Melbourne rises to homeboy Finch
Melbourne loves a hometown hero. When Dean Jones and Bill Lawry were paraded around the ground during the fourth Test they were cheered to the rafters and all Shane Warne has to do is step foot on the turf to be hailed by the locals. Aaron Finch has a long way to go to match any of them, and may never play Test cricket, but for one night he gave the suffering Australia supporters something to cheer in front of his fellow Victorians.
Finch's 53 off 33 balls, which guided Australia to a competitive 7 for 147 after they'd stalled against England's spinners, will be his last international innings of the summer. He isn't part of the one-day plans, or even in the World Cup 30 which will be trimmed next week, so he'll have to content himself with a return to state cricket where he can slot straight back into the Big Bash. "One thing Melbourne is great at is supporting cricket and they came out after the ordinary weather," he said. "It was a real buzz in front of the home crowd."
In a sense it's not surprising Finch isn't around the 50-over set up yet with a career one-day average of 33.95 and no hundreds in 27 matches. His domestic Twenty20 record is superior with a strike-rate in excess of 130. He is a modern cricketer in many ways. His Twenty20 skills had been recognised by others before his country. He was part of the Rajasthan Royals squad at the 2010 IPL and this year has been bought for US$300,000 by Delhi Daredevils.
Like many young sportsmen he's also on Twitter, but an hour after the match finished he hadn't got round to reflecting on his effort. His most recent message read: "New shoes must be complimented with new socks! Haha." But there is a serious, mature, side to his cricket and he showed it by the way he rebuilt Australia's innings. When Graeme Swann and Michael Yardy reduced them 5 for 80 a sixth consecutive Twenty20 defeat was on the cards.
Then Finch and Steve Smith, another of Australia's hopes for a better future, produced a sensible stand of 61 in seven overs. Finch dominated with his partner contributing just 13 from his 18 deliveries. "We just tried to take the innings as deep as we could and leave our run late," he said. "We were losing wickets consistently up the top so we couldn't afford to be seven or eight down with four or five overs to go. We thought we'd knock it around and aimed for 155, we came up a bit short but it was enough."
A key factor in the final outcome was Australia's sixes tally which stood at five compared to England's one and that came in the final over when Chris Woakes, another fearless youngster, launched Brett Lee into the Great Southern Stand. Finch used his local knowledge and didn't try to clear the large square boundaries, instead aiming straight or towards midwicket.
"This ground is suited to orthodox cricket shots, you've got short straight boundaries and wider square so it encourages you to play with good technique and hit through the line with good cricket shots," he said. "You get value for shots here when you play that way."
Paul Collingwood said he still backed his team to chase down the total after their eight-match unbeaten run, but admitted Finch's innings had given Australia a vital lift. "He struck it very well tonight. He hits a long ball and he hits it in good areas, he's a dangerous player. It was a good innings. It kind of shifted the momentum a little bit."
"We were quite happy at half-time with chasing down a score like that but we were 10 percent or 20 per cent off our batting," he added. "There were quite a lot of dot balls from over six to 16 and then obviously we couldn't get the boundaries and started holing out after that."
Given the way Australia - both the team and the country - has clung to every morsel of success this season, such as Usman Khawaja's 'double' of 37 and 21 on Test debut, it was slightly surprising this wasn't hailed a glorious rebirth, but Cameron White knew it was just a small, albeit welcome, step in the right direction ahead of the one-day series.
"It's important, it beats losing for sure," he said. "It's a different format to the Tests and it's different to the one-dayers. You might be able to take something forward, but it's a new competition starting Sunday."
Collingwood, though, was confident the result wouldn't mean much come the opening ODI at the same ground on Monday when he hands back the captaincy to Andrew Strauss. "I don't think it's hurt our momentum too much," he said. "It's obviously disappointing to lose a game but we still did some good stuff tonight."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo