Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne
Melbourne Renegades captain Aaron Finch will open the batting against the Melbourne Stars, insisting his move down the order in the loss to Brisbane Heat was purely for match-up purposes.
Finch, Australia's T20I captain and opener, has endured a lean run in the BBL this season scoring just 159 runs in nine innings with a highest score of just 39 and a strike-rate of 119.54.
He had already batted out of position at No. 3 in the Renegades' loss to loss to Perth Scorchers, but the move to No. 4 against the Heat in Canberra, behind youngsters Mackenzie Harvey and Sam Harper, raised even more eyebrows. It was the first time he had batted outside the top three in his BBL career and the first time he had done it in his last 91 T20 innings globally.
Since batting at No. 4 in an IPL game in 2018 Finch had opened in 85 T20 innings and batted at No. 3 six times. In that period, only Babar Azam has scored more runs as an opener, while no one has scored more than Finch's five centuries. Of the eight openers who have scored 2000 runs or more in the period, Finch has the highest strike-rate and the third-highest average.
However, Finch explained the move was purely match-up based. The Heat didn't have a right-arm offspinner in their bowling attack with Mujeeb Ur Rahman having departed, and the Renegades felt the two left-handers in Harvey and Shaun Marsh should bat at the top.
"I'll go back and open tomorrow. That was a match-up for that game." Finch said on Saturday. "They didn't have an offspinner, to start. So we felt as though having two lefties at the top wasn't going to present any kind of issue.
"Obviously, Glenn Maxwell has been bowling a lot in the Powerplay for the Stars. So that's why I'll go back to the top. We'll see how we go there. I don't expect that he'll bowl two overs upfront but if he does then we've got that match-up there."
The Renegades' horrendous form may have something to do with the clouded thinking and line-up tinkering. Since winning the title in BBL08 the Renegades have won just five of their last 24 games, including only two this season. Finch is carrying that burden on his own shoulders.
"A combination of guys, not being in form at the right time, myself being probably the main culprit of that," Finch said. "One percenters in games in T20 get amplified a lot. They kill you when games are so tight. Just some small skill errors, mental errors as well. We feel as though our best is still right up there and we can compete for a title.
"It's been difficult, no doubt. The way that we've been training has been really impressive though. The standard in that regard hasn't dropped at all. So that's what makes it even more disappointing. We haven't been able to carry that over into a game. And there's been situations where we've let ourselves slip. We've been in games and just haven't taken those half-chances or we've just let teams off the hook too easily."
Finch has been searching for ways to find some runs. He gave a revealing interview to Fox Sports prior to the Heat game on Thursday where he explained he was hitting a higher volume of balls at training at the back end of this tournament compared to previous years and was trying to work on his stability at the crease.
"It's been going great in the nets," Finch added. "It just hasn't been going great in the game. I've been a little bit timid in my approach at the crease. There have been times where I've got out being a little bit too defensive-minded, not looking to take the ultra-aggressive approach. I know when I'm playing my absolute best in T20 cricket that's how I play. Hopefully, in these last four games, I can bring that back.
"I haven't given myself the best chance a couple of times either. Last game I got out being defensively minded, trying to get through to the 14th-15th over rather than trying to be aggressive. It's only an attitude thing. I can change that."
The BBL's strict Covid-19 protocols haven't helped either. The Renegades were supposed to play their last five matches at home in Melbourne but that was reduced to four when the BBL fixtures changed due to border closures.
The players are now in their home city and won't leave for the remainder of the home and away season. However, the Melbourne-based players can't leave the hotel to their own beds at the moment, a bed Finch has seen very little of since last August.
"It has its challenges when you can look out the window and nearly see home, but you're not quite there yet," he said.