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“Given any concern, Finch has managed to find a solution so far this World Cup and Australia will hope he continues to do that”

“Australia aren’t playing at their best, but they are winning matches.”

These are the words of former World Cup-winning captain Allan Border, who brought glory to Australia in 1987 edition.

Australia have won three out of their four matches in World Cup 2019. Out of those, two were close victories. The World Cup holders are yet to produce their best but they have fought like champions and the skipper, Aaron Finch, definitely deserves some credit.

When Finch was given the ODI captaincy last year, he had two major tasks in hand. The World Cup being just a few months away did not make his journey to England any easy.

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After the damage done by the infamous Sandpaper Gate in the dressing room, Finch had very less time to assemble the broken pieces and rebuild the team before the World Cup. Then, he had his personal concerns as a batsman, as he was struggling to score runs.

The two months in 2018 – October and November – were no less than a nightmare for Finch, both as a captain and batsman. Australia lost the ODI series at home to South Africa and India. They were whitewashed by Pakistan in a T20I series in the UAE. Australia played three ODIs and eight T20I between October and November and Finch managed just 124 runs across the formats at a poor average of 11.27.

Also read: David Warner’s ton revives Australia’s campaign

Four months back, during a damp and chilly evening in Melbourne, the rains washed-out the second T20I between Australia and India. But, that did not happen before Finch’s golden duck in the first innings. Australia’s situation was as pathetic and a strong captain Finch decided to accept his part. He apologised in front of the entire team. “I said ‘I’m sorry boys, I’m trying my hardest but I just can’t get any runs’,” Finch revealed a few days ago.

The confession could have extracted a negative reaction in the form of the players’ frustration. However, that was not the case. Finch, instead, received massive support from his teammates. The incident is four months old now and the same Australian team has evolved majorly coming into the World Cup 2019 in the UK.

Ever since then, Finch has repeatedly repaid the faith the boys have shown in him – both individually and as a captain.

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If not the contenders for the title, Australia are being considered as one of the sure candidates for the last four. Going into the latter stages, if Finch and Co catch the next gear and rectify their small issues, there is no reason why the Australians cannot defend their title. Apart from India, they have managed to outplay the likes of Afghanistan, West Indies and Pakistan. Leaving the Windies game, Finch has given the required start in the rest of the matches.

Siriwardana to Finch, flights the ball up on off, the Aussie captain goes forward and swings his willow through the line over long-off, SIX and that brings up Finch’s 14th ODI hundred and his second in a World Cup game. He raises his bat and helmet at utmost elegance as the Kia Oval stands in applause.

There was immense satisfaction in Finch’s eyes. He had failed to convert his last two fifties earlier in the World Cup and that made his hundred on Saturday more special. He has brought an end to his bad phase in style: he now has three centuries and four fifties in his last 10 ODI innings and clearly has been a driving force in his side’s redemption from the forgettable period.

One of the best decisions Finch has made in the last few months is that he chose to not take part in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction. The Australian cricket board had already announced a World Cup camp at the beginning of May and that would coincide with the final stage of the Indian T20 league.

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A T20 league like IPL is played for nearly two months and it cannot be denied that a player needs some amount of time to recover from the glamorous T20 mood and style of play to old-school ODI cricket. The recent dismissals of several batsmen in the World Cup have shown that the batsmen these days are trying to bring in the T20 approach in the 50-over format and that mindset has not been successful fully.

However, Finch has not been among those batsmen and that has been a boon for the Aussies. When the IPL kickstarted in India in March, Finch toured along the Australian side for the ODI series against Pakistan in the UAE. He carried his winning momentum as a captain and batsman where he registered two consecutive hundreds and Australia whitewashed Pakistan 5-0. While a lot of World Cup players grilled themselves in the IPL, Finch got the sufficient rest before he got back to his national duty fresh and more determined than ever for the World Cup.

From Australia’s campaign opener, Finch has shown glimpses of being in great touch. He scored a 63-ball 66 against Afghanistan before he had two poor outings against West Indies and India where he scored 6 and 36. When Australia needed their skipper to step up, Finch was there. He missed out on a century as he scored 82 from 94 balls against Pakistan in a match where he also showed some excellent skills as a captain with clever bowling changes and field placements that derailed Pakistan’s chances.

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The skipper saved his best for the Sri Lankans who faced off against Australia on Saturday at the Kia Oval. Continuing his string of losing the toss, Australia were to put to bat first, a decision that would soon begin to backfire for the Sri Lankan captain, Dimuth Karunaratne. While the track assisted the bowlers in the initial overs, Finch was always on the lookout for a gap and he found it regularly. The opener stuck to the basic rule of targetting the V-area and that earned him some easy runs.

The Australian openers were also aided by some poor bowling at the beginning of the innings by Lankans. Both the openers, especially Finch, went after anything that was directed away from the stumps. Sri Lankans were punished for bowling anything loose and Thisara Perera was among the first ones to be on the receiving end. He was thrashed for two consecutive boundaries in his very first over by Finch as Australia brought up their fourth 50-plus opening stand this World Cup.

Finch, who survived a leg before wicket off Perera in the 12th over, was in no mood to let go of a second chance. He continued to play smart cricket and instead of going forward, he chose to remain in his crease, watch the ball, go under it and swing it with full force.

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According to CricVizz analysis, only three batsmen (Hardik Pandya, Darren Sammy, and Yuvraj Singh) have been closer to the stumps than Finch while hitting a six. Against Sri Lanka, Finch’s favourite shot was towards down the ground and that dominated his stunning knock of 132-ball 153, the highest individual score by an Australian captain in a World Cup match.

Over the years, Finch has grown as a player, overall, especially as a batsman. From his debut in 2013 to 2018, Finch averaged 35 against spin in the ODIs. When Dhananjay de Silva wrapped up David Warner and Usman Khawaja in quick successions, one would have thought Finch to become his victim too. However, Finch has been a completely different player against spin in 2019. In 18 ODIs this year, Finch has averaged 103 against spin and that’s why there were no surprises when de Silva failed to trouble him.

Given any concern, Finch has managed to find a solution so far this World Cup and Australia will hope he continues to do that. The World Cup dream is very far from turning into reality but Finch will do everything to put himself in the famous club of Allan Border, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, and Michael Clarke and hoist the trophy in the iconic balcony of the Lord’s Pavilion on July 14.

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