Australia’s turnaround in 2019 post the darkest phase in their cricketing history has been meritorious, and there has been one man at the helm of it, whose contribution has gone under the radar. It’s not Tim Paine, nor is it Justin Langer, but it’s their very own limited-overs skipper, Aaron Finch.
6, 6, 14, 0, 0, 8 and 37 is how Finch started his 2019 in coloured clothing. He’d gone 22 innings without a fifty in limited-overs cricket, with his last fifty coming in July 2018, the number of times he got ‘beaten’ in every match was more than the number of runs he scored and he was more vulnerable to the inswinger than Federer’s backhand was to Nadal’s forehand in the 2008 French Open Final.
Three months ahead of the biggest competition in cricket, at a time when Australian cricket was already sinking to unimaginable depths, they had their skipper in dire straights. There were loud cries to completely outcast the Victorian from the team - which, at that point of time, seemed justified - and with Usman Khawaja peaking in ODI cricket and with David Warner set to return to the team, it seemed like the stars had aligned for Finch to be left out of the team, completely.
But despite all the cries, despite all the criticism, despite the sheer embarrassment Finch was encountering every time he walked to the middle to bat, Justin Langer & Co. kept their faith in the skipper. And in retrospect, it is probably the best decision Australia have taken, and in all fairness, the one which has led them to be where they are, at this point in time.
In Cricket, the phrase ‘one innings is all that takes for a batsman to turn it around’ is as cliched as one can get but in Finch’s case,it was literally one innings that turned his, and, arguably, Australia’s fortunes around. In fact, it can even be singled down to one Kedar Jadhav over - in the 3rd ODI in Ranchi earlier this year - that resurrected Finch.
He’d scrapped his way to 41 by surprisingly surviving the initial Bumrah/Bhuvi onslaught, but once Jadhav was summoned upon by Kohli, Finch knew it was now or never. 6,4 & 6 on the first three balls of the over and it was almost as the Cricketing Gods had breathed new life into the Victorian.
He would go on to make 93 - his first fifty-plus score in 23 innings - but more importantly, turn the year around for himself and his country. Finch averaged a mere 12.86 in 22 limited-over innings prior to the Ranchi knock. Ever since, he has remarkably averaged a mind-boggling 61.19 in 24 innings in ODIs and T20Is. Australia had also won just 3 and lost 15 of their last 18 ODI matches prior to Ranchi. Since then? 15 wins and 3 losses in 18 ODIs. Yes, the Kangaroos, led by Finch, post Ranchi, literally turned it around.
Whilst the whole ‘numbers game’ surrounding Ranchi might be nothing more than a weird coincidence, one thing that has always remained constant throughout Australia’s - and his own - ups and downs is Finch’s mental strength and mettle. Finch’s withering ODI and T20I form came amidst his disastrous spell with the bat in Test cricket - where he was batted out of position - and was humbled by an Indian bowling line-up that was too hot to handle.
Finch could have, like many a good player in the past, easily cracked - he reached his boiling point on multiple occasions - but chose to hang in there and eventually, reaped reward for his hard work and persistence at just the right time.
Australia’s 2019 World Cup campaign - humbled by England in the semi-final after entering the tournament as defending champions - is on paper, a sub-par one, but in reality, they exceeded expectations. Finch led from the front - with both bat and on the field - and his shrewd tactics combined with his aggressive bowling changes - like his decision to give Jason Behrendorff the new-ball over Pat Cummins - turned many a match around in the Aussies’ favour.
Whilst his ability as a leader has always been known, it was Finch’s man management - which saw several players including Cummins, Zampa and Maxwell describe the atmosphere as the best it has ever been - that stood out and eventually made a difference.
But more than the result, Finch, with his leadership in the World Cup and the months leading up to it, firmly established the vibe within the group whilst also setting the precedent for Tim Paine to follow, thus making the Ashes success so much easier.
For a team that has historically underachieved in T20Is, Australia, for the first time, look like they are on course to do justice to the abundance of talent and potential they possess and it is indeed unsurprising that it has come under the leadership of Finch. Ending the whole calendar year unbeaten, which includes conquering India in their own backyard, is no easy achievement and both the players and the captain, deserve due credit for the same.
Whilst the whole narrative encircling Australia’s redemption and resurrection has been built around the ‘unholy’ duo of Steve Smith and David Warner and the ‘holy duo’ of Justin Langer and Tim Paine, there is one man who has been at the heart and soul of it, whose contributions have gone completely unnoticed. Aaron Finch is slowly, but steadily, carving his name into Australia’s history books, and it’s time he gets the recognition he deserves.
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