Secret weapon in Australia’s Cup defence
FROM being on the brink of being axed, to emerging as the secret World Cup weapon - Australia has capitalised on an underrated Aaron Finch trait to kick-start their title defence.
With Usman Khawaja plundering runs at the top of the order, and the banned David Warner set to return, whispers became murmurs: could Australia do the unthinkable and axe the skipper ahead of the showpiece 50-over event?
Such considerations seem fanciful to the point of ridiculousness a fortnight into the World Cup.
But as Finch bumbled his way through series against South Africa and India - notching a mere 83 runs at the paltry average of 13.8 - it was a genuine possibility.
In five of his six innings Finch was dismissed either lbw or bowled. Suddenly a flaw in his technique had been brutally exposed with the World Cup mere months away.
Certainly, a top score of 41 didn't cap off Finch's summer the right way and he went to India in dire need of runs.
Finch was given every chance by selectors to prove his worth to the team - which was considerable, and, vitally, went far beyond his run scoring.
After starting with a three-ball duck in Hyderabad, Finch returned scores of 37 and a morale-boosting 97 to keep the wolves at the door.
How welcome and timely that proved. And not simply because has Finch has stood up to be counted as one of the chief run scorers at the top of the order in England.
His captaincy, too, has proven a key (and possibly underrated) element in Australia's assault on a sixth title.
Finch already had a reputation as an excellent manager - the sort of captain who could bring a team in crisis together with little more than a smile and a knockabout attitude.
But in England, he's also shown a tactical nous which has proved vital in Australia's early charge.
Australia has twice escaped with tight victories in the past week, against West Indies (by 15 runs) and Pakistan (41 runs), and on both occasions Finch's planning came to the fore.
In Taunton, his decision to pull a last-second DRS referral of a caught-behind (originally ruled not out) off Wahab Riaz all but ended Pakistan's plucky lower-order resistance.
A resistance which had grown steadily and threatened to boil over.
Even before that point he made the bold call to turn to his strike weapon - Mitchell Starc - rather than save the left-arm star for the crucial final overs where he is typically used.
It was a gamble. One which could've left Australia shorthanded for the 48th, 49th or 50th over. But paid huge dividends. Just as it did when he deployed his star late in the West Indies' chase last week.
On both occasions Starc rewarded his captain with wickets, Australia won the game and Finch was able to smile through the post-match press conferences safe in the knowledge that a spot in the final four is creeping closer.
For all that, he does need some help at the selection table.
Because despite successfully navigating one potential minefield on Wednesday, it is unreasonable to ask the skipper to be going into matches without a steady fifth bowling option.
Part of the reason why the Starc call was so bold from Finch was that, following the side strain injury to Marcus Stoinis, Australia had started the Pakistan clash effectively one bowler short.
Stoinis had been replaced in the batting order by Shaun Marsh - who has bowled all of 36 deliveries of slow left-arm orthodox spin in his List A career - and that meant Australia had just four specialist bowlers, needing to find 10 overs from Glenn Maxwell and, it turned out, Finch himself.
Maxwell went for 58 runs from his seven overs, while Finch jagged a wicket with a rank full toss.
It was that sort of day for Finch… even when he was bad, he was good.
But moving forward it is not a sustainable strategy.
Depending on the severity of Stoinis' injury - and it must be fairly serious given Australia felt the need to fly Mitchell Marsh over as cover - Australia will need to return to a scenario where they have another seam-bowling option, whether it be one of the all-rounders or by promoting Nathan Coulter-Nile or Pat Cummins up the order.
It will certainly make Finch's life a whole lot easier in the field when he's crunching the numbers on who gets the next over.