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Match Analysis

Finch batting at No. 4 leaves Australia with more questions than answers

Finch said they were just "tinkering" with the line-up ahead of the T20 World Cup, but was it something more than that?

Alex Malcolm
Aaron Finch steered a tricky chase from No.4 in the opening T20I against West Indies  •  Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Aaron Finch steered a tricky chase from No.4 in the opening T20I against West Indies  •  Cricket Australia/Getty Images

When Australia's team sheet dropped at the toss during the first T20I against West Indies no one could quite believe it.
"That must be a mistake," Mark Waugh said on commentary for Fox Sports.
It was no mistake. Six games and less than two weeks out from defending their title on home soil, Australia listed their captain, and their most prolific T20I opener of all-time, Aaron Finch at No.4. Cameron Green, who is not in the World Cup squad, remained at the top of the order alongside the returning David Warner, while Steven Smith was squeezed out of the XI.
Just 24 hours after Finch had declared that there was almost no chance that Green could find his way into the World Cup squad with Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis expected to be fit, suddenly there was further evidence to the contrary.
With Marsh unavailable to bowl, and Stoinis ruled out of the T20Is against West Indies, Green had to play to balance the attack. That it was Finch who batted in a position he never had previously in T20I cricket, rather than Green, left more questions than answers about both Australia's final World Cup 15 and their best XI.
Finch played the somewhat foreign role perfectly making 58 off 53 to help guide Australia through a tricky, untidy chase alongside the irrepressible and currently irreplaceable Matthew Wade. It was a match situation tailor-made for Smith, but he instead ran the drinks in a sign that he might be surplus to requirements despite being embedded in the World Cup squad.
Finch explained the reasoning at the post-match presentation.
"We felt as though with Greeny batting well at the top of the order we might be a little bit light on for experience in that No. 5 and 6 at international level if we went [Tim] David and Greeny together there," Finch told Fox Sports. "So it was just something different. We'll probably swap it around again next game and keep trying a few things.
"We're going to keep tinkering with things just to try and make sure that we've got all bases covered going into the World Cup."
The structure makes some sense given the injury issues. Green's bowling is vital without Marsh and Stoinis if Australia are to play seven batters. The importance of the middle-order roles, as Wade continues to prove, and Green's success opening makes Finch's move to the middle all the more sound. There are numbers to back it up. Finch has batted at No. 4 or lower 42 times in his T20 career including twice in last season's BBL. He also has a remarkable record in T20I cricket batting in the middle order, albeit from a small sample size. In six innings batting from Nos. 4-6 he's made 200 runs and tonight was the first time he had been dismissed. It was his second half-century and he strikes at 151.51.
It is the second time this year Finch has moved out of his traditional opening slot to allow Australia to tinker with their structure after Ashton Agar opened in a pair of games against Sri Lanka in February in the midst of Finch's form slump.
Finch's T20I form since then has been solid, scoring 287 runs in eight innings striking at 140 with three half centuries. But his poor ODI form, which led to his retirement from the format, has in some ways created noise around his position ahead of the World Cup.
To those on the outside, he still looks like the elephant in the room. But on the inside, that has now become Green. His incredible batting form aside, Australia's attack looks even stronger with Green in it as he brings a lot more firepower on home surfaces compared to what Marsh and Stoinis can offer, despite his limited experience.
It was proven again on Wednesday. Although he was walloped for two stunning sixes, he did deliver eight dots balls in two overs and picked up the wicket of Raymon Reifer with steep bounce, which is an asset Pat Cummins thought would be extremely valuable in the World Cup.
"I think especially here if you look around the World Cup venues, big square [boundaries], you've got bounce, having a tall fourth quick bowler is I think really beneficial," Cummins said. "He hasn't bowled a lot really in T20 so I think he will just keep getting better and better."
Cummins also noted how Green's presence allowed Finch to spread his resources more evenly across the innings and keep overs up his sleeve for his senior bowlers to bowl at the death without having to over attack with them through the middle.
"I think it does," Cummins said. "He can bowl in the first six and be a real wicket-taking option through the middle if we need someone to be aggressive. He can do that. I think at times we've had Stoin [Stoinis] or Mitch Marsh if there's a swinging ball, maybe bowl one or two upfront. But yeah, it's a huge asset."
Australia will continue to tinker with their team structure over the next four games against West Indies and England, and Green will remain the elephant in the room with injuries still a concern.
What Australia's team sheet looks like for their opening match of the World Cup remains to be seen.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo