For 48 deliveries last night Aaron Finch did not hit a single boundary. Yet the Australian captain maintained his composure, worked back into his innings and then demolished the Sri Lankan attack en route to making 153.
Finch has always had the power to clear boundaries but this year his maturity and lack of ego at the crease have helped propel him to a new peak in this format.
Never before has the 32-year-old made 1,000 ODI runs in a calendar year, with his highest tally being 790 runs at 44 back in 2014. But he is certain to crack that milestone in 2019 having already piled up 977 runs at 57 so far this year.
After finishing 2018 in scratchy form across all three formats there was doubt as to whether Finch would be in Australia’s starting XI for this World Cup.
Opposition quicks were targeting his stumps relentlessly. Finch’s front pad kept getting in the way, his head kept falling to the offside, and he kept getting out cheaply.
Over eight ODIs – from the start of the last Aussie summer to the second match in India this year – Finch made 120 runs at 15. With Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb and Shaun Marsh all in fine touch, and stars Steve Smith and David Warner about to return, Finch was suddenly no certainty for the World Cup.
But the Victorian plugged away, clearly making a great effort to stop his front pad from becoming an obstacle. It was that one glaring flaw in his technique that was at the core of his troubles.
Since that second ODI in India, which Australia lost, Finch has plundered a phenomenal 914 runs at 76 in this format.
That has coincided with Australia going on a blazing run of form. He is currently the leading runscorer in this World Cup, with 343 runs at 69, and is batting better than I’ve ever seen.
Finch has left the same impression on former Australian cricketer and astute observer Ed Cowan. Very early in Finch’s innings last night Cowan tweeted that he had “never seen Aaron Finch’s technique look better than the last two games”.
Hope I don’t put the Moz on him, but never seen Aaron Finch’s technique look better than the last two games. When Amir was hooping them down the line early, he was balanced with great access. RT Ponting magic dust?
— Ed Cowan (@eddiecowan) June 15, 2019
The Aussie skipper looked supreme from the start of his innings last night. His balance, in particular, was sublime.
The first ball he faced was sent skimming past mid-off to the boundary. Two balls later he played a gorgeous on drive, standing tall and using the full face of the bat. That shot was stopped by mid-on, but his fifth ball faced flew between the bowler and that same fieldsman, a textbook example of a straight drive.
For most batsmen the straight drive and on drive are revealing strokes – if they are middling them it’s a strong indicator they’re in fine nick. That is particularly so for Finch because of his proclivity to overbalance to the offside when searching for touch.
Finch’s best form across his ODI career has also been linked closely to patience. During several periods of his 50-over career he began trying to bludgeon attacks from the get go. It has never worked for him. Instead, when he is circumspect early on and plays each ball with the level of respect it deserves, Finch has tended to flourish.
So it has been of late.
Last night Finch began in commanding fashion, cantering to 34 from 26 balls, with seven boundaries. Then he lost a bit of rhythm, his timing became less crisp and his momentum stalled. His scored just 26 runs from his following 47 deliveries, with not a single boundary during this period.
Finch stayed patient, clearly confident that the tide would turn and so it did. From the final ball of the 24th over Finch climbed into a bouncer from Nuwan Pradeep and hooked it way into the crowd.
From then on Finch was back to his fluent best, slamming the spinners down the ground and punishing the quicks when they dropped short.
It was among the top three most impressive innings of his ODI career. While the focus so far in this World Cup has been on Smith and Warner it is the skipper who is emerging as Australia’s key batsmen.
If they are to pull off an upset by defending their World Cup trophy then Finch will need to keep plundering attacks.