By Adam Collins
What do we want? Some stability in the Test team! When do we want it? On the tour of the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan this October!
Granted, as a clarion call it can do with some work but it is the prevailing sentiment from Australian cricket fans. And it must just be that part of the answer has been hiding in plain sight.
Try this on for size: Aaron Finch to make his Test match debut as vice-captain. It is a conversation worth having and a case worth building after another week where he has both reinforced his reputation as the country’s most important white-ball player, and as skipper has done plenty to repair the team’s standing in the process.
Until Ireland’s inaugural Test in May, their captain Will Porterfield carried the unfortunate tag as the man with the most limited-overs international centuries without having made his bow in the longest form of the game.
That record now sits with Finch, having raised his bat in the Australian pyjamas on 13 occasions without having earned a Baggy Green. On Tuesday in Harare, he did so when compiling a truly dominant 172, breaking his own T20 International world record in a rout of the Zimbabweans.
Before flying to England for the first leg of this tour, Finch freely acknowledged that he was hoping that his performances on the trip would bash down the door to the team that matters most. “My No.1 goal is to play Test cricket,” said the 31-year-old, noting that there was “obviously an opportunity” in the UAE after the trio of sandpaper-related suspensions.
Those performances could hardly have been more compelling.
In T20Is this year alone the opener has smacked 414 runs at an average of 138 at a strike rate of around 200. When returning to the top of the list against England, he immediately responded with an ODI century at Durham to go with the two he made at the start of the year at home against the same opponents.
When asked if his work over the last month had bolstered his case, Finch said it was non-committal. It is understandable that he wouldn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.
The last time he was seriously on the Test match radar was after the last time he broke the T20I scoring record in 2013 in Southampton.
The following home summer the Victorian averaged just 17.6 in the Sheffield Shield. Just as quickly, he was tagged a ‘white-ball specialist’ and was on the cusp of losing his spot in the state team.
“When I was a little bit younger I had the chance to really start pushing my case for a few years and I had 18-24 months of really lean four-day or any red-ball cricket,” he explained of that missed opportunity.
“I was playing good one-day cricket for Australia but couldn’t put the runs on the board for Victoria. So, that was disappointing and I have slowly started to build my red-ball game up again and I feel a lot more comfortable now playing my natural game, ultra-aggressive, whether I am playing in Australia or England.”
It was only after being written off as a Test option in the immediate term that Finch began his most productive red-ball spell, averaging 50 since that forgettable season.
It is a figure augmented by an unbeaten 288 he made in a tour game for a Cricket Australia XI against New Zealand but in the last two Shield campaigns for Victoria he has averaged a sturdy 43 as a middle-order player.
Finch, however, knows that it could count against him that he has never made more than one first-class ton in a summer.
As he says: “I have had as many starts as those guys (who have been picked) but haven’t converted those 50s, 60s and 70s into big hundreds and that’s where it lies. So the average column might look good but the hundreds column is what you need to be constantly piling on.”
But then again, he has only played 35 first-class games across the last four years, constantly in and out of sides due to 50 and 20 over international commitments. Call it the Jos Buttler effect. Indeed, it is the example of the England white-ball maestro that selectors could look to when taking another look at Finch: a player too good not to observe with a broader lens.
Then there is Finch the leader. He is so well regarded, he was elevated to the T20 leadership barely a year into his career and this year was the logical choice to return to that post when Steve Smith and David Warner were ejected from the team.
Mitch Marsh is currently the frontrunner to serve as Tim Paine’s deputy but also spends just as much time on the injury bench as he does available.
Besides, he has oodles of time on his side. As for Usman Khawaja, he has been the long-term captain of Queensland but has not been without his own troubles at the selection table. Both could work but neither are a slam dunk.
Paine and Finch, friends since their days at the national cricket academy, could form an axis at the top with the sort of experience needed to speak and lead with authority and confidence.
Remember, the last time there was a leadership vacuum in the Australian Test team, Brad Haddin returned from the cold as Michael Clarke’s deputy as much for his familiarity as his safe pair of hands behind the stumps. It proved an inspired decision.
Finch’s next stop after the Zimbabwe T20I jaunt is England for service at Surrey in both the Blast and the Championship where he should be able to get at least four games in the whites before Australia select their squad for the October Tests.
“Surrey is a place I love playing,” he said. “The plan is to get over there and pile on as many runs as possible.”
If he does, he will have earned the chance to begin his most important chapter yet.
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