Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber
Jarrod "Toadie" Rebecchi has been a character on the Australian soap opera Neighbours for over 20 years. The Rebecchis are this wild family of country bogans from Colac, a dairy-farming town a couple of hours west of Melbourne. Toadie wasn't supposed to be a regular on Neighbours; he was the slightly chubby kid who didn't look like a leading man but ended up hanging around due to his charm. If he isn't the most famous person or character from Colac, then Aaron Finch is.
Finch is often seen as the rough, chubby kid from the sticks who just hung around because of his hitting talent and is now about to captain Australia in the World Cup.
Last year when Virat Kohli hit a ball into Finch's throat at Adelaide Oval. you could hear a stump-mic chat.
"Do you want a dart?" asks Tim Paine.
"Nah, I haven't smoked in six months", replies Finch.
In professional sport there are fewer smokers than ever, but Finch is well known as one. Beers and a smoke became part of his public persona. It was mentioned in the UK papers and on this site. His weight has often been a problem, with a large number of skinfolds around his middle (although almost none on his legs). And he was among the bad boys of batting, with David Warner and Mark Cosgrove, who were all involved in too many good times, had bad hygiene, and ended up being asked to leave the cricket academy 12 years ago.
The words "knockabout" or "larrikin" are used for Finch, and often you see "rough around the edges" used too. Even in the working-class culture of Australian cricket, Finch stands out. Cricket Australia's website recently said he is "perhaps the most blue-collar of the regular men's team's captains appointed by Australia in the past generation". He's a player who believes - almost spiritually - in the after-match beer, and despite growing up in Australian age-group cricket, he has never been fit. You could also add that as he has still not done well in red-ball cricket (he averages 31 for Victoria), people outside the game take him less seriously.
Then there is his game. He still plays like a bloke in country cricket - the slogs to leg, the throwing himself into weird positions to score runs. He doesn't look like a biomechanical hitter. Finch is, in his own words, "five-foot nine, with short legs and a fat bum". He looks like the bloke who rocks up on match days with little practice after work all week and smashes a hundred with a homespun technique.
But there are signs that he isn't quite the person his image has always projected. He has got to be one of the most honest and thoughtful cricketers when talking about his own performance. He keeps a diary of his cricket, which includes checklists and information about opposition bowlers. And he has captained his country, and in the BBL and IPL. Two of county cricket's most prominent teams, Surrey and Yorkshire, have seen fit to include him in their first-class set-ups despite his numbers. And he is on the executive of the Australian Cricketers' Association.
Finch might not be the best at the beep test, or the saviour Australia needed at the top of their Test team, but he is a hell of a lot more than some kid from the country who smokes cover drives.
He has the potential to be a better red-ball player. His 20th first-class match was touring for Australia A against a near full-strength Zimbabwe team. Finch made 122 in an opening stand of 289, and his old friend Warner, playing in his ninth first-class match, scored 211. Warner played in Australia's next home Test; Finch had to wait seven years. Another time, Finch played for a Cricket Australia XI against the touring New Zealanders. The bowling attack was Matt Henry, Doug Bracewell and Tim Southee. The opening partnership that time was 503 not out; Finch made 288. This time he wasn't overshadowed by his partner but by the pitch.
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There was always a reason that Finch wasn't that good. Even with his ODI runs, he has not been an automatic selection. Since his debut, he has played 108 of Australia's 181 games. In the last three years, he has played 83%. From 2014 to 2016, Finch was one of the best T20 batsmen in the world, and the Australia T20 captain; by the time the last World T20 came around, he was not captain and was fighting for his spot.
There never seems to be a big push for him to be in the team. His runs are cheered but he has never become the cult figure (perhaps outside playing for Melbourne Renegades) that a player like him might be. There has always been someone better or rated higher, who seems to usurp him. Finch appears to be destined to be the Australian player who does a wholehearted job to the best of his ability but is the vice-captain or team man to the bigger stars.
He has been one of the world's better white-ball players for a long time now, but not a great. He has been a mainstay for Australia in white-ball cricket, and was even thrown in to help in their worst year of Test cricket, but he is not spoken about as a potential Australian great either. He sets no drinking records, his sledges don't make compendiums of the "art form", and he doesn't sport a comedy moustache.
