“The opener has made it a habit of stitching his innings together, even as his opening partner David Warner runs away with the game at the other end”
Playing a team game entails sacrifices and selflessness. When an individual is in a brilliant run of form while his team has been suffering, the athlete often has to give up on his preferred mode of play to suit the team’s demands. A similar story panned out for Aaron Finch in the ongoing ODI series against England, as his side Australia, in a desperate bid to gain back their lost momentum, pushed the dangerous opener down the order in the second and third ODIs.
The move was tried out firstly, to give D Arcy Short an opportunity to make his debut and secondly, in the hope that the in-form cricketer could come out to eradicate the middle order woes that have been plaguing Australian cricket for a while now. Languishing after 14 defeats in 16 games and with four consecutive bilateral losses against their name, Australia hoped that Finch could prove to be their saviour and messiah, even as Short and Travis Head took care of proceedings at the top.
“Clearly we know what Aaron Finch can do at the top of the order and we have no issues with that,”captain Tim Paine had pointed out after Australia’s 242-run loss in Nottingham. “But we’ve had some issues as a team over a period of time which have been in that middle order, so we want to see Finchy there for a little bit to see if he’s a guy who can do it in the World Cup.
Cricket, however, is a game of wishful thinking when the going gets tough, and even as Australia would have hoped for Short and Head to give the ideal start and then for Finch to finish off proceedings, the contrary is what panned out. As Short failed to get going in his first two games, scoring 21 and 15, Finch scored a duck and 20 in the middle order. The burly player has opened in 89 out of 92 matches and the experiment that the Australian management tried out, while with good intentions, showed the lack of will on their part to actually correct the root cause of the problem.
Instead of forcing Finch down the order, they should indulge in the tough task of finding a big-hitter who can be consistent and pick up pace as the death overs near. While Finch’s experience of playing spin in the Indian Premier League could have prompted the move of him batting down the order, considering Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali have tormented the Aussies in the middle overs, the Victorian has the ability to adapt and pace his innings with controlled aggression, which is what makes him such a successful opener.
He displayed his maturity in the fourth game of the series, as Finch, realising that the badly out-of-form team depended on him, slowed down his attacking instinct to hold one end up. He faced 106 balls for his 100 but only 31% of the balls were answered with an attacking shot – making it only the second innings in his career where he has attacked so few deliveries. He is highly skilled as well while opening the innings, driving on the up and playing the square cuts and straight drives with elan. Finch prefers to stick to a traditional style of shot-making, unlike, say Glenn Maxwell who is a greater risk-taker, and hence, a better bet in the middle overs.
The opener has made it a habit of stitching his innings together, even as his opening partner David Warner runs away with the game at the other end. Finch exhibits composure and often paces his innings akin to the way Virat Kohli does. Starting off slowly, getting the feel of the wicket and the match situation and then smashing the balls once the eyes have set in. By possessing traits of calmness and by unsettling the opponents once he gets going, Finch has made a name for himself at the top and it would only be foolish if Australia change a successful aspect in the name of experimentation.
Warner is likely to return to the top before the World Cup ends next year after his ban expires, but in the meantime, the Kangaroos can give players like Moises Henriques a longer rope, whilst hoping that their middle order dilemma is solved.