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Friday, Aug 23, 2019

ICC World Cup 2019: Amiable Aaron, a suitable skipper

World Cup: Finch strikes you as someone who isn’t flashy. As a batsman, he isn’t as wristy as Smith or even Warner. When the team’s fielding, he is mostly stationed in the outfield.

cricket Updated: Jun 27, 2019 18:37 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times, Birmingham
Australia's captain Aaron Finch
Australia's captain Aaron Finch (AFP)

Aaron Finch has us confused. Honest, humble and amiable—these aren’t exactly the adjectives used to describe an Australia captain. The legacy of Australian cricket requires its leader to be anything but a friendly face. If Steve Waugh came across as foxy when not brusque and cold, Ricky Ponting was known to look for trouble. Michael Clarke’s cherubic looks perfectly masked the rage of an embittered Australia captain that had once told James Anderson to ‘get ready for a broken f***ing arm’. Steve Smith wasn’t exactly innocent as well. What’s up with Finch then?

Finch strikes you as someone who isn’t flashy. As a batsman, he isn’t as wristy as Smith or even Warner. When the team’s fielding, he is mostly stationed in the outfield. It’s as if he tries—quite successfully too—to stay out of the spotlight. To ask such a man to measure up to the aura of a Waugh, Ponting or Clarke going into the World Cup as Australia captain can be quite an unfair ask. And yet Finch has completed the first task—reaching the semi-finals—by staying true to himself and quietly going about scoring runs that wouldn’t expose Australia’s frail middle-order.

ALSO READ: India, New Zealand matches ‘quarter-finals’ for England, says Joe Root

Anxious Aaron

He has been open about it and that is probably the best way of dealing with pressure. “I had huge anxiety based on the World Cup coming up, being captain of the side and not getting the output I wanted leading from the front,” Finch was quoted as saying on a radio show before Australia’s World Cup camp.

“When I think of Australian captains—Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Mark Taylor, Allan Border—everyone leads from the front, and I was getting really frustrated, I was preparing, doing everything I thought I could to succeed, it just wasn’t happening. The support I was getting was incredible, but in the back of your mind you are thinking, ‘gee, the World Cup isn’t far away, as a captain I could be left out of the squad’; then you start putting unrealistic pressure on yourself to perform when you can’t control that. That takes care of itself if you do your job.”

He is talking about the time Bhuvneshwar Kumar cast doubts in his batting but Finch showed the grit to get out of that rut. This World Cup has put him on a different pedestal. Warner understanding the need to stay put means now Finch is one half of the best opening batting pair in this competition. But is there a more defining moment for an Australia captain than scoring a century against England at Lord’s while sealing a last-four berth? Probably not.

Australia have this peculiar habit of peaking at the right time in every World Cup since 1996 but it’s not possible without decisive leadership. You could contend that with legends like Justin Langer and Ponting making a note of every move made or decisions being taken in the dressing room counts as an unfair advantage but on the field, the buck still stops with the captain.

ALSO READ: Kevin Pietersen says Eoin Morgan ‘scared’, England captain shrugs it off

Departure from past

And Finch has been able to do justice to his role by not being too loud about it. “For me when I first started in leadership roles I was quite young, like in all the junior representative teams and things like that and doing it, I think, eight years with the Melbourne Renegades, I’ve changed a lot, just in the way that I used to talk a lot and some feedback from the boys was: ‘Don’t talk so much.’ So I took that on board,” said Finch after Tuesday’s win against England.

“I don’t tend to not talk as much around team meetings or things like that. I try and let everyone else have their own say and just contribute where I need to. And in terms of most satisfying, I think it’s seeing guys come into an environment and feeling really comfortable in the Australian team when they first come in. It can be a daunting place when you come from domestic cricket to the international, especially if it’s an international tour. You’re away from home and you’re away from your comfort zones.

So to have guys come in and be really comfortable in and around the team straightaway, I think that’s a really big positive for me and the coaching staff and all the other senior players that contribute to a lot of that,” said Finch.

Read that again. This is a marked departure from the tried and tested Aussie theory of tough love. This is more of a considerate guardian speaking than an authoritative Australia captain. This leader may not admonish a player after a dropped catch. He might just go up to him and say, ‘well tried’.

He is less likely to punish players for not completing their homework. And he will definitely be the first to take the blame for the team. “It’s a bit than more wins and losses in a leadership role. It’s about making sure that you’re creating a great environment for everyone to succeed in.”

Perhaps it’s about the purge at work within Australian cricket. There is a need to portray a kinder, more humane Australia captain to the rest of the world. And Finch is a natural fit without compromising on the traits needed to lead the team to another World Cup success. He provides aggressive but responsible starts as a batsman, is a devoted fielder and a captain who is frank about the team’s vulnerabilities and strengths. Australia are winning as well. Really, what’s not to like about Aaron Finch?

First Published: Jun 27, 2019 16:21 IST

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