Aaron Finch is itching to get out. More or less his final commitment after two weeks of hotel quarantine in Sydney following the IPL is to preview Australia’s ODI series against India via Zoom, the only means by which he has been able to plan for the contest with team-mates and coaches.
In a way, the conclusion of quarantine so close to the start of cricketing hostilities between Australia and India is an apt reminder of the unprecedented circumstances for the summer, played out against the backdrop of Covid-19 and all its associated health and biosecurity measures. But if Finch is impatient for a few more freedoms, he is also hopeful that the national selectors will be similarly eager to get the 22-year-old Will Pucovski into their Test team this season.
Much of the debate around Pucovski’s chances of usurping Joe Burns has fallen into the question of team chemistry and balance. That has ranged from head coach Justin Langer and David Warner’s thinly veiled preference for Burns to the trenchant views of Ian and Greg Chappell, insisting that Pucovski be hurled in to face Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami with the new ball. Finch, though, has one of the more valuable perspectives, having been tried and failed as a mature-age Test opener in 2018-19. Finch was handed over his Test debut during the first Test against Pakistan in Dubai in October 2018 while Warner was serving a ball-tampering ban, but was quickly discarded after just five matches, where he averaged 27.80 with a highest score of 62.
In an ESPNcricinfo interview this week, Finch suggested that he wished he had got that chance at the age of 25 rather than 32, the better to learn from it and return a better player. Speaking in the context of Pucovski, Finch went further, saying it was impossible to know how you would handle the most pressing challenge in the game until you experienced it; so the sooner, the better.
“When you have your first chance at 32 and you miss that trick, there’s probably not a huge amount of scope to get back into that side,” Finch said. “So I would’ve loved to have that opportunity at 25 because I think the lessons that I learned from that were crucial in my development – not just as a player but as a person [too].
“I think when you’re talking about young guys – especially hugely talented guys like Will – there’s going to be ups and downs in their careers no doubt. So I think being exposed to the highest level early on, I think that might seem tough at the time if things don’t go well straightaway. But the lessons that you learn from that, the way that you approach the game – the way you approach it mentally probably more than anything – I think is some really valuable lessons, and something that can’t really be taught.
“You can speak to everybody about how to go about it [and] how you’re going to feel, but until you walk out and mark centre or bowl your first ball [or] first over in Test cricket, you don’t really understand what your reaction to it is going to be.”
Timely education applies as much to life as it does to cricket, epitomised by how the Australian team’s understanding of the issues around this year’s Black Lives Matter movement has been greatly enhanced in recent weeks. Their decision to form a Barefoot Circle in acknowledgement of Aboriginal Australia and racial injustice prior to Friday’s opening game against India is a signifier of the way in which Finch and others have progressed from his clumsy construction in England a few months back that “education around it is more important than the protest”.
“We sat down and discussed it as a group,” Finch said. “A lot of people have had some input into it and we think it’s the right way to connect with our Indigenous people. There’s obviously zero tolerance to racism in our sport, in our society, or there should be anyway. So I think this is a way we can connect with our Indigenous people that have faced a lot of adversity for a long time – for generations – so this is our way of supporting that cause.
“I think it’s about education – not just for me but for our group. The more that we can educate ourselves and educate each other, I think we can go on a journey of learning a lot more about the injustices over the last 230-odd years in Australia, and I suppose to raise some awareness of issues that might not be as commonly known.”
Individually, Finch has been able to use his quarantine time to recalibrate his batting also, aided by the presence of two trusted mentors in the form of Andrew McDonald and Ricky Ponting. Their training sessions have ensured that Finch, after an underwhelming IPL, will enter the ODI series with a tightened game for the 50-over format, the better to build innings of substance after some months of more combustible T20 thinking.
“T20 cricket can be really difficult when you’re not quite at your very best, when you’re trying to be really aggressive at the start of an innings, take risks early in the game,” Finch said. “I think that’s a time when if it’s not going 100%, you can get into a pretty bad run quite quickly. But just a few balance things – head position in my stance and small things like that. I sometimes can forget about it when you’re focusing just on T20.
“You can tend to get a bit one-paced with your training and almost focus on power-hitting rather than a few minor technical things that can help you out. It hasn’t been anything huge, it’s just a few steps that I generally go to when things haven’t been as smooth as I would’ve liked.”
Australia’s balance has been altered slightly through the availability of Steven Smith – after concussion kept him out of the England series – and the absence of Mitchell Marsh due to an ankle injury which had ruled him out of the IPL. This will leave allrounder duties primarily with Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell, though Marnus Labuschagne can be expected to chime in with a few overs also. Whoever comprises the fifth bowler, Finch counselled too that his top-line bowlers would be handled carefully for reasons of mental health as much as workloads.
“Since the last World Cup, we’ve probably a bit more clear in how we want to structure up our team, and that’s with a couple of allrounders in there to take the load of that fifth bowler generally,” he said. “Obviously, that’ll change depending on conditions and whether you’re in the UK or India or South Africa. That’s always a floating plan of what we have. In terms of the rotation of the bowlers, I think it’s going to come down to how they’re feeling personally, whether it’s mentally or physically.
“Guys are at totally different points in their preparations and workloads. Some guys are coming off quite a decent [Sheffield] Shield start to the season, some are coming off T20s.
“So it’ll just be about managing that. We know in the current environment with guys being away from so long – away from families and in hubs and bubbles and things like that [and] quarantine – it’s really important to look after people’s mental health as much as anything. Whether you give them a week off or a couple of days just to get home and get in their own bed is going to be crucial.”