LONDON – Hard to believe the Cricket World Cup’s new leading scorer was willing to drop himself down the batting order three months ago in the hope of recovering his form.
The only thing Aaron Finch would likely want to drop now is picking the coin toss.
Finch scored 153 in leading Australia to 334-7 on Saturday at the Oval, where the target was too intimidating for an out-of-touch Sri Lanka, which collapsed from 186-2 to 247 all out.
In leading defending champion Australia to the top of the World Cup standings after a fourth win in five matches, Finch was named man of the match.
Finch’s century had been coming. He’d hit 66 against Afghanistan, and 82 against Pakistan on Wednesday. He was seeing the white ball as big as a balloon.
After losing the toss for a seventh consecutive time, and fifth time in this World Cup, he warned his team to be careful and disciplined against the new ball.
Yet, the first ball the opener faced, from Sri Lanka paceman Nuwan Pradeep, he drove it to the mid-off boundary. Before the end of the same second over of the match, he leaned forward again and smoked Pradeep straight back down the ground for another boundary.
“When you get a few drives away for boundaries early it sets you up,” Finch said.
As set as concrete, he survived a close lbw appeal on 35 and reached 50 in 50 balls. After Sri Lanka’s Dhananjaya de Silva dismissed Finch’s opening partner, David Warner, and Usman Khawaja, Finch swatted the spinner twice in two balls over the long-on fence in surging from 73 to 91.
A six over long-off brought up his 14th ODI hundred and second in World Cups. He’d taken 97 balls. Then he accelerated.
The third fifty came from 31 balls. He equaled his previous best score of 153 not out in March against Pakistan, and the highest score in the tournament so far, by England’s Jason Roy against Bangladesh. Then he was out off a miscue, receiving a standing ovation after facing 132 deliveries, 15 sent to the boundary and five over the fence.
“It was a nice wicket, and I’ve been working on not letting my head fall over and keeping my balance spot on,” Finch said. “Just being sharp those first few balls is key.”
As recently as March, Finch was willing to drop himself in the batting order from opener. He was struggling for runs, and his place was in question ahead of the imminent return of Warner and Steve Smith after their ball-tampering suspensions. In nine ODIs from November to mid-March, eight of them against India, the captain was averaging 15.77.
Yes, Finch had just come off leading Australia to an historic series win in India from 2-0 down. He’d scored 93 in the third match of the comeback, but had only a combined 63 runs from the other four matches.
“Everything I was doing, I was just questioning because you’re looking for an answer … you’re searching so hard for something you don’t know,” Finch said.
“What I learned was you can strip it back as much as you want, but it doesn’t change the basics of the game. The basics as an opening batter are to go out there and defend the good ball and score runs.”
On the eve of a five-match series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, he offered to drop himself down to dampen the distraction of his form.
The offer wasn’t taken up. Then he went out and scored 116, 153 not out, 90, 39 and 53 as Australia swept Pakistan.
With the 343 runs he’s tallied from five innings at this World Cup _ 62 more than second-placed Warner _ he’s passed Khawaja as the leading run-scorer in ODIs this year.
He’s averaging 76.16 from his last 13 ODIs, and his eight 50s (including three hundreds) are the most he’s achieved in a calendar year.
Try dropping him lower down the order now.