Aaron Finch needs runs to shore up T20I captaincy
Anyone of the view that Steve Smith is entitled to automatically return to Australia's captaincy the moment his Newlands leadership ban elapses at the end of March, would do well to remember the curious circumstances in which Aaron Finch was relieved of the T20 post.
Three years ago, Finch had led the Australia T20 team to wins over Pakistan and South Africa but a losing series against India - despite scores of 44 and 74 - saw him not only replaced as captain by Smith for the 2016 T20 World Cup in India but also dropped from the side.
While Smith was at that stage Australia's undisputed best batsman and captain in the other two formats, the sequence of events took a while for Finch to recover from, particularly as he found himself fighting unfamiliar emotions when recalled at the back end of an ICC event where the Australians would ultimately lose again to India and be knocked out in the quarter-finals. That match stands as the most recent T20 Smith has played, with Finch since being able to reassert his leadership of Australia in both white-ball formats, albeit with diminishing batting returns.
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Since a personally successful T20 triangular series in Zimbabwe last July, Finch has cobbled a mere 75 runs at 7.50 in 10 T20I innings, a sequence coinciding with his abortive trial in Test cricket and also a slim run of ODI scores that saw numerous calls for him to relinquish the 50-over captaincy. However, the selectors kept faith and were rewarded by runs and sound leadership during the World Cup in England, guiding Australia to a semi-final berth that had looked highly unlikely a few months before. Finch knows he needs runs.
"I don't think you're ever assured," Finch said of keeping the captaincy until next year's T20 World Cup on home soil. "In the end it comes down to you doing your main job first and that's for me making runs. If I can look after that I'm sure everything else will take care of itself, but it's honestly nothing I've thought about."
Instead, Finch has been committed to establishing continuity for Australia's T20 team, and also the development of a brand of cricket that will take something from the coach Justin Langer's wildly successful spell mentoring the Perth Scorchers, and also Finch's own time as captain of the Melbourne Renegades, who defeated the Melbourne Stars in a thrilling BBL final at the tail end of last summer.
"You want to be aggressive no doubt, we want wickets in the powerplay and we want runs in the powerplay," Finch said. "A lot of games that is the most crucial part, but then again the last four overs are really important. Having the best death bowlers in the world, and if we're not there at the moment, getting guys as close to the best in the world as what we can possibly have, having guys attack it in the powerplay, taking the game on, making a real play and putting pressure back on the opposition.
"By having similar squads for 12 months will give each player a lot of confidence in each other to be able to do that role and make sure there's 100% faith and everyone's bought into the game plan."
The long term thinking in Australia's selection has been underlined by the presence of Ashton Turner, who is still recovering from shoulder surgery and thus will be somewhat restricted in where he can field. However, he is a better chance to be throwing and also bowling at 100% in a year's time than Chris Lynn, who was omitted from the squad and has now carried a chronic shoulder problem for several years.
"He's not bowling yet, he's batting no problem at all," Finch said of Turner. "His throwing's a little bit more limited to inside the ring, so that's something that's going to have to be monitored. I think there's been a couple of setbacks along the way with his rehab over the last couple of months. But if required he can throw well enough to get a run out or be really effective in the ring.
"I think the fact we've got guys who have had surgeries, there's going to be injuries and niggles along the way, which will be managed, but fielding is a huge focus for us, so come October next year hopefully everyone is fully fit to throw at 100%, anywhere they're required in the ground."
An area in which Australia will need to find a greater level of proficiency is death bowling, something the vice-captain Pat Cummins has pinpointed as his most critical skill to develop and hone over the next 12 months. "The biggest difference between Test bowling and T20 bowling is just the death bowling side of it as a quick bowler," Cummins said. "Try to nail some yorkers and some slower balls.
For Finch, the contrast between the likes of Cummins and Mitchell Starc - world class performers but often rested from T20 duty - and the more extensively T20 tested Kane Richardson or Sean Abbott, who has replaced the injured Andrew Tye, will make for some intriguing selections. "Starcy's proven himself in both the shorter formats of the game that he's as good as anyone in the world," Finch said. "Probably Bumrah's the benchmark in terms of death bowling in the world, but Starcy's very close to him, and it's about getting guys enough experience at international level, but also having the skills to do it.
"I think we're really lucky we've got Kane Richardson who did a great job for us in the one dayers, through India, Dubai and then when he had his opportunity in the World Cup. AJ's a quality bowler and it's unfortunate we're not going to have him most likely for these two series. It's about guys around the country as well, putting a lot of pressure on the players that are in the squad at the moment to put their hand up and make themselves known through one-day performances and Big Bash.
"When you get the opportunity to nail those death overs it's so important that you're putting pressure on."