Finch smashes Aussies to costly victory
Australia have crushed Pakistan by eight wickets in Sharjah, where Aaron Finch celebrated consecutive ODI centuries and Usman Khawaja extended his hot form.
Australia completed a venue-record chase of 285 with minimal fuss in 47.5 overs, thanks to a 209-run stand between Finch (153 not out) and Khawaja (88) Finch, last month described as "mentally shot" by former selector Mark Waugh, is making a mockery of anybody who suggested someone else should lead Australia at the World Cup.
Khawaja threw away a golden chance to make it three tons in five matches but the consolation was he'd just been part of the fifth highest ODI opening stand in Australia's proud history.
Jhye Richardson's dislocated shoulder, suffered when he dived to stop a ball in the deep, was the only sour note for coach Justin Langer as his team banked a fifth straight ODI win - something Australia haven't achieved since 2016.
The 22-year-old,who was set to be the youngest member of Australia's World Cup squad, will return to Australia immidiately for scans and is unlikely to be fit for for the 50-over tournament unless the prognosis is incredibly positive.
Australia's World Cup defence was seemingly a lost cause at the start of the year, when Khawaja was recalled amid six changes to the team. They are now marching towards the 50-over tournament with a stack of in-form contributors plus a new-found sense of composure and confidence. Suspended superstars Steve Smith and David Warner are still expected to be squeezed into the batting order at the World Cup but assumptions about the latter opening with Finch may have to be revisited.
Finch and Khawaja have produced opening stands of zero, three, 63, 76, 83, 193 and 209 since coming together at the start of the recent tour of India. Sunday's partnership was chanceless until Khawaja picked out Imam-ul-Haq in the deep during the 37th over, underlining just how well the batsmen are working together.
Finch displayed some trademark aggression, hammering six sixes, but for the most part he and Khawaja kept the scoreboard ticking over with sensible singles.
Even when the ball started reversing late and Pakistan built some dot-ball pressure, soon after Glenn Maxwell was promoted to first drop and run out for 19, Finch didn't panic.
Finch admitted the start was tough.
"On a wicket like that, you can't afford to take it too deep with new batters," he said. "When you come in, it's tough to quickly at first. I just wanted to get through Imad (Wasim).
"It's hard to take a risk off him. I just hung in there as long as I could. Usman has been in good form, and he's getting big runs at an important time. Things are going quite well at the moment, but there are always things to improve."
It is just the second time in Finch's 106-ODI career that he has posted back-to- back hundreds.
A couple of threatening bouncers from teenage debutant Mohammad Hasnain, who threatened to break the 150 km/h barrier, and a late run-out chance was the closest that Pakistan came to disturbing Finch's control during a 142-ball stay at the crease.
The victory was all the more meritorious because Richardson only delivered five overs, while Pat Cummins was rested for the second game in a row. Cummins is likely to return in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, when Australia hunt an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series, although selectors may be tempted to give the spearhead another game off.
Pakistan recovered from 4-112 to post a total of 7-284, with Mohammad Rizwan's maiden ODI ton spearheading a powerful comeback.
Finch removed Haris Sohail, who scored his maiden ODI ton on Friday, and finished with tidy figures of 1-41 from 10 overs.