Australia’s white-ball captain Aaron Finch wants to successfully defend his team’s T20 World Cup title at home later this year and add the ODI silverware at the 2023 50-over World Cup.
Last year, in Dubai, Australia won its maiden T20 World Cup title by beating New Zealand in the final. Nearly three months after that epochal night, Finch reflects on his team’s journey, his approach to captaincy, his equation with teammates, and what the future holds for the T20 format.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about the T20 World Cup win from last year?
There are so many exciting memories from it. Just how good the team was together, the fun that we had away from cricket during the games, during training... that’s something I’ll hold dear in my heart, and I’m very proud of. See, it was an uncharacteristically disjointed build-up to a World Cup. Some guys were playing the IPL in the UAE, some were in Australia, under lockdown, like I was in Victoria... so that made it extra special. The first time together was about everybody understanding the role they needed to play in the team. Everybody bought into the fact that their role was so important — whether they were in the starting XI or they weren’t. Each member was committed to playing their own game and not changing their style to something they wouldn’t normally do. Each player was picked for a specific reason, and I’m glad it all worked out the way it did.
There was a lot of outside noise around this Australian team in the lead up to last year’s T20 World Cup. David Warner’s form was a huge concern. How did the group deal with the distraction?
We weren’t the favourites by any stretch of the imagination. The fact that people didn’t give us too much of a chance played into our hands. That gave us real motivation. It’s not something we spoke specifically about as a group. But I know that when you catch up with someone for coffee... you are talking about it.. and someone brings up a comment made by a journalist or a former player about how Australia’s got no chance of winning the World Cup. But we had unbelievable confidence in our group that we were good enough individually to get the job done. You don’t write off great players, no matter what, and I know Davey (Warner) is a great player. He was confident with the way he was training in the nets. Of course, he would’ve liked more runs in the IPL, but that’s T20 cricket. It’s a high-risk game... to be consistent but also have the impact you expect from Warner, it’s not always easy — sometimes you can go 3-5 games without scoring. That’s the reality of this format. That said, nobody in our group, even for a second, thought he wasn’t the best opener for Australia, and he proved it in the semifinal and final.
Leaving the cricket aside for a moment, how challenging have the last couple of years been for Aaron Finch, the family man?
First up, we are very fortunate to have been able to continue working and lucky that we’ve been able to travel and play the game that brings joy to so many. That’s what keeps us going. It’s never easy on families, on individuals, especially going from bubble to bubble. I had a newborn daughter at the time I left for the T20 World Cup. I left when Esther was one-month-old, and I came back, and she’s totally different. My wife did an amazing job... It has been an incredibly difficult period for all of us. People have been affected in different ways — whether it be physical health, mental health, businesses, or not being able to see families and friends. In Australia, people are not able to meet relatives who live in the next State! I know there are people worse off than us. We have them in our thoughts.
Tell us about the equation you share with the teammates and how that has helped put a core philosophy in place that everyone buys into.
I think it is important that you try and understand each individual differently and do as much work as you can to understand what they bring to the table, not just cricket-wise. That aspect can be overlooked sometimes... like what is their background, what’s their friend and family base, etc. You can build up a great relationship with people based on how they interact with each other. It should be an environment where you can be yourself 100 per cent because if you can’t do that, you can never perform at your absolute best. The aim is to be a team that welcomes all. I think we have come a long way, but there’s a long way to go. Mental health is so important. Guys these days spend so much time away from family. There has to be a break in between, and each person has a different breaking point as well. Try to know people closely so that you, as a captain, know how to approach them differently.
Everybody had a very close friend circle within the World Cup group as well. Jos Inglis was on his first tour, but he had some close mates from Western Australia, his Perth Scorchers teammates Mitchell Marsh, Ashton Agar and Marcus Stoinis. So, you are always making that work in terms of the makeup of the squad with all the bubbles. We are still getting used to it and I do hope it is close to getting over. Whether it is Steve Smith (82) and Warner (91) who have played 90 Tests or Inglis, who is on his first tour, guys are at different stages in their family life. Davey left his wife and three kids at home before the IPL. He’s used to travelling with them, so that’s his close support network. You have to support him as much as you support a new player. You must have a group where guys genuinely care for each other, and that’s what we had at the World Cup. On a lighter note, I do love watching Davey’s TikTok videos but I’ll never tell him I like it (laughs).
Australia is set to make its first visit to Pakistan since 1998. How significant is the series given Pakistan’s struggle to host international cricket at home?
As a player, I can’t wait to go to Pakistan for the white-ball leg. That’s one part of the world that’s been deprived of cricket for a long time now and world cricket’s in a much better place when Pakistan’s thriving as a cricket nation. They’ve got such a rich history in the game and I think we’ve to do everything to make sure the game is as sustainable as it can be all around the world. We are doing the game a disservice if we don’t do that.
We talk about certain players in their roles and how it’s evolving. Do you see a place for an anchor in a fast-paced game like T20?
