World Cup started, the captains of the 10 participating nations were given an audience with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.Once they were done with their Royal visit, some left in limousines, others in chauffeur-driven cars while one captain flew out in a chopper. Aaron Finch, however, stepped out of the Palace and walked straight to the Green Park underground station, where he hopped on a Victoria Line tube.He got off at Earl’s Court, and with his green Australian blazer still on, crossed platforms and waited amidst the locals for the District Line tube before finally alighting at High Street Kensington and walking over to the team hotel.
It’s an anecdote that succinctly sums up why almost everyone who knows Aaron Finch describes him as a “simple country-boy who just happens to be Australian captain”. No frills, no fuss, no dramas as they say Down Under. So much so that he can come across as an anomaly in the form of an Australian cricket captain.
He isn’t the best player in the side. He’s not a larger-than-life character. He’s not the most sought-after cricketer on or off the field. And those who stood around with him at the underground station waiting for the tube that Tuesday afternoon will ascertain he’s not the kind of guy who would stand out in a crowd, even if he is decked in a rather conspicuous attire.
Those around him insist the 32-year-old Victorian wouldn’t have it any other way, except when he makes his presence felt with one of his typically destructive assaults that sends opposition attacks literally running for cover. Saturday (June 15) at The Oval was just one such day.
The man charged with leading Australia to a sixth World Cup trophy grew up in the tiny village of Irrewarra located in the dairy-farming region of Colac in the state of Victoria. And it’s not just those close to him who reveal that at heart he still remains very loyal to his roots. Even most of his Instagram posts revolve around “farm life”, either when his two kids are posing with a few of the family cows or when four generations of the “Finch’s” are flashing wide smiles at the camera at the same spot.
Finch didn’t have the luxuries of school cricket in his hometown and instead learnt most of his cricket while playing against men multiple times his age in the local club competitions.
But behind the “simplicity” of the farm-boy, was a steely determination and a well-honed confidence. It comes through today whenever he faces up to even the fastest bowlers in the world – with a white ball anyway – and then subsequently takes them apart. Two episodes from his youth though really exemplify just how far he backed himself and his homegrown technique to take him.
At 9, as a fourth grade student, he announced at the school assembly that he would go on to play for Australia. At 15, he put his hand up to face a fired-up Brett Lee, returning from injury and bowling at full pace, in the nets. Not many except Finch really expected him to come through with both his promise and his bravado. But he did. He actually went a step further.
The sports-obsessed boy who would nag his grandparents till they came out and gave him batting practice would go on to become only the eighth Australian to lead his country into a World Cup.
It’s not only after meeting the Queen that Finch’s penchant to “keep life simple” comes across. Off the field, his interests range from helping his wife in renovating their house – except the time he couldn’t owing to a broken finger – spending entire days on a golf course. At times, the talented golfer with a handicap in the single digits even offers to help his lesser-skilled teammates improve their swing.
He doesn’t mind keeping it simple while on the field either. There are no elaborate movements or twitches when Finch takes strike. It’s a solid stance with two taps on the ground followed by a half-crouch where he goes into a boxer pose on the balls of his feet, championed by his idol growing up, fellow Victorian Dean Jones.
His bat swing and the follow-through too, on most days when he’s in touch, are unhindered and unhinged, nearly free-flowing. No wonder then that when Finch strikes the ball, it does travel a fair distance, regardless of pitch condition or the pace of the bowler. Must be the same case with the golf ball too.
It’s not surprising then that Finch’s left-field promotion to the Test squad last year ended up putting him off his game. It did in fact push him out of his comfort zone. In his own admission, it made him overthink his technique, and over-analyze his supposed inability in adjusting to the longer format. Not only did it result in him losing his place in the Test squad halfway through the series against India, it also led to an unusual slump in his ODI form.
Like with every aspect of Finch’s life, the sudden discrepancy in his batting was as straightforward as his eventual solution to counter it a few months later. Led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, any bowler who could shape the ball into the burly right-hander suddenly seemed to have the wood over him. For, Finch just couldn’t get his front foot out of the way and, as a result, get going. He flopped against India at home before struggling overall during the famous series win in India.
Then came the tour of the UAE against Pakistan, and a rich vein of form that has since seen him become the leading run-scorer in ODIs for the year. The transformation once more came via a “simple” alteration, wherein he opened up his left leg, and therefore ensured that his head wasn’t falling over against the in-coming delivery and leaving him completely stranded in front of his stumps.
There’s been no stopping him ever since, like Sri Lanka found out in London. Later in the day, he would also reveal a message from his mentor, former all-rounder-turned-coach Andrew McDonald, that motivated the turnaround was also a rather simple one. “If you get caught at mid-on or you get caught at first slip, you’re still out, so play your natural game.”
Finch’s face broke into a wide smile when he interrupted a question about how everyone just says, ‘Aaron keeps it simple’ when asked to describe him, as he retorted with, “Makes me sound pretty boring.” He did then underplay himself a little by insisting that his influence on the team as captain was “minimal” and how he didn’t “tend to take on too much outside of the actual captain’s duties”.
But Australia’s success in the World Cup so far has been woven around the influence his captaincy has had when games have looked like slipping out of their hands. Like with his batting, Finch has found the right mix of aggression and defence with his bowling changes, and literally turned matches around from scenarios where West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka seemed poised to win.
As a batsman, he isn’t blessed with a rich repertoire of shots but his success is based around how well he uses those he does possess. And he’s utilized his two sole wicket-taking weapons, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, with the same prudence to strike when his team’s been under the cosh, even if at times he’s risked going for the jugular prematurely.