With one match to go before a well-earned break, Australia captain Aaron Finch is hoping his team will cap a hard month on the road with a victory. “Hopefully leading into this final, we’re saving our best for last and then the boys will get a little break,” Finch said.
Australia have packed 10 days of cricket into the last three weeks, and they’ll need the rest ahead of a busy 2018-19 season. After a trip to the UAE for Tests, ODIs and a T20I against Pakistan, the side will play South Africa, India and Sri Lanka over a summer that will also feature an expanded Big Bash League.
Australia have also been coming to terms with a new era both on and off the field, with the addition of new faces to their squads bringing with it a general need for recalibration. While there’s still room for improvement, Finch thinks there have been “great developments” in the team.
“Slowly we’re starting to find the right balance and a little bit more of an understanding of how each other play the game,” Finch said. “There’s a few new faces around, so as a captain I think it’s important to have more of an understanding of guys strengths and things where there’s room for improvement. There’ve been some great developments over the last few months on tour. We’ve trained hard.”
But hard yakka in the nets hasn’t necessarily transmuted into success. Inconsistent results certainly aren’t down to any lapses in their training schedules: Australia have trained for an hour or more after their last two games in Harare, braving plummeting mid-winter temperatures, and several players have spoken about the effect new coach Justin Langer is having. All the same, their last few games have been marked by both record-breaking peaks and repeated blunders.
“I don’t know if rusty is the right word,” Finch said. “We’re still just slightly off in our execution with the bat, ball and in the field. Putting down a couple too many chances in the field – well, one is too many. With the ball we’re probably just leaking that one over that’s a real big one. In the past we’ve been really good at, if we’re hit for a boundary early, shutting down the over and getting out of it. Lately there’s been too many 15, 16-plus overs. With the bat, anytime you have to get a new partnership going, it makes it more difficult.
“It would have been nice for our in batters to make sure that we got the job done comfortably [against Zimbabwe]. A little too close for comfort, but in the end getting a win is important, leading into the final with momentum.”
Finch’s personal returns have also been mixed in the tri-series, with 240 runs (and a new world record) in his first two innings followed by 19 runs from his next two. But such are the vagaries of T20 batting, Finch said, targetting another big knock in Sunday’s final.
“I feel like I’m playing very well at the moment. I’m not too bothered by a couple of low scores to be honest. T20 cricket tends to be high risk at the start of the innings and as long as I’m moving well and hitting the ball in the middle of the bat I’m pretty confident. Having played a lot of T20 cricket now, I understand the highs and lows of a batter in this game so it’s just about making sure that you’re giving yourself the best chance, making the right decision under pressure, and I still feel as though I’m doing that. It just hasn’t gone my way in the last two games, but hopefully a big one in the final.”
Finch will be up against an attack Australia hadn’t seen much of in T20Is before their trip to Zimbabwe. Australia’s last T20I against Pakistan before the tri-series was at the World T20 in 2016, and while they have played each other in other formats, Australia have had to scramble to adapt their gameplans on a quick turnaround while in Harare.
“They’ve got a lot of very dangerous players,” Finch said of Pakistan. “If you look at the stats from this series, Fakhar Zaman has been outstanding and a real thorn in our side for a couple of games. He’s also been really consistent in this format for quite a long time. Obviously [Mohammad] Amir came back and bowled really well in the last game. They’ve got a lot of left-arm options. And then Shadab Khan as well, bowling legspin and spinning it both ways is also a threat. We reviewed heavily after the game against Pakistan and came up with some really solid plans for their bowlers and batters.”
The world no. 1 ranking will remain out of Australia’s grasp even if they win Sunday’s final – they needed an unbeaten run through the tri-series to snatch the position away from Pakistan – but Finch said that winning the tri-series, rather than gaining ranking points, was Australia’s goal throughout.
“On this tour, there’s been no talk about ‘we have to win this tournament to become no. 1’. It’s about winning the tournament for Australia. We’ve put ourselves in a position to do that, so that’s a real positive. We haven’t played our best cricket in the last couple of games, but there’s room for improvement and come tomorrow I’ve got a real good feeling that we’ll bring our A game.”
Though rankings aren’t the focus, a win in the final would mean that Australia’s T20 side would be their top-ranked men’s team in second position (their women’s side is no. 1 overall), and Finch put their climb up the tables from sixth position last year down to the increased number of T20Is on their calendar. Australia have played 17 T20Is since the last World T20 in early 2016, winning 12. Between the 2014 and 2016 World T20s, they had played just 10 games, losing six.
“We’ve been really consistent over the years in T20 cricket with some great sides,” Finch said. “In the past there’s been a lot less T20 cricket played as a country outside of the world tournaments. When you’re playing one game generally per series, if that, it can be quite hard to get your ranking up there. I think over the last 18 or 24 months we’ve played a lot more T20; we’ve probably had a lot more settled side over that time as well. I think there’s merit in how we’ve moved up the rankings.”