Finch calls in familiar help
An oddly familiar face peered down the SCG net containing Aaron Finch on Monday, his fiery red hair accentuated by the choice of a cap of the same colour. After a few minutes of speculation, the figure was proven to be Andrew McDonald, the former Australia allrounder and soon to be coach of Leicestershire.
Apart from everything else in his quite impressive CV, McDonald is a longtime friend and team-mate of Finch for Victoria, and a past source of technical and tactical advice for the younger, squatter opening batsman. Together they have shared considerable success at the domestic level, and it may be argued that Finch is enjoying the sorts of international opportunities McDonald was unlucky - largely through injury - not to have had himself.
Australia's World Cup campaign has been punctuated by knowledgable visitors, from Geoff Marsh and Ian Healy to Steve Waugh and even the former Prime Minister Bob Hawke. But McDonald was there at the behest of Finch alone, his diminishing returns at this tournament providing all the necessary impetus to call in a pair of eyes capable of making sharp observations allied to reassuring words.
"It was just a good opportunity, he's someone I've worked with a lot over the last couple of years - for about 10 or years now on my game - and he's someone I feel comfortable with," Finch said of McDonald. "And just a different voice and someone I really trust with my game and just to touch base with him was something I really needed.
"He's just someone I really trust, he's one of my best mates and he knows a lot about the game. He's been around my batting for a long time and I thought it was a good opportunity to get him up here for a day and have a hit. I feel like I've been batting nicely, it's nice to go back to a couple of checkpoints and make sure that I'm on top of my game and feeling good and hitting the ball nicely.
"That's all I can ask and whatever will happen on Thursday will happen. I'm not someone who over-analyses it a hell of a lot."
That McDonald was there spoke for two things. The first and most obvious point was that Finch has been struggling, from the moment his over-eager attempt to repeat a six off Tim Southee resulted in his off stump being plucked out at Eden Park. The second is that the Australian team's coaching staff are not given to offering technical advice of too detailed a variety, particularly when it comes to batting.
Head coach Darren Lehmann and his batting assistant Michael Di Venuto were uncomplicated figures when they played, and have maintained that sort of visage as mentors. Di Venuto's advice in early summer that Steven Smith was "not out of form, just out of runs" proved to be the right words at the right time, but there have been other moments and other players who need more.
Helpfully, though, neither Lehmann nor Di Venuto are uncomfortable with others coming in to help at times, as evidenced by the use of Marsh, Healy, Waugh and numerous others. As Lehmann has often said "you'd be silly not to" keep an ear out for numerous sources of wise counsel.
Finch is helped by the fact that since the Auckland defeat, a reshuffled Australian batting order offers more of a top order buffer zone should the hyper-aggressive openers charge too quickly into the bend. Smith and Michael Clarke at Nos. 3 and 4 can play at multiple tempos, while Shane Watson's floating commission at No. 5 or 6 sits easily alongside the more outlandish hitting of Glenn Maxwell.
"When you're under pressure you go back to your basics and I think we've got some really good 'basic' players," Finch said. "We've got a lot of guys with flair, but when they're under pressure they've still got a really good defence to fall back on, a really structured game.
"When you look at guys like Steve Smith and Michael Clarke they're quality Test players and that's what you tend to fall back on and let the other guys. Guys like Maxwell play with the flair. But saying that, we're not going to be holding back. We're an aggressive team with bat and ball. It's going to be a good opportunity to do it on the biggest stage."
Finch knows that whatever work he does this week, Thursday may also depend on a moment's fortune. He was dropped before scoring when he made a hundred against England on the tournament's opening afternoon. Against Pakistan he tried to give himself some luck by chancing an lbw referral for a ball striking middle stump, and must hope things will turn during the semi.
"I referred one on middle stump, didn't I?" Finch said with a rueful grin. "You never know. You hit a couple in the middle at the start of the innings and things seem to flow on sometimes and you get a bit of a roll on. It's just one of those things - and when you're not hitting them so well, to get down the other end so Davey [Warner] can take a bit of the strike.
"Just try and work your way into an innings in a bit of a different way, as opposed to boundaries and trying to score quickly. It's just one of those things. It's not far away. I feel great, it might just be that one shot early in your innings that gets you going to make a big one."
Should Finch find his form on Thursday, it will be another feather in the red cap of McDonald, and a hopeful sign for his looming entrance into the coaching game.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig