Australia is staring down the barrel of a straight-sets loss to trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand, but the individual fortunes of Aaron Finch have dominated the discussion in the build-up to the third T20.
The Australian captain is out of form, and his side simply struggles to win without him — it’s no coincidence the tourists lost the first two matches while he made scores of 1 and 12.
Australian white ball success has long been married to the performances of its veteran opener, who has had an up-and-down two years with the bat.
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In the run-in to the 2019 World Cup, Australia lost back-to-back home ODI series — Finch averaged 13.83 — and went winless in two T20 series against India that saw the captain average 12.60.
When Finch’s form turned, so did Australia’s.
His 93 in Ranchi in March 2019 helped instigate Australia’s stunning comeback from 2-0 down against India to win a five-match ODI series 3-2.
Finch’s resurgence then continued in the UAE where Australia trounced Pakistan 5-0, with the opener making 451 runs at 112.75.
Now, months out from the T20 World Cup, Australia has lost four of its past five 20-over matches with Finch scoring just 48 runs at 12.00 — and that’s to say nothing of his dire BBL season.
Australia will hope that 2021 mirrors the pattern of 2019 when Finch — faced with the prospect of being axed in the build-up to a World Cup — came good, and the nation did with him.
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T20: Marcus Stoinis and Daniel Sams had the unenviable task of chasing down NZ’s 219 total at the backend of their innings after the Aussies lost early wickets, well the pair came agonisingly close in a partnership that will be long remembered.
Of course, there’s merely a strong correlation between Finch scoring runs and Australia winning white ball games, rather than one being the sole reason for the other.
There are other pieces to the puzzle an understrength Australia is missing in New Zealand.
The tourists haven’t pieced together a strong, 20-over bowling performance, folding in the death overs of the first T20, and bowling poorly in the powerplay of the second.
Meanwhile, Finch isn’t the only Australian batsman guilty of misfiring across the ditch: Matthew Wade is averaging 18 while Glenn Maxwell has faced 10 balls all series for four runs.
But such is the fickle nature of T20 cricket that nothing is as good, or as bad, as it seems.
That’s important for Finch to remember on Wednesday as his spot in the Australian XI increasingly comes under question.
Mark Waugh said during the second ODI: “His job is to score runs… no batsman is immune from being dropped when you’re not scoring runs, doesn’t matter if you’re captain or not.”
Meanwhile, Finch has been copping abuse online, leading to his wife Amy last week speaking out against the trolls.
“I don’t appreciate it, neither does my husband who is battling and doing everything he possibly can to get back into the runs,” she said. “Honestly, these keyboard warriors need to go and get a bloody life.”
Despite the fact Finch has been out of form since the start of the Australian summer, any calls for his axing still feel largely premature.
The 34-year-old averages more than 35 in T20I cricket, more than 40 in ODIs and offers a decade of international experience, including a World Cup win in 2015.
He has a track record of bouncing back to his best after a lean run while his captaincy credentials are arguably second to none in the Australian white ball set up.
It’s no wonder national selector George Bailey said on the weekend that Finch will still be captain at the time of the T20 World Cup in October.
“He’s got a terrific average, he’s the captain of this side and he’ll be the captain of this side at the World Cup,” Bailey said.
“It’s just complete white noise for me,” he added of the criticism.
Nonetheless, good faith will only buy Finch so much time. The day will eventually come when he’s tapped on the shoulder should his poor run continue.
That’s highly unlikely to occur in New Zealand, however, where Finch still has ample opportunity to recalibrate with bigger challenges on the horizon.
History suggests he will deliver sooner rather than later.
Third T20: New Zealand vs Australia, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Wednesday March 3, 5pm (AEDT)
HOW TO WATCH
Watch every ball of the third T20 live and ad-break free during play with Fox Sports on Kayo.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Met Service was predicting a few showers on Wednesday morning, returning again in the evening but not until after the match is scheduled to end.
The Met Service predicted a high of 22 degrees on Wednesday with northerly winds.
Australia (possible): Aaron Finch, Matthew Wade, Josh Philippe, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Mitch Marsh, Asthon Agar, Daniel Sams, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa
New Zealand (possible): Martin Guptill, Tim Seifert, Kane Williamson, Devon Conway, James Neesham, Glenn Philipps, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson