“Majority of the Indian bowlers finished with expensive figures, courtesy of Finch and Khawaja’s knocks followed by cameos from Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Alex Carey”

Ever since Aaron Finch took the cricket fraternity by storm when he smashed record 172 in a Twenty20 International (T20I) against Zimbabwe last year, he has suffered a miserable form with the bat.

His world record knock of 172 from just 76 balls came in Harare in July 2018. Finch in his next 31 innings, across formats, failed to make any significant contribution. While he faced an axe from the Test side, Australia have persisted with him because he was their limited-overs captain.

In addition to that, he has been lucky to get repeated chances because of the absence of Australia’s leaders and batsmen Steven Smith and David Warner, who have been away due to a ban over the ball-tampering scandal.

Also read: Marcus Stoinis’ knocks need to be impactful enough

On the eve of the first ODI between India and Australia in Hyderabad, which was also Finch’s 100th ODI, he was asked in a press conference if he was the “real captain.” The Aussie asked the reporter to speak loud before he answered, “No, no, I’m the captain.”

That uncomfortable conversation was followed by Finch getting dismissed for yet another duck. He started off well in the second ODI, at Nagpur, but failed to capitalise on it as he was sent back for a 53-ball 37. Australia lost the match and that meant they had to win the third ODI in order to stay alive in the five-match series.

When Australia needed their captain to lead from the front, Finch repaid the faith the team and management put in him as he scored a 99-ball 93 in the Ranchi match on Friday. With the World Cup just around the corner and no concrete decision on Smith and Warner yet, it was a huge sigh of relief for the defending champions when Finch and his opening partner Usman Khawaja stepped up and gave their side the required start.

Finch and Khawaja, who have had a good reputation of playing in the sub-continent, somehow had not justified it in their previous few outings. Even prior to the India away series, their selections were questioned but these two have put up a strong case for a plane ticket to England for the World Cup later in the year.

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In the third ODI in Ranchi, Finch and Khawaja put up 193 runs for the opening wicket before the former got dismissed when he was just seven runs short of a century. Their stand was the seventh highest partnership for any wicket by a foreign team in India. While Finch missed on a hundred, Khawaja went on register his maiden ODI century. It took him 23 innings to finally get into the three-digit score in the white-ball game.

Had Finch scored a ton too, it would be first ODI ton from Aussie skipper in two years after Smith’s hundred against Pakistan at Perth in 2017. The instance of two Australian openers scoring a century also happened in the same series when Warner and Travis Head struck a century each in the Adelaide ODI.

Although Finch did not get to the triple figures, even a score of 93 would have done wonders for his confidence and also the team’s. When he began his knock after India put the visitors to bat first, Finch struggled against the pace of Mohammed Shami. He managed just one run off the first 12 balls against the Indian pacer but his batting partner, Khawaja looked more confident as he scored runs with ease.

If playing against Shami was a hassle for Finch, he targetted the spinners. To begin with, he went after India’s trump card Kuldeep Yadav with two successive boundaries before he targetted the part-time spinner Kedar Jadhav. Finch and Khawaja complimented each other in their 193-run stand. Khawaja later revealed that when Finch slowly went into the groove, he tried to give the latter as many strikes as possible.

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Finch personally have had a horrendous time with the bat in the last few months. However, the likes of coach Justin Langer, his predecessor Darren Lehmann and other members have shown faith in Finch and the Victorian lived up to their expectations. “I’ve been training really hard and working on my game as hard as I possibly can. I always had faith that I would get some runs and it was nice to really start us off with a good opening partnership there and set up what was a defendable total,” Finch said.

Speaking of the match-winning opening stand with Khawaja, Finch said, “It was important (the opening partnership), especially in these conditions. We know how hard it is when guys have to come in and try score quickly through the middle overs. So I think it was important that Usman and I kept going as deep as we could and it allowed Maxy to come in and play the way he does.”

Majority of the Indian bowlers finished with expensive figures, courtesy of Finch and Khawaja’s knocks followed by cameos from Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Alex Carey. Even though the Indian captain Virat Kohli almost single-handedly won his side the match, the Aussie bowlers pulled back the command soon after the dismissal of Kohli, who ensured he had his 41st ODI ton to his name.

The 32-run victory in Ranchi was significant for Finch’s side as they have had a rough time in International ODIs since the 2017 Champions Trophy in England. Overall, Australia have won just five matches from its last 24 ODI games home and away. Finch and Co will expect to carry the winning momentum from Ranchi to Mohali for the fourth ODI. Only a win there would force the hosts to play the fifth and final game as a decider.

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