When Finch is good, there are few better. Since the last World Cup, he has scored the 14th most runs in ODIs, while averaging over 40, and he has hit the sixth most sixes. From June 2017 to June 2018 he played 14 ODIs, in which his scores included 68, 124, 94, 107, 106, 62 and 100. His 13 hundreds have mostly come off the best bowling attacks (South Africa, 2; India, 2; Pakistan, 2; and England, 6).
He made 135 against England in the last World Cup, and 81 in the semi-final against India. Unlike many Australian players, he is better away than at home, and better in Asia than anywhere else.
In T20, he has scored at 9.4 runs an over against right-arm fast bowling and 11 against right-arm offspin in the last three years. In the last five years he has scored the fourth most runs in the format. He holds the world record for the highest score in a T20I
Aaron Finch can play.
He became one of Australia's three-format players when he started his Test career against Pakistan. As ESPNcricinfo reported a few months later, he had played 42 days of cricket out of 111, travelling to 15 cities across two different hemispheres, with seven format changes.
During the last Australian summer he played 16 innings and averaged about as much. During the season, he announced he needed a break. He couldn't play Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and feared whether he would even make the World Cup as a player. And he spent most of his days with the ghosts of Warner and Smith floating around.
He told Australian radio station SEN, "In the back of your mind you are thinking, 'Gee, the World Cup isn't far away. As a captain, I could be left out of the squad.'"
This is a very Aaron Finch moment. His highs are spectacular, his lows completely barren. Anyone looking at his overall record would have trusted him to come good, but he did probably need a rest. And he found out, as many three-form international players do, that the calendar doesn't work like that.
The fact he came out of that phase to have his greatest ODI run, against the world's No. 2 side and the Champions Trophy winners, shows what he is capable of.
The thinking has been that the Australian ODI side will come together on the night for the World Cup, that Smith and Warner will boost the team a whole lot. But Australia were struggling in ODIs when Smith and Warner played, as much as they have struggled since. Australia won 19 and lost 22 between February 2016 and 2018, and since the two players were banned, they have won ten and lost 11. The problems with Australia's ODI team are not to be fixed by Smith and Warner alone. While India and England have been winning and experimenting to find their best World Cup squad, Australia have not. Losing two of their key players didn't help, but it didn't look a reliable team before that. If they win the tournament, it will be because of their natural talent, and little to do with professional planning.
So all Finch has had to deal with was learn to play Test cricket despite an average in the 30s, how to manage being a three-format player with franchise commitments, deal with the constant Smith and Warner mentions, try to arrest Australia's biggest ever form slump in ODI history as they defend their World Cup title, and work out how to bring back the former captain and star player when they were available.
Oh, and make runs against some of the best bowling attacks around.
Somehow Australia have gone from their lowest ebb to winning eight on the trot, mirroring Finch's form.
He has had a phenomenal number of white-ball mentors over the years. He has played under Darren Lehmann, Greg Shipperd, Graham Ford, and Jason Gillespie, who between them have won ICC, IPL, BBL and English white-ball titles. His former Victoria team-mates Andrew McDonald, Brad Hodge and David Hussey have been major coaches in T20. And Cameron White was for a long time believed to be the best strategic captain in Australia. As apprenticeships go, Finch has had a remarkable run.
He has also had some varied captaincy experience himself. In 2013, Pune Warriors won four and lost 12 in the IPL, coming second-last. That year Finch was given the captaincy job of what was an ordinary line-up. In 2014, he was made captain of the Australian T20I team, but Australia didn't play that many internationals. In 2015 they played one against England and Finch missed that game. By the World T20 in 2016, Steven Smith was captain in all three formats.
Finch has captained Australia in 42 completed matches; his record is 21 wins and 21 losses. But he has won a Big Bash title with Melbourne Renegades.
Players under him have often marvelled at him as a leader. He at once can deal with the superstar players and also the guys at the bottom of the pile clawing for a career. Perhaps because he has been both, a superstar in white-ball cricket and the guy holding on in the red-ball version. He uses his background to make players feel like he knows what they are going through. Few have had more ups and downs, have had to overcome more hurdles, and been so talented.
Finch's size may not have been as much of a big deal as it has been for Cosgrove or Samit Patel, but the players who don't fit the professional body template are the ones who get the least goodwill from selectors.