It depends on who it is. To a point, you need the anchor, yes, but the anchor also needs to be able to play at a high tempo. Just using Steve Smith as an example. He is somebody who has got power in the game as well as all the tricks, so he can be successful regardless of which team he fits into. It just depends on the role he will be playing for that specific team. For Australia, briefly, that was his role. If we are two down, Steve would go in and create a platform for guys like Maxi (Glenn Maxwell), Stoinis and Matthew Wade to launch on the back of that. But if he comes at 5 behind Maxwell, he can still be effective. So, in the modern T20 game, an anchor needs to bat with a high strike-rate. But he also needs to possess the game to go big from ball one if he comes lower down.
What about role-clarity? You look at the likes of Wade and Stoinis — they open in the Big Bash, but they come to the Australian side and play a different role.
You’ve to assign them the role fairly early so that they can train specifically for that. We identified that as part of the game where we thought they could be really successful. And you combine that with Wade’s keeping and Stoinis’s overs, it becomes a no-brainer that they can fit into the lower middle-order perfectly. So, achieving that role clarity in terms of the timeline of the World Cup was really important, and we got that balance right. It is always tough when guys play the majority of their games at the top of the order, and then you ask them to play in the middle. But Stoinis and Wade have done it quite a bit in the past, so that was easier for them to make the switch.
The next T20 World Cup is not too far off. Will the nucleus of the side remain the same or can we expect to see significant changes?
The philosophy of the team will be similar in terms of how we structure the squad and how we play our game, so who fits into that, we will wait and see. The 15 guys we had in the UAE were quite handy too... so, let’s wait and watch (smiles).
It is starting to look like the trend of wrist spin is starting to wane in T20s, and there’s more space for the finger spinner. Where do you see the trend going?
Both will always be there, and that purely comes down to the personnel. Leg spin is a brutally tough art. There’s no harder thing to do in the game than effect leg-spin. They take wickets, don’t they? (laughs) Traditionally, they pick more wickets than finger spinners because they are harder to pick... but now someone like R. Ashwin is bowling so many variations. As an elder statesman, he is transitioning his game to stay up with the younger guys who are coming through. We had both options at the World Cup with Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa .. Maxi bowled a few overs, too, which was handy. But it all boils down to the personnel. If you got someone like Rashid Khan, he is probably the best in the world in all the competitions...We pick our side based on our strengths as a team and how we want to use our bowlers.
With all the match-ups data that’s available now, do you think somewhere the skill element has been subdued?
There is so much data that you really have to filter it down to tailor it to the condition and the opposition. As a captain, you still have to go with your gut sometimes. While picking a squad, you look at your team first and what their strengths are.
So, it doesn’t matter how well the opposition plays, but if you are backing your XI to do the job for you on that particular day, you’ll win. Now and then, there will be outliers — one or two overs can go here and there, but we use the data a lot, but it doesn’t influence all our decisions at the moment. If there is a 50-50 decision, then you might use the data really strongly as one way to break the deadlock. We are getting the balance right for now.
How fulfilling has the journey been as captain of the Australian white-ball team?
I would like to win two more World Cups (smiles)! The T20 World Cup is at home this year, so defending the title in front of our fans is something to be excited about. There will be a lot of pressure on us, no doubt, then there’s the ODI World Cup in 2023 in India, which is again something I am aiming to get to and winning that will be the cherry on top. You talk a little bit about how we are going to have to play to win the World Cup. Then you can pick your side based on that. If you pick the people and then ask them to play a different way, that’s asking for trouble.
So, the first question you ask yourself is: ‘How do we need to play to win it? Do we need to be aggressive up top or do we need more spin, more quicks?’. Whatever your answer is to that first question will pick your team. If you get that answer wrong, everything snowballs from there.
Where do you see the game in five years? Are there things that we don’t see in the game now that you think are likely to be normalised? Do you foresee tactical retirements of a batter?
If you go back a couple of years to the IPL in the UAE... I remember watching the game between Punjab and Rajasthan. Rahul Tewatia hit five sixes off Sheldon Cottrell to win the match. He was struggling early in his innings, and the commentators were saying, “why don’t they retire him?” ...and two overs later, the game’s over. Everyone’s looking a bit silly. What happened in the Sydney Sixers vs Adelaide Strikers game during the BBL was interesting because it was a medical situation. Unless the umpire is a medical professional, he can’t make the decision and say, “no you stay on the field” ... Sixers didn’t break any rules, but that’s a bit of a grey area — whether it is bending rules or spirit of the game, that’s up to each individual’s interpretation.
You have a young Australian (Nivethan Radhakrishnan) bowling ambidextrous finger spin at the U-19 World Cup. That craft will come into T20s a little bit more, especially if the wickets are spinning. That’s such a huge advantage to bowl left-arm to an RH or vice versa.. that might become mainstream. Also, the amount of cricket being played and with all the travel involved, you might see teams fielding 11 T20 specialists down the line. That could happen too.