entirely unnecessary ramp shot that surrendered leg stump, an equally unnecessary reverse swat that lobbed to the wicketkeeper, and England had given up ascendancy.
Before that madness, England needed 45 from 42 balls with nine wickets in hand. By the time Sarah Taylor was the last in that sequence to fall, the task had blown out to 30 from 16, from which point swing bowlers Megan Schutt and Rene Farrell had the experience to get their team home.
But so much that would otherwise have been bitter in the mouth was honeyed by the result.
On a reasonable pitch against medium-pace bowling they found more comfortable than so much recent spin, Australia's batters wasted a good start, couldn't nail a finish, and got a sub-par 132 given the circumstances.
With the ball they lacked discipline and control, gave away a batter's worth of extras, and missed chance after chance in the first half of the innings. There is a lack of inspiration in this team, especially with the bat, which is tied to a staleness in selection.
With the advantage of the newer ball, Alyssa Healy and Elyse Villani scored a fast 41 by the sixth over. Then Villani was leg-before to an identical appeal to one that been turned down from her first ball, and Healy turned her conventional strokeplay into a nonsensical reverse-sweep to be pinned the same way.
Lanning controlled the innings with a typically excellent 55 from 50 balls, and looked a level above the bowling through the middle stages. But when the time came to change gears, the clutch jammed. No boundaries came from the last four overs, and only 22 runs.
Even the small things were off. Alex Blackwell run out on a tight second to get her captain back on strike? Great team play. Jess Jonassen running her captain out on a tight second that would have kept Lanning off strike? Madness.
England, meanwhile, nailed both run outs with direct hits from the deep, caught Jonassen from the final ball, and went into the break with all the momentum. Australia had none.
When a team is flat, it has to apply pressure with the ball. Instead Jonassen opened the bowling with left-arm spin and sent down three wides in her first over, giving England an easy seven-run start.
Ellyse Perry also bowled a wide first ball, then on Tammy Beaumont's pads to be whipped for four. Schutt went too full, Farrell too wide, boundaries followed.
Beaumont drilled Farrell to mid-off, where Beth Mooney dived and dropped a one-hander. The next catch, next ball, should have been easier, Charlotte Edwards skewing one over Mooney's head. The fielder couldn't make position to get a hand to it.
Healy missed a simple ball from Schutt for four byes. Perry bowled a full toss with ice cream on it that Beaumont hammered over square for six.
With the score on 67, Lanning caught Edwards off Kristen Beams, but two overs later Villani shelled a straightforward one from Sarah Taylor at long-on, and Taylor punished Australia with six over long-off.
At 1-89, it should have been game over. That it went otherwise was down to England's lack of composure, playing slogs or trick shots against half-volleys and half-trackers. Conventional shots would have yielded rich returns.
As the match changed, Perry and Beams each bowled a good over, Schutt bowled a defining one. These are quality players. But they were only in a position to influence the outcome because of fortune.
Peaking at the right time is nonsense. Teams don't exhaust a quota of good matches. They build on wins and improve. They get their line-ups right and build confidence in their plan and their ability to pull it off.
The Southern Stars have not done so through the pool stage, and should have lost that semi-final. If they had, questions may have been asked, selections challenged, improvement demanded. Now they haven't, the tendency is to confuse luck with merit.
That may not help them in Sunday's final. Or they may pull through to a fourth title, and we will have cheery pronouncements about being the best in the world, without concern about whether that means being as good as this team can be.
England has already shown what happens to a team when stagnation and complacency set in. Australia would be well served to heed the example.