Captain says they’ll use the series “as a way to gather a lot of info leading up to that T20 World Cup”
Australia’s T20I captain Aaron Finch freely admits that the squad currently in New Zealand will be enormously different for the World Cup meant to be played in India later this year, meaning the tour lengthened considerably by a two-week quarantine period will be largely about fact-finding on fringe players and his own recovery from a dreadful Big Bash League.
Finch did his best to completely avoid cricket during a 10-day sabbatical following the Melbourne Renegades’ second underwhelming BBL campaign in succession, the difference this time being that his own returns also dropped away alarmingly, tallying just 179 runs at 13.76 across 13 increasingly harried innings.
Having crossed the Tasman on Sunday, the squad helmed by Australia’s senior assistant coach Andrew McDonald will provide an opportunity for Finch and the touring selector George Bailey to get a closer look at their options while the likes of David Warner, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are still at home.
“The top three will be [Matt] Wade, [Josh] Philippe and myself,” Finch said. “Maxi [Maxwell] and Stoin [Stoinis], four and five, around that area. It’s pretty simple I’d imagine. When you look at the squad list, Josh Philippe has been in great nick and it’s great to see him playing well. Matty Wade, we know how dynamic he is along with Maxi. We’re going to be flexible with that top order as well. If that means Wadey or myself or Josh, whoever bats at three, it’ll be a great opportunity.
“We’ll use this as a way to gather a lot of info leading up to that T20 World Cup, which means there might be a little bit of shuffling. But we’ll try to stick closely to the guys playing their roles that they’re accustomed to or where we’ll see them in the future playing. The result is not the be all and end all. I think building up and finding information, finding different ways our team can structure up is almost more important.”
That sort of attitude will undoubtedly help Finch emerge from his BBL fog also. “Literally didn’t touch a bat during the 10 days I think I had off,” he said. “I’m feeling a lot better about my game – the one thing about when you’re out of nick or not getting any runs, you’re not quite sure where to turn, so putting the bat down for a while, just looking at some footage and assessing where you think your game was at and being realistic about it was as much as I needed to do.
“I know I can still play, so it’s just about making sure when I turn up for these isolations training sessions I’m working on specific things and not just training for the sake of it. I feel pretty good to be honest, and that might sound pretty stupid coming off the back of not many runs. But it’s international cricket and I’m ready to go.”
Philippe and the prodigiously talented young wristspinner Tanveer Sangha are two players Finch is particularly eager to get a closer look at. Assessing Philippe, Finch reckoned he was witnessing a future staple of the Australian top order at a key time in which he was learning how to balance good days and bad.
“He’s someone who has obviously got all the shots but he’s starting to get to that point of his career, and I think a lot of that was on the back of having a couple of months of IPL where he spent a lot of time with AB [de Villers] and Virat [Kohli], talking about batting with myself,” Finch said. “He’s taken his game to a new level because he’s just getting past that period when he’s not hitting them well. When he’s playing well, it’s lights out, it’s brilliant.
“But just those days when he’s not feeling 100%, he’s getting through that little danger period and still having a big impact on the game which I think is so important in T20. It’s such an up-and-down game, you’re not going to be consistent all the time but you can still contribute and he’s doing a brilliant job, he played fantastically well. When his head is still, he’s playing beautifully, and his wicketkeeping has been really good as well. That’s a great position for him to be in, coming here with a huge amount of confidence off the back of another Big Bash title.”
As for the vacant Renegades coaching role, likely to be bid for by a wide array of candidates including Trevor Bayliss, David Saker and Simon Helmot, Finch did not hide his wish that there was more than one McDonald available, the better to play a key role for both club and country.
“I would love Andrew back coaching the Renegades but I also think there’s a job for him to do with the Australian team and that’s the most important,” Finch said. “He’s doing a brilliant job around the group and with the bowlers as well, so yes and no is the answer. I’d love him back but what he’s doing at the moment is outstanding, he’s head coach of this tour, he’s as good as you get. I can understand if he’s not coach of the Renegades, but yeah.”
The five-match T20I series will start on February 22 in Christchurch.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig