The Australia captain is going through a barren run in T20 with a World Cup later in the year
Aaron Finch has been here before, not too long ago: struggling for runs and Australia trying to build for a World Cup.
Two years ago, with eyes on the 50-over World Cup, the limited-overs squad was on tour in India and the trip started with a continuation of a barren spell for Finch both in international and BBL colours.
This time, in early 2021, the T20I squad finds itself in New Zealand looking to fine-tune plans and tactics ahead of the T20 World Cup scheduled for October with a captain short of runs.
In 2019, things changed for Finch during an innings of 37 in an ODI in Nagpur which was followed by 93 in the next game as Australia came from 2-0 down to win the series 3-2 (something they need to repeat in New Zealand). From there he filled his boots against Pakistan in Sharjah before an impressive World Cup in England. Since that return to form he has averaged 59.60 in ODIs.
The current malaise has a bit more of a single-format focus about it. While he churned out the runs in the ODIs against India late last year, his last 29 T20 innings across the IPL, BBL and now this tour have brought a top score of 52 with 495 runs at 17.06.
Ahead of the 50-over World Cup, Australia were still rebuilding in the wake of Newlands and there was no appetite for further changes to the captaincy. Not that anyone wants to see a captain disposed, but this time there is not that element to the debate. However, the broader point is that Finch has been through this and came out the other side. Can he do it again?
“What he’s done before, he’s come out of these things,” Kane Richardson, also a team-mate at the Melbourne Renegades, said. “Everyone goes through this at some point. He’ll work it out. He’s a gun. I’m sure his mental strength will get him through this. This kind of game, T20, it could be one shot he gets right that flows on.
“He hasn’t changed at all in terms of how he is around the group or on the field as captain. That’s a massive tick for him, to not let his own form come into how he is away from cricket or on the field trying to marshal us. We just want to see him make some runs for himself, we all know how tough the game can be when the game can be when you aren’t getting the output you want.”
Before the series against New Zealand he spoke about having worked closely with Andrew McDonald, Australia’s coach on this tour, and a person he has gone to before when his batting has been a rut.
The early stages of this series have continued the frustrations: a square drive hammered off the middle but straight to point and an innings of 12 off 14 balls in Dunedin when runs were being scored at more than 10 an over. The next three innings are important for Finch, if only to stop any murmurings from being a dominant theme during what could be a quiet winter for Australia before the T20 World Cup – quieter still for Finch after he went unsold at the IPL auction having been released after a disappointing 2020 tournament.
One of factors that is heightening the debate is that there is a clamour for spots at the top of Australia’s T20I batting order. David Warner and Steven Smith aren’t on this tour, Josh Philippe is and tipped for a long international career, Matthew Wade appears the frontrunner to be the World Cup wicketkeeper and needs to bat in the top three as well. Having an out-of-form captain in one of those slots could be awkward.
Then there’s the ‘Australian way’ of generations past whereby the adage was to pick the team first and then the captain. In other words, an captain should be judged as a batsman. It was a point brought up by Mark Waugh, while commentating for Fox Sports, during the second T20 which undersold the importance of the captaincy but highlighted that it will be becoming more of a talking point if runs don’t come.
“His job is to score runs. It doesn’t matter, there’s a lot of players who can captain. There’s Matthew Wade, there’s Mitch Marsh, there’s Moises Henriques,” Waugh said. “His primary job is to score runs, particularly when you’re opening. That’s a key position in T20 cricket and we’ve got a lot of good players on the periphery to open.
“He’ll know it. No batsman is immune from being dropped when you’re not scoring runs. Doesn’t matter if you’re captain or not. I’m not saying it will happen but no one’s irreplaceable. There’s no way the selectors will want to drop him but his destiny is in his own hands.”
Unsurprisingly, the tone from the team is one of complete support. McDonald, who is standing in for Justin Langer, saw no reason why Finch would not be in position for the World Cup in India when asked before the Dunedin match.
“I’ve got a bloody great job,” Finch said in a Cricket Monthly interview before the season while acknowledging the bad days that can come with it. There’s been a few of those of late. Two years ago it was in early March that the runs started flowing again for the captain. A repeat in New Zealand would be timely.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo