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Aaron Finch acing verbal volleys but needs his bat to do the talking

Leading into Australia's key England clash, he said his Sri Lanka struggles were an anomaly - but his numbers at home say otherwise

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
If Thursday's press conference was a net session, then Aaron Finch was seeing them well and striking them even better.
Just 24 hours out from Australia's must-win game against England at the MCG, Finch copped a probing delivery from a journalist.
"What have you made of some of the talk around your position?" The reporter asked directly. The reporter added that former Australian captain Allan Border had suggested Steven Smith should play in place of Finch.
"Lucky I pick the team then, isn't it?" Finch retorted with a smile.
"One of," Finch quickly clarified. "There's a few of us that sit down and discuss the team. But everyone's got their opinion, that's fine. I've got no issues with what their personal opinions [are]. I don't read or listen to any of it personally."
He had presented the full face of the bat to the question. It was struck firmly enough to return the delivery back from where it came quickly.
But press conferences aren't net sessions. Nor are net sessions even close to match situations. But when Finch stepped into the indoor centre at Junction Oval no more than two hours after his press conference, the crisp timing he showed behind the podium eluded him.
Nets are never a great indicator of anything for either professional or amateur cricketers, especially indoors. Form in the nets should always be taken with a large grain of salt.
But in Finch's case, it's hard to ignore. He was facing Australia coach Andrew McDonald and bowling coach Daniel Vettori, a right-left combination in tandem, armed with side arms and near-new white Kookaburras.
"I felt I was playing quite well. And once Maxy [Glenn Maxwell] started to get away, I probably went into my shell a little bit and looked to just get off strike rather than hitting good strong shots out to a deep man."
Aaron Finch on his Sri Lanka innings
When compared to Mitch Marsh, who was batting in the next net, facing assistants Michael Di Venuto and Andre Borovec in the same fashion, the difference in the quality of the timing, movement patterns and balance was stark.
Finch admitted on Tuesday that his innings against Sri Lanka in Perth had been poor. On Thursday, he called it an outlier.
"I think it's an anomaly in my career," Finch said. "It's just one of those days. I hit a really nice pull straight to the fielder, and then an off drive in the same over straight to the fielder.
"I felt I was playing quite well. And once Maxy [Glenn Maxwell] started to get away, I probably went into my shell a little bit and looked to just get off strike rather than hitting good strong shots out to a deep man. I was trying to get off strike [by hitting] in the ring, which is never easy when you're facing a world-class spinner like [Maheesh] Theekshana.
"And that's probably what I will change next time. I think I was probably one or two boundaries away from being back to a run-a-ball and it probably looks a little bit different there."
There is an argument that Finch's innings, as slow as it was, did play an important role in helping lay a foundation for Australia's middle order. He was 20 off 24 when Maxwell entered and he had kept his gun middle-order matchwinner away from the new ball in the powerplay and his less preferred match-up of Lahiru Kumara. It allowed Maxwell to face the spin of Dhananjaya de Silva and Wanindu Hasaranga in his first two overs. He smashed 22 off his first six balls to reduce the equation to 73 off 60 and relieve any pressure Australia were feeling.
"We identified early in the game or in our powerplay when the ball was zipping around a bit that we didn't want to try over-attack and expose the middle order too early, because then you risk going two or three down in the powerplay," Finch said. "Then it's a struggle to get the game back into a position where you can get home a little bit more comfortably.
"So it's just that middle part. I think straight after the 10-over timeout, there was only a wide off an over, so a lot of dot balls there. But I still feel like I'm playing pretty well."
Therein lies the problem for the Australian captain. It's a sound strategy to be buying yourself time in the powerplay in this World Cup when the seamers are dominating as the new ball has seamed, swung and bounced prodigiously, particularly in Perth and Melbourne. But Finch's inability to accelerate beyond that places a huge burden on those around him, particularly in home conditions.
Finch, and Australia's selectors, have been quick to point to Finch's T20I numbers this year to suggest he remains in decent form in the format despite retiring from ODI cricket after a string of low scores. Since March, he has made three half-centuries in 14 T20I innings, averaging 30.91 and striking at 124.49.
There was also a strong belief that he would be fine in home conditions having experienced more troubles away. But the opposite is true. He has actually had a lot more success away than at home recently. Since the start of 2020, he has scored six half-centuries in 23 innings, averaging 37.75 and striking at 138.42 overseas. At home he has been struggling. In 14 matches he strikes at just 98.45 and averages 19.61 with one half-century against West Indies this month on the Gold Coast.
His innings against Sri Lanka, the slowest of any consisting of 40 or more balls in Men's T20 World Cup history, was not an anomaly in that context.
He has been working tirelessly to find a method to neutralise the lbw threat that has plagued him throughout his career, and he has succeeded having only fallen twice to it in T20Is since the start of 2020 and never in Australia. But in doing so he seems to have completely neutralised his scoring ability off both feet.
Finch was asked by another journalist if he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"I don't feel any more pressure than I ever have," Finch said. "The only pressure is the expectation you put on yourself. "
Another well-timed response to another probing verbal delivery. But in the end, he needs his bat to do the talking.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo