HE IS THE only Victorian cricketer currently in favour with the Australian selectors and he’s back in explosive form, says chief writer RON REED:
FOR AARON Finch, it was as if the free Beer tap had been turned on. Drink your fill! The Renegades captain wasted no time virtually guaranteeing victory in the Big Bash Derby when he smashed 4 4 6 4 4 off the experienced spinner Michael Beer’s first over – the second of the innings – as the Melbourne Stars’ 3-157 was rapidly made to look what it was, inadequate. Beer’s 0-23 was the most expensive second over ever delivered in the BBL and Finch became the first batsman to hit boundaries off the first six balls he faced. The men in red surged to the top of the ladder by winning – for the fourth time in five matches – with six wickets and 13 balls to spare, another acute embarrassment for the still winless Stars, who are now bottom.
Finch’s total contribution before he was bowled by leg-spinner Adam Zampa going for one big hit too many was 43 off 22 balls, a strike-rate of 195. Very few T20 players are capable of charging along at that rollicking rate, although one of them – the one, in fact – was an unannounced observer among the 48,000 spectators who formed the biggest crowd of the BBL season so far. That would be Jamaican genius Chris Gayle, who was Finch’s opening partner at the Renegades three years ago but who is now unofficially – but definitely – barred from the competition because of his controversial on-air chat-up of TV reporter Mel McLaughlin during a match in Hobart.
That heinous crime appears to have been deemed more unacceptable than English player Ben Stokes’ alleged involvement in a potentially deadly street brawl. That kept Stokes well away from the Ashes tour – as it should have — but Cricket Australia raised no public objection when he was selected in the squad for next week’s one-day series, although he now won’t be playing in that either. But Gayle’s physically harmless and essentially playful indiscretion remains a source of angst for the perpetually outraged, although he is laughing all the way to the bank himself after pocketing some big dollars from a successful libel action against Fairfax Media, who accused him of far worse behaviour and then couldn’t back it up in court. That probably hasn’t sat well with Cricket Australia, either, but the word is now leaking out that one or more BBL franchises might invite him back next summer. If so, the response will be mixed – but there is no doubt that there will be no shortage of fans more than willing to welcome back the most spectacular show the T20 game has to offer. He proved that again only a couple of weeks ago when he blasted 146 off 69 balls in the final of the Bangladesh league. As one prominent commentator has sagely suggested, the Big Bash is not as well off for watchable stars as it has been in recent years and both crowds and TV ratings are starting to reflect that.
But back to Finch. At 31 he is in not quite the twilight but the second half of a curious career, which seems destined to deny him the ultimate satisfaction of a crack at Test cricket, or even recognition as a genuine first-class performer. He has seldom been an automatic choice for the Victorian Bushrangers despite possessing enough talent to play 85 One Day Internationals and 33 T20 internationals. In the latter format, he was appointed captain of Australia – a huge honour for a country boy from Colac – a year after smashing a world record 156 with 14 sixes against England. But he didn’t hold the job long, with Cricket Australia deciding to consolidate all three captaincies with Steve Smith. But Finch, whose other career highlight was a superb 135 against England on his home ground in the first match of the 2015 World Cup, remains in the ODI squad and will be back at the MCG next weekend in that capacity. In the controversial absence of his close mate Glenn Maxwell, that will make him the only Victorian currently playing for Australia in any format. It is one reason why he remains a firm favourite of the MCG crowd – it is totally irrelevant that technically he is a visitor when the Renegades play there.
Finch enjoys a reputation as a good bloke who has always been a positive advertisement for cricket at all levels, never more so than when the Big Bash visited Geelong for the first time during the week. That’s where Finch plays his club cricket and an hour up the road from the uncolourful town in which he grew up and learned the game alongside future footy superstar Luke Hodge. All the promotional hype for the match against the Sydney Sixers was pinned to Finch’s presence and despite struggling for any form in the first three matches in which he made 4, 8 and 0 he came to the party with a half-century and the man of the match award. He was given credit – a tad generously, perhaps — for practically filling the stadium. His impact on the rest of the Renegades’ campaign is likely to be minimal given his international commitments but he has already done much to ensure that have enough momentum to clinch a relatively rare appearance in the finals. Certainly, the franchise has never had a more valuable player in any respect.
Author: Ron Reed
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.