Midway through Aaron Finch's masterful knock, the local broadcaster showed a split screen of his technique and compared it to Steve Smith. Finch and Smith are poles apart in the way they set up, but there was one distinctive feature that was alike. It was the positioning of Finch's left foot as the ball left the bowlers hand. In the past, Finch had been guilty of planting his leading foot across the stumps, but against Sri Lanka, he was keeping it grounded on the line of leg-stump or even outside. This technique mirrored the method used by Smith and it seemed to eradicate Finch's issue against the incoming ball.
Finch had been exposed by right arm bowlers shaping the ball into him. His front pad had become a target and the gap between his bat and pad had grown increasing large with each innings. India exposed his technique in the Test series and then Bhuvneshwar Kumar gave him nightmares during the ODI series at home. So prominent was his problem that he had been out bowled or LBW in 7 out of his 8 ODI innings against India.
This was all the way back in February. Finch had three months to sort it out. Despite scoring 14 ODI hundreds, he had only averaged 25 in his last 12 knocks and doubts were started to creep into his mind.
"You walk out to bat and you see Bumrah at the top of his mark and you think here we go again. In the back of your mind, you're thinking the World Cup is not far away and as a captain, I could be left out of the squad" he told SEN radio in March.
Finch had to make an adjustment. As evident in the split screen graphic with Smith, he had started to overcome his blunder by opening up his stance. The 5th ODI against India in Delhi was the first time he applied the new method. It was the right time to start, largely due to the fact that in his previous game he had managed to overturn his record by scoring a well-crafted 93. At first, the strategy didn't work as Finch was bowled between bat and pad in the fifth ODI.
Off to the UAE, he went to play against Pakistan. As he said later in a press conference, "I worked really hard and hit a lot of balls". Finch had learned to move his left leg out of the way as the bowler released the ball.
Two months ago, his first stride was across the stumps. It was causing his head to fall over and his bat face was coming down the line with a slightly closed face. Now the minor adjustment was allowing him to hold his shape and rather his head going across the stumps, it was starting to go towards the bowler. Finch ended the series in UAE against Pakistan with three centuries.
Fast forward to the Oval against Sri Lanka and the new refined mechanism was part of his muscle memory. Nuwan Pradeep tried to undo Finch by seaming the ball back in, but the Australian captain was prepared for the challenge. As the ball-shaped towards his stumps, Finch sent the ball rocketing to the long-on boundary. His head was right on the line of the off-stump, his balance perfect, his left foot in an ideal position for his bat to come down in the right place. Three of his four boundaries came from impeccable on-drives. By a slight alteration, Finch had turned his weakness into his strength.
By the time Finch had moved swiftly past his century, close to 50 percent of his runs had come in the ‘V'. This was an exhibition of how to play the ball straight. Coincidently, as Finch was thumping the ball down the ground, it was Smith that stood up the other end.
At the post-match presentation, Finch was asked if he had ever driven the ball past the bowler in such an emphatic manner. "If my balance is right and not letting my head falling over" is all he said.
Finch ended the day on 153 from 132 balls. He had smashed 15 fours and five sixes. After that brief initiation, the Sri Lankan bowlers had become clueless. The balls that were supposed to dismiss him were disappearing for boundaries. Any alternative plans also failed. Finch was supreme, confident and error free.
During his dull patch, he had stated in a press conference, “The changes that I've made are really close to happening. It could be one ball, could be to balls and you get in the middle and everything snaps back in and you start to feel good and get the flow back again.”
The flow was back and as have been the runs. It is fair to say opposition bowlers need to work out an alternative method to dismiss Finch at the World Cup.