In England this summer you’ve known when rain is on the way. You walk outside and feel it in the air — a thickness, a dampness, a foreboding. Rain that announces its imminence long before it arrives.
This English summer you’ve known that Aaron Finch has been on the way. A cloud that will break soon enough. There was some early spotting, signs in the sky. But overnight against Sri Lanka at The Oval came the deluge, an opening fusillade of 153 from 132 balls.
AUS v SL match summary
Over the past week water has fallen on every team but Australia; Finch made sixes rain as readily.
A few months ago there was little suggestion that Finch would or could be this dominant. First he was in abysmal form, racking up single-figure scores with remarkable consistency.
Then he ground his way back amongst the runs in India in the UAE. There were big scores, but no flow, no confidence, no speed.
Entering the World Cup things felt different. He got off to a flyer against Afghanistan to bash 66. Against Pakistan it was 82 at a run a ball, falling trying to force the pace higher still. Against India he was in brilliant touch, driving hard and true for 36 from 35 before being run out.
It felt like even more of a waste than usual, because Australia’s chase of 352 looked possible while he was at the crease.
It was notable that match was at The Oval, where Finch has played a mountain of cricket for Surrey. He was back there against Sri Lanka and wasn’t going to waste a second chance. He was driving from the get-go, mostly down the ground with the odd one through cover.
He went after the opening bowlers. Each shot connected with a clean satisfying thunk.
Ponting’s ‘magic dust’ rubs off
Former Test opener Ed Cowan noted his approach on Twitter, referring back to the Pakistan match.
“Hope I don’t put the moz on him, but never seen Aaron Finch’s technique look better than these last two games,” Cowan tweeted.
“When Amir was hooping them down the line early he was balanced with great access. RT Ponting magic dust?”
Ponting would end up as the player that Finch passed in making the highest World Cup score by an Australian captain.
“He’s got just about every record in Australia, so it’s nice to take one off him,” Finch said with a smile after the match.
But what was more notable than statistical trivia — Ponting’s score after all was made to win the 2003 final — was the way Finch went about this innings. Faster, bigger, longer, stronger, if we can borrow a maxim from a different global event.
It’s notable because Finch as an ODI player is a myth. We discuss him as an aggressive batsman who can take the game away. When you think of him you always picture him playing those big drives, sometimes on the ground, sometimes leaning back to trampoline them into the crowd.
But that is Twenty20 Finch. He has the two highest international scores, 156 against England in 2013 and 172 against Zimbabwe last year. Domestically, especially for Surrey, he’s made equally furious and withering scores.
We think of those. And we think of his drives, like the six he thwacked from Tim Southee in the 2015 World Cup match at Eden Park, before Southee bowled him trying the same shot next ball. Like Ishant Sharma detonating his stumps midway through an even bigger drive in the 2018 Adelaide Test.
In one-dayers these drives pepper the highlight reels. But they don’t represent the rest of his innings. Between times, Finch takes it easy. He builds towards a hundred. And when he gets one, he gets out.
Finch had 13 one-day centuries for Australia before this World Cup match. Eight of those never made it to 110. More interesting is the relative lack of speed: of 13 centuries, only three came at better than a run a ball.
His only really explosive 50-over ton was against a modestly equipped Scotland in 2013, when he made 148 at a strike rate of 129. But even that day he got to 101 from 97 balls before switching to T20 mode for 47 runs in the next 14.
That’s compared to his T20 international centuries, which he reached from 47 and 50 balls chronologically.
Finch shows he can go fast and large
Finch has rarely gone hard in one-dayers. One exception was on a 2016 tour of Sri Lanka, where he decided his best move on ragging decks was to smash the opening bowlers before a spinner inevitably got him. Two of his 10 fastest innings came in that series, including his fastest striking at 289 when he made 55 from 19 balls in Dambulla.
But beyond his 10 fastest scores, the strike rate drops below 120. Beyond his top 30 it’s under 100. That’s 80 of 110 career innings at less than a run a ball.
Another of the 10 fastest was the Scotland ton, one was against Afghanistan a fortnight ago, and aside from a random 53 against South Africa in 2016, none of the others were worth more than 22 runs (one was his 14 off 7 against New Zealand in the aforementioned Auckland match).
Finch has probably taken his time because eight of his hundreds have been made batting with David Warner, formerly the more attacking partner.
But Warner in this World Cup has gone into his shell, making the two slowest 50s of his career before crawling to 26 from 48 balls against Sri Lanka, at a 1980s strike rate of 54.
The Finch we saw against Sri Lanka was a Finch who needed to compensate. He has always had that gear available, he’s just tempered it with caution. But now he’s leading a side with a shortage of hitters, sending the unlikely Shaun Marsh or Usman Khawaja to try to tee off in the slog overs.
It isn’t working, as we saw with both Pakistan and Sri Lanka able to haul Australia back. So if Australia need hitters, Finch can provide one up top.
His strike rate against Sri Lanka was 115.9, by far his fastest outside Scotland, and his 153 matched his previous highest score, dwarfing those efforts where he has fallen just after the milestone.
The most remarkable thing about Finch’s numbers is simply that he now has 14 one-day centuries. For a player with no Test pedigree to become so established is an anomaly that is a credit to him.
Ahead of him are only Warner with 15 tons, Adam Gilchrist with 16, Mark Waugh with 18, and his current batting mentor Ponting with 29. Some all-time greats of Australia’s 50-over game.
Finch could captain this one-day side for a long while yet. He could feasibly end up second on that list. It’s up to him how fast and how large he wants to go.