VICTORIA’S ONLY cricketer to play for Australia at the MCG this summer has taken the great stadium by storm – not for the first time, writes RON REED:
THERE’S NO place like home if you’re Aaron Finch playing one-day cricket against England. The big-hitting Victorian did that at the MCG for the third time on Sunday and made it three centuries from three attempts, a feat that might have been scripted for the express purpose of making Bill Lawry watching from the commentary box – call for three cheers in his capacity as the long-time toast-master of everything to do with Victorian cricket.
The crowd at the G isn’t what it used to be these days – the 37,000 or so who turned up for this match was a healthy enough result compared to what any other venue will attract in the rest of the five-match series – but one thing that never changes is that they do enjoy watching one of their own go hard, and never more so than when the Poms are the opposition.
That’s if and when they get the chance. With no local player in the Boxing Day Test, Finch was the first and only player to represent Australia at the great stadium this summer and that might remain the case depending on what happens with the only other international match scheduled, a Twenty20 against England on February 10. It was disappointing if not particularly surprising that Cameron White’s unexpected comeback stalled before it started when he was made 12th man to allow two all-rounders, Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis, to attempt to solve what captain Steve Smith has said is a problem with the middle order. They both made half-centuries to set up a score of better than 300, which appeared to make White’s re-appearance no more of a priority. Or did it? On the back of an even more impressive century, by far, by Jason Roy, the tourists ran down the substantial total comfortably ,the first time Finch’s heroics have not been rewarded with victory. Marsh and Stoinis made no impact with the ball, ultimately throwing that selection strategy into question given they were both playing exactly the same role, limiting Smith’s flexibility.
And that’s without even returning to the vexed question of Glenn Maxwell, who remains controversially on the outer after White’s recall. Coach and selector Darren Lehmann went on TV before Sunday’s game and insisted there was no personality problem or culture clash behind the flamboyant strokemaker’s exile, simply a shortage of runs at ODI level. A recent average of 22, plus White’s impressive numbers over multiple seasons since his last opportunity, makes that a plausible enough argument, but Maxwell’s good form in the Big bash will, if he keeps it up, surely have him back in the fold for the T20 internationals.
That is also Finch’s forte, too, although the Renegades captain’s Big Bash scores of 4, 8, 51, 43 and 2 have been underwhelming. But he never goes missing for long when the white ball is in play. He played his first international one-dayer at the MCG, against Sri Lanka, almost five years ago to the day, on January 11, 2013, scoring a modest 16. This latest innings, in his 82nd match, took him past 3,000 runs at the very respectable average, for an opener, of 37. But in 10 appearances at the G, his average jumps to 52, thanks to knocks of 121, 135 – in 2014 and 2015, the second in the opening match of the World Cup in front of a rapturous near-capacity crowd – and now 107 against the Poms, plus a 96 against India. That’s close to a hundred every two and a half innings at the great stadium, which is the stuff of dreams for young Victorian cricketers – that, and playing in a Boxing day Test. Regrettably, Finch hasn’t achieved that – yet – or a baggy green cap at all, and it will be a sad outcome if he never does. Not that anybody really expects him to any time soon. He wouldn’t do any worse than the most recent Test opener selected, Cameron Bancroft.
Sunday’s hundred, his 10th in ODIs, was one of his best, coming off 119 balls with 10 fours and three sixes – the last of which took him into three figures – at a strike-rate of 89.91, holding the top of the innings together with Marsh after David Warner, Smith and Travis Head all failed. It took him past 3,000 runs, a milestone reached more quickly by only four Australian batsmen, Smith (79 innings), Michael Bevan and George Bailey (80) and David Warner (81), while Dean Jones and Geoff (yes, old man Geoff, not Mitch or Shaun) Marsh also took 82.
Finch now has 3,032 runs and is in 22nd spot in the all-time Australian list, which is topped by Ricky Ponting’s gargantuan 13,589 from 374 matches. Finch is within touching distance of the next two rungs up, Bailey’s 3,044 and Lehmann’s 3,078.
At 31, he has a lot of cricket still to play. The MCG’s catalogue of home-town heroes in modern times starts with Shane Warne and includes Dean Jones and Merv Hughes, which is iconic company. Finch is probably not quite a member of that exclusive club yet – but he’s putting himself on the waiting list.
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.