Earlier this year, Australia's ODI cricket team was in the doldrums, floundering without suspended duo Steve Smith and Dave Warner and looking set to descend into a mid-table international team.
The dog days look over now though as Finch captained Australia to a second series victory in as many months, compiling 6/266 before blasting Pakistan out for 186 and seizing a 3-0 lead.
Coming on the back of a stirring, unlikely series win over the might of India at home, the team is suddenly back in contention for the World Cup, which begins on 30 May.
Australia had struggled at home in a 2-1 series loss to India which was more lopsided than that scoreline suggests. They had returned to the Test cricket winners’ circle against Sri Lanka late in the summer but that was largely discounted because of Sri Lanka’s injury-depleted team.
An all-round team performance has secured our Aussie men an unassailable 3-0 ODI Series lead against Pakistan in the UAE! Skipper @AaronFinch5 has lead the way brilliantly with over 350 runs 🏏 pic.twitter.com/ThBb21v86c
— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) March 27, 2019
Resurgent Finch leading from the front
No player has embodied the turnaround in form more than ODI captain Aaron Finch, who made 90 runs in last night’s series-clinching victory. He had made 153* and 116 in his two previous innings. Had he made the century, he would have become the first Australian batsman to ever record three consecutive hundreds in one-day international cricket.
The burly opener looked completely out of sorts through the Australian summer and at one point smashed a plastic chair in frustration after a luckless dismissal. Finch now looks to have completely regained control of his stand-and-deliver game and has plundered 24 boundaries and 11 sixes across the series, alternating periods of watchfulness with damaging power hitting.
Finch’s opening partner Usman Khawaja said the team never lost faith the captain would turn his form around. “Finchy’s a really good player and he was always going to score runs,” Khawaja said. “I don’t think any of us really had any doubt that he was going to score runs, it was just a matter of time, it was matter of when.”
The third match also saw Pat Cummins, Australia’s top-ranked bowler (and the world’s #1 Test bowler), return to the side and bowl with excellent rhythm to take 3/24 from eight overs in a man of the match performance.
The emphatic 80-run win meant Australia have now won six consecutive ODI matches, their best winning streak since 2015 when they powered to a World Cup victory on home soil.
Bookmakers have elevated Australia to the third line in betting for the World Cup, behind only India and host nation England.
— Telegraph Sport (@telegraph_sport) March 24, 2019
Smith and Warner set to return after lengthy bans
With Shaun Marsh, Usman Khawaja and Glenn Maxwell all excelling at different points in the series, Australia suddenly has a looming selection headache with former Captain Steve Smith and swashbuckling opener Dave Warner both set to return after their bans for their part in the infamous ball-tampering incident in Cape Town.
Despite the suddenly fierce competition for top order spots, Matthew Hayden dismissed the idea that either Smith or Warner could miss the World Cup squad. Both have returned to the Indian Premier League (IPL) competition. This will be their only high level cricket before the World Cup squads are selected.
“They are going to walk into the side,” Hayden told Press Trust of India. “Even if they have a bad IPL, they are not going to be dropped from that World Cup side.
“For batters, there is no such thing called workload. You just keep batting, batting and batting and that helps your game.”
"It was good to get them in and for the boys to just go and have a beer with them…to sort of break the ice a little bit."
Aaron Finch on meeting up with David Warner and Steven Smithhttps://t.co/Jxq69f6acD
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) March 22, 2019
Both players met briefly with Finch and other current players on their way to their IPL franchises. Finch said the exiled pair seemed to be nervous about their return. “It’s always a bit tougher when it’s just in a meeting-type setting, but it was good to get them in and for the boys to just go to the bar and have a beer with them the night before, to sort of break the ice a little bit for the next day.
“They’re really keen to slot back into how this current side works and what we’ve been doing really well. They were probably as nervous as anyone coming back into the group – you’d think guys with 20-odd Test hundreds would just come back in. But it is a different time and they have been out for quite a while.”