World Cup winner Brad Hodge has come to the defence of Aaron Finch, believing the form book against Zimbabwe should be “thrown in the Yarra” and the under-siege captain backed through to the T20 World Cup.
The pressure on Finch is building by the day after the once-destructive batter had a horrible One Day International series against Zimbabwe, managing just 21 runs at seven. His failures came after finishing the short-form series against Sri Lanka with consecutive ducks in ODIs.
Zimbabwe’s maiden win over Australia Down Under has only heaped more pressure on Finch, with the out-of-sorts captain shouldering some of the blame heading into the three-match series with New Zealand starting in Cairns on Tuesday (AEST).
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The latest failure came after George Bailey came to the defence of Finch while the two-time World Cup winner, who led Australia to its maiden T20 crown late last year, said he was eager to spend some time in the middle.
His dismissal on Saturday, where he was stuck on the crease as he attempted to defend a good length delivery from left-armer Richard Ngarava for five, saw Kerry O’Keeffe urge Finch to release the shackles and play his natural game.
“He’s an attacker who’s been out three times defending, so against (Trent) Bolt and (Tim) Southee, (who are) just around the corner, he’s got to attack them,” O’Keeffe told Fox Cricket.
“They bowl balls you have to defend and his defence is flawed at the moment. I think he’s got to throw caution to the wind; don’t fear failure and go out there and play his trademark shots down the ground.”
Hodge, however, threw up an alternative view, believing the 35-year-old was merely going through a lean patch because it was hard to mentally get up for the in-between clashes and would have focussed all of his attention on delivering at next month’s home T20 World Cup.
“(I don’t think) so at this stage,” Hodge responded to foxsports.com.au, when asked whether the debate around his place in the side was fair.
“I know Finchy, and I know him well personally, right, and I can tell you straight up that he’ll be on fire come time for the T20 World Cup.
“When you’ve played this much cricket, and you have your eyes set on a huge trophy like that, you’re gearing up to that moment. So sort of what happens prior to that is irrelevant.
“I know we look in and we go ‘OK, well, the runs aren’t there,’ but your mind is already transfixed on this big event.
“And how many titles has he won, so Finchy’s a two-time World Cup winner, right? So his mind is surely set to be unbelievably ready to be a triple-winner and double-winning captaining World Cup player. “And I would be if I was in his shoes.
“If you’re worried about form against Zimbabwe, you might as well pick it up and throw it into the Yarra because it’s pointless. He’ll be ready and ready to go. First match.”
Finch’s position is one of the last remaining talking points around the makeup of Australia’s World Cup defence.
After naming a settled squad, with uncapped Tim David replacing leg-spinner Mitch Swepson, there is little room to move.
But both Matthew Wade and Marcus Stoinis have had success batting at the top of the order, while any change to the lineup could also allow David to enter the equation.
Finch was also selected ahead of emerging stars Ben McDermott and Josh Philippe, while Josh Inglis remains in the squad but is unlikely to feature unless Wade struggles.
Hodge said the next generation of talent had been given opportunities in recent months but no-one took it.
“I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? Because we saw a number of players get opportunities against Sri Lanka as well, some younger players, and they didn’t quite nail it,” he said.
“Probably Josh Inglis is one that did and that was in a middle-order role.
“So in terms of those players, it’s hard when you get up to the top. If you’ve had chances and haven’t quite nailed it, you probably tend to go to someone who’s actually done it many times before – and that’s Aaron Finch, and I’ll back him in as well.”
Hodge added that Finch’s leadership could not be underestimated.
“Yeah, there’s that, he’s a student of the game as well,” said Hodge, who played alongside Finch for years for Victoria and the Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash.
“He’s well educated and well-schooled on how he thinks things should roll on the field. He’s a forward thinker. Very good communicator with his players on the field, good communication with the players off the field as well, and the coaching staff, so he’s got a lot of good relationships within the team. That’s important. There’s a lot of respect in that space.
“So I guess the last sort of jigsaw puzzle, and the other thing is that he’s got a gun side – and that helps. When you’ve got superstars around you, they think for themselves as well. And he puts a lot of trust and faith in them to make the decisions and get them done.”
Hodge, who won the World Cup with Australia in 2007, said Finch’s “grounding” was a refreshing and important aspect that also went under the radar.
“The other thing with Finchy is that he’s very well grounded,” Hodge said. “He didn’t he actually doesn’t promote himself in a particular space.
“He doesn’t go and push what he’s good at. That’s a strong character.
“He doesn’t have to present that he’s a good captain, doesn’t have to push when he’s down. He backs it up with what he knows best and he does it and that’s his leadership. It adds an extra 10 per cent to the team.”