Then there's his intellect. While he might come across as a rough-around-the-edges salt-of-the-earth Aussie cliché, many players talk him up as a far smarter person than that. Gareth Batty, his Surrey team-mate, says, "I think he gets it better than most. I would not underestimate him. He's way smarter than he lets on. And he plays more white-ball cricket and slaps the rock around - other people don't tend to think you need a brain for that." So Finch can at once be seen as the beer-and-smokes bloke who smashes the white rock while and also as a trusted leader in any change room, who represents his fellow players at the executive level.
Hodge who played under him at Renegades says, "Like Warney, he can convince someone that they can do something. Partly it's because he's such a good player that they trust him, but they also see him as a generally good guy, so no one feels like he is lying to them. He never tries to bluff anyone. He's incredible at empathy and sympathy, and because he's such a good social person, he's excellent at working out what other people need."
For captains, one of the best mixes is a smart cricket brain and excellent people skills; Finch has it.
He is also far more creative as a captain than even as a player. Batty points to a first-class game for Surrey against Hampshire, on a batting pitch, where they made over 600. "We then fielded for 200 overs, and Finch kept the boys going. At first he looked for short-term goals, but he also kept us thinking long-term, how we could eventually take 20 wickets on the surface. He wasn't captain, and there was no one Mike Brearley moment. He just kept us going and thinking until we eventually won the match."
There is a Brearley moment from a few years ago. Michael Beer dominated the Big Bash with his muscular left-arm orthodox, choking teams in the Powerplay. Finch wanted to target him directly, so he and Andrew McDonald (the Renegades coach and Finch's primary mentor) promoted Sunil Narine to open. Narine was a six-heavy slogger for the tail, never having batted higher than No. 5, averaging 11 and striking at 124. Finch took that and created one of the most dangerous short-stay openers in T20. Since then, Narine has opened in two-thirds of all his innings, and he averages 18 there, with a strike rate of 160.
In this year's Big Bash final, Melbourne Stars dominated for the first 33 overs. But while Finch was worried, he never gave up, and believed in how his team played. The only time he lost his cool in the game at all was when he was out and he smashed a chair as he left the ground. Even when Stars hadn't lost a wicket with 93 runs on the board chasing only 146, Finch just kept with the plan of being as frugal as possible and hoping the chase would affect Stars. It is a sign of his maturity that he is now as even-tempered on the field as he has always been off it.
Finch - especially under McDonald - likes to have a clear plan, but as Hodge puts it, "He'll often take the riskier attitude rather than reserved." Against Perth Scorchers a few years back, not only did he bowl all his front-line bowlers through, trying to ice the game early, but when he was out of bowlers, he brought himself on for the last over. It went pretty well until Ashton Agar won the game from the last ball with a six.
That sums Finch up. He's a self-made guy who believes in his ability and will back himself. And he is right to believe it; it has brought him this far.
It's just that he isn't like most Australian captains. For one, he wasn't ordained as a future Australia captain or one-in-a-generation talent. Most Australian captains are among the nation's best two or three Test batsmen; they lead from the front, and their methods are rarely subtle. Finch is a homemade journeyman with an inside-out cover drive Thor would admire, and a white-ball specialist with an empathetic nature. "Look at that change room. There's a lot of intense characters in there - [Justin] Langer, [Brad] Haddin and [Ricky] Ponting. Finchy is a good counterbalance to that; he is just more relaxed," notes Hodge.
It is hard to think of someone better suited to handling the return of Warner and Smith than Warner's long-term friend and opening partner, who takes people for who they are but still is clear-cut in what he expects. Hodge says: "Without Finch there, it would be a vulnerable environment, but he will lay the ground rules, and he's the sort of bloke who can move on from your mistakes as well. His relationship with Warner and Smith, and their respect for him, should make this work."
The Toadie character from Neighbours was only written for one episode, but his natural charm meant that he stayed around. He has survived everything that a soap opera can throw at you, and that rough kid from Colac is now a long-serving lawyer and Neighbours stalwart. Finch was a white-ball specialist from Colac, and he has survived everything professional sport has thrown at him and is now one of the most important Australian cricketers, with a 12-year pro career.
Finch is far more than the rough chubby kid from the sticks who just kind of hung around. Looking back at his career, the struggle with the red ball, the weight issues, the early discipline problem, the massive fluctuations of form, the ever-improving cricket brain and the relationship with Warner have all led him to where he now is. As Hodge notes, "Maybe he's the right man for the right job at the right time".