Aaron Finch has hailed the importance of David Warner and Steven Smith to Australia’s T20I side, after the pair starred in a dominant batting performance in the third and deciding game of the South Africa series in their first game at Newlands since the ball-tampering scandal of March 2018.
Warner put on 120 in an explosive 11.3-over opening stand alongside Finch, his captain, to set the game up for Australia. The pair put on 75 in the powerplay, Australia’s joint third-highest six-over score in T20I history, and allowed only seven dot balls in that phase, the lowest ever.
And Finch praised both his improving touch game and his meticulous planning, suggesting that his attention to detail is “as good as anyone I’ve played with”.
“In this format of the game and probably one-day cricket as well,” Finch said, “Davey’s been so consistent for such a long time.
“I think if you look at his IPL record where he’s played the majority of his T20 cricket, it’s been super consistent and he’s someone that once he gets in and once he’s in good form, he’s so hard to bowl to because he accesses both sides of the ground, he’s got touch, he’s got power, so as soon as you’ve got guys like that, they can be so hard to stop.
“From his younger days playing T20, when it was all just brute force, I think the way that he goes about thinking through his innings, planning his innings pre-game, but also adapting – it’s extraordinary.
“And to sit down and chat with him about plans, how we’re going to go about it at the top of the order – which very rarely works the way that you want it to work – his attention to detail in his planning is unbelievable and as good as anyone I’ve played with.”
Smith, meanwhile, was demoted from his usual No. 3 position down to No. 5, with Australia keen to give opportunities to their middle-order batsmen and to maintain left-hand/right-hand partnerships due to the strong cross-wind that blew across Newlands.
But even in an unfamiliar role – this was Smith’s first innings at No. 5 in T20Is, meaning he has now played in every position from No. 3 to No. 9 in the format – he found a way to stamp his mark on the game, taking 20 runs from Anrich Nortje’s final over to finish unbeaten on 30 from 15 balls.
“[He’s] a little bit different [to Warner] in regards to being a middle-order player, No. 3, 4, 5 throughout his career,” Finch said. “You’re always faced with different challenges. So to have that ability to come in and strike at 200 when the game requires it, or come in at 2 for 10 and navigate through a tricky six or seven overs but still score, the ability to do that has been extraordinary.
“I think what’s changed for him slightly in his game is he’s probably got a bit more power – maybe he’s always had the power, but a little bit more freedom to play his shots, and I think that’s been a huge difference to his game.
“Teams used to think that they could just squeeze him, he wouldn’t hurt you too much at the back end, but to develop all the shots that he’s got now, he’s a super-important player to us, and he’s bloody impressive to watch.”
“Our middle order is all really flexible, and they’ve had a lot of time to get their heads around being flexible as a group”
While the top order and his bowling attack were impressive throughout the three-match series, Finch could be forgiven for having concerns over Australia’s faltering middle order. The No. 4-6 positions have been the most vulnerable across their recent run of T20Is, with dominant top-order performances against Pakistan and Sri Lanka at home allowing scant opportunities, and the weakness was again exposed during this series.
Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade and Alex Carey managed only 121 runs between them in nine innings over the three games, but Finch suggested he was keen to give them further opportunities ahead of the T20 World Cup, even with Glenn Maxwell set to return from injury.
“Our middle order is all really flexible, and they’ve had a lot of time to get their heads around being flexible as a group,” Finch said. “We’re always really reluctant to change a winning formula. Obviously with Maxi recovering from injury at the moment, that’s probably one of those spots there.
“But regardless of who’s available and who’s not, the guys who continually do the job for the side will keep getting opportunities, and we’ve made no secret about that. The winning formula is generally a pretty good one, you don’t want to mess with that too much.
“The more games that that middle order in particular can play together – they haven’t played a huge amount of T20 cricket together. I know Wadey and Smithy have played a fair bit of Test cricket together and one-day cricket over the years, but T20, the game’s changing all the time.
“So the more they can get with Alex and Ashton Agar at seven as well, the more that they can keep playing is really important. You just start to understand each other’s game a little bit more, you start to recognise patterns with people’s play and the way that they’re thinking. That’s a really important part of going forward and winning a tournament.”