Aaron Finch’s words after the third day of England’s final Ashes warm-up match carried the ring of truth. He had gone in slugging and if he respected any of the opposition bowlers he still treated them all with similar disdain.
The assault was neither as brutal nor as fruitful as that which he launched at Southampton in August. Then he scored 156 from 63 balls, the highest score by a distance in a Twenty20 International. He was much more sedate for the Cricket Australia Invitation XI, in bashing his way to 59 from 60 balls. But some of his shots and the punishment they inflicted on England’s attack were enough to make the casual observer wince. He went after some loose stuff purveyed by the new ball bowlers and then thought it wise to launch into Graeme Swann.
It was to Swann he perished, attempting to slog him for a second successive six only to see the ball spiralling off the top edge to point. Finch knows that playing as he does can lead to that – “risk-reward” he calls it. But it told Swann a little of what he can expect in the coming weeks. Australia’s middle order is packed with right-handers now and they intend to be bristling against the off-spinner.
“I think we saw towards the end of the Ashes last time, they tried to attack him quite early, and had a bit of success doing that,” Finch said. “I suppose when you let a quality, world-class spinner settle in and just keep bowling, the chances are he’s going to get a wicket eventually. So if you can get on the front foot to him, try and attack him early and put him under a bit of pressure, it can help guys through the middle order. We’ve got very, very good players of spin – Pup, Smithy, Watto and Bails now – all very, very good.”
For those not acquainted with the sobriquets of the newly minted Australian middle order, they are, respectively, Michael Clarke, Steve Smith, Shane Watson and George Bailey. “If that’s part of the game plan, being attacking and free-flowing against someone like that can’t be a bad thing,” Finch said. “I think that’s the way these guys play, and have had a lot of success doing that. Knowing Boof, it will be a bit of a game plan.”
Boof is the Australia coach, Darren Lehmann, and like his captain, Clarke, he does not see the virtue of trying to beat England by playing attritional cricket. If it works it could be extremely attractive to watch; if it does not – and Swann is no mug – it could be messy.
Finch was hardly less harsh on the fast bowling trio, Stuart Broad, Steve Finn and Boyd Rankin. He was far more complimentary about Finn than might have been expected. It was a struggle again for Finn on the sandy run-ups and length eluded him. But the ball with which he dismissed Callum Ferguson, full and reverse swinging in late, would have accounted for most.
“It’s obviously not ideal conditions for the fast bowlers, with the run-ups,” said Finch. “It can make it quite tough. They’d probably be mindful, going up to a Test match, trying not to overwork him in conditions like that. I thought his spell with the old ball was outstanding – reverse swing – and the ball that knocked Fergie over was probably ball of the day.”
England came out of the day ahead and perhaps more sanguine about Jonny Bairstow keeping wicket in the opening Test if Matt Prior fails to recover from his calf injury. Bairstow did nothing spectacular but he did most of his work neatly and compactly.