When does Aaron Finch’s rotten T20 run shift from “he’ll come good” to “we’ve got an issue”?
The Australian captain’s lacklustre form continued on Monday night, dismissed for just one against a dominant Black Caps outfit.
For those counting at home, that’s now 10 innings in 2021 for Finch, and he’s yet to pass 20.
But his slump isn’t just confined to this year.
It started in last season’s IPL, where he was dropped in the latter rounds for Josh Philippe at Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).
Finch’s numbers in the competition, on the face of it, weren’t horrific (268 runs at 22.3), but those who watched the campaign closely saw a man struggling for fluency at the crease like we’ve rarely seen.
The Victorian went at a strike rate of just 111.2, well below his usual standards.
For reference, in T20 international cricket Finch usually scores at a rate of 153.9 runs per 100 balls.
After a disappointing IPL campaign Finch was back in the runs in the ODIs against India, peeling off 114, 60 and 75 in the three-game series.
But the respite offered by 50-over cricket was brief.
A horror BBL campaign saw Finch go without a half-century in 13 innings, in a competition he has dominated over the years.
So how do we assess where Finch is at, and is he a genuine worry going forward?
T20 is a naturally volatile format of the game, especially for batters, so a wider sample size is needed when assessing form.
But that’s exactly what we have with Finch.
His last 25 innings in the game’s shortest format (9 IPL, three international, 13 BBL) read: 382 runs at 15.3, strike rate 110.4.
Those 25 innings include no half-centuries.
Beyond just stats, even the lay cricket fan can see Finch is bereft of any timing and confidence.
For six months now, we’ve seen none of the devastating top-order innings he is renowned for.
Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way: Finch is a phenomenal white ball talent, who is probably Australia’s best ever T20I player.
Since taking over the T20 (and ODI) captaincy, he has been the level-head Australia has required, and continues to show not only tactical aplomb, but a certain level of class.
His magnanimity after Monday’s loss was evident, thanking New Zealand authorities with the way the side has been treated in quarantine, of which they had “no complaints”.
He is undoubtedly the best man to lead Australia to the T20 World Cup in India later this year.
But if he does not command a spot in the best XI, then *should* he be leading the team?
Finch’s form issues are compounded because the opener’s position is one Australia has plenty of depth in.
Provided David Warner returns to the side, Matthew Wade and Philippe may also lay down a strong marker for that spot in coming months, which would give the Australian selectors an almighty problem.
Thankfully for Finch, he has time to ensure that doesn’t happen.
While Australia plays a staggeringly low number of Tests and ODIs for the rest of 2021, they should (Covid-pending) play enough T20s for Finch to force his way out of a deepening slump.
There are four games to play in the current series against New Zealand (the first time ever Australia has played a five-game T20 series), while they could also play three-game series against the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh prior to the T20 World Cup in October/November (although given Cricket Australia’s fondness for cancelling tours, don’t hold your breath).
Despite this, missing the upcoming IPL is perhaps the biggest disappointment for Finch given India’s World Cup hosting rights.
Finch was not retained by the Simon Katich-coached RCB this season, and was overlooked completely in last week’s auction.
For his confidence, the IPL may have done him a world of good.
But as it is, he’ll have to use T20 internationals (and the inaugural edition of The Hundred tournament in the UK) to reaffirm his spot at the top.