Qantas Tour of the West Indies
IPL added new string to Finch's bow: McCullum
An injury early in the tournament gave Finch the opportunity to flourish in an unheralded aspect of his game
Louis Cameron in London
15 June 2016, 05:29 PM AEST
A brush with injury during the Indian Premier League allowed Aaron Finch to flourish in an unproven element of his game: batting in the middle-order.
And former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum believes it will have huge benefits for both Finch and Australia.
Forming an intimidating opening partnership with McCullum at the beginning of the Gujarat Lions’ inaugural IPL campaign, Finch produced man-of-the-match performances in each of the new franchise’s first three matches.
But a hamstring injury to Finch in Gujarat’s fourth game opened the door for West Indian Dwayne Smith, who impressed against the new ball in the 29-year-old’s subsequent three-game absence.
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It meant Finch had to settle for a spot in the middle-order when he returned, a role he played with aplomb.
Barring a couple of stints back at the top of the order, Finch batted in the unfamiliar spot of No.5 for the remainder of the tournament.
In the five matches he batted there, the explosive right-hander struck two half-centuries and racked up 193 runs at 48.25, up from his career IPL average of 28.34.
While Gujarat were eventually knocked out in a preliminary final by tournament-winners Sunrisers Hyderabad, McCullum believes IPL9 could be a catalyst for Finch taking his T20 game to another level.
"He was outstanding for us," McCullum told cricket.com.au of Finch.
"He played in some different roles for us. He started off at the top of the order and performed brilliantly, (then) got injured, Dwayne Smith came in and he played really well.
"So Finchy put his hand up for us and said 'I'll bat in the middle for us then'. And he did it, and played brilliantly again."
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And the former New Zealand captain, who will line up for the Brisbane Heat in BBL|06, suggests the experience of batting down the order has helped fashion the Colac-born batsman into a more versatile player.
"He probably learnt a lot from playing a different role," McCullum said of Finch, who's opened the batting for Australia in all but two of his 88 international limited-overs matches.
"Because he’s still young in the game, he’ll benefit hugely from that.
"His ability to come in and straight away attack the spinners. Not just being able to being manipulate them in the field but actually being able to clear the ropes against them and create a strike-rate from ball one.
"I think when he goes back to the top of the order and gets away to a good start, when the spinners come on, he’s going to be able to continue to accelerate throughout the innings.
"I think there were some really good learnings for him (from the IPL), he performed brilliantly and I really enjoyed spending time with him both on and off the field."
Finch’s middle-order revelation perhaps came a month too late.
Faced with the unenviable task of squeezing him, Shane Watson, Usman Khawaja, David Warner and captain Steve Smith into their top four for the opening match of the World T20, Australia’s selectors made the bold call to leave out Finch, the ICC’s No.1 ranked T20 batsman.
After two matches (an opening defeat to New Zealand before a win over Bangladesh), he was recalled to open the batting, with Watson sliding down to No.6 for Australia’s match against Pakistan.
While Australia prevailed in that match, a Virat Kohli-masterclass consigned Smith’s men to a disappointing group-stage exit in what was effectively a quarter-final against India.
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Now, with questions still lingering over the make-up of Australia’s best T20 batting order, national selectors may well have taken note of the new string on Finch’s bow.
"I think Finchy’s a magnificent player in T20 cricket," McCullum said.
"He’s destructive, he’s got touch, he’s got craft, he can pace an innings or he can win you a game on his own.
"His record and his consistency in an inconsistent game is something to applaud."