Chappell: Finch’s struggles give selectors a headache
As if the Australian selectors didn't have enough concerns with the Test team - suspensions, failures and a lost series - they now have a huge ODI headache leading into the World Cup: the captain.
Aaron Finch has consistently failed with the bat this season and he's showing no sign of overcoming his technical difficulties. His latest innings at the MCG was a disaster.
There were enough lucky escapes - a close LBW appeal, edges flying past fielders and near run outs - to supply the momentum for a form revival. Instead, Finch failed to capitalise on these breaks and then, to compound matters, he missed a difficult chance that could've led Australia to victory.
The catch was difficult - a missile launched by India's ageless wonder MS Dhoni - but Finch's attempt to cling on to the chance suggested a captain lacking in confidence and mentally mired in a fog. Finch's batting failures are enough of a concern without the slump seeping through to his captaincy.
It's unfair to compare Finch with one of Australia's best captains in Mark Taylor but the left-handed opener did some of his best leadership work when he was mired in a batting slump. Taylor's was an exceptional strength-of-mind feat but if Finch can't achieve this difficult task then his place in the team is in jeopardy.
That leaves the selectors with a vexing dilemma. Do they drop Finch now in order to allow the replacement captain to establish his credentials?
If they don't demote Finch they risk the incredibly destabilising decision of having to make a change during the World Cup campaign if he doesn't emerge from his batting funk. Such a drastic move would almost certainly lead to Australia's early exit from the tournament.
Then there's the matter of whether there's a captain capable of taking over from Finch.
This is a serious dilemma for the selectors but Finch faces one more challenging task; it's not ideal to be low on confidence leading into a World Cup side if it contains former Australian captain Steve Smith. There's no suggestion of Smith undermining the leadership, more like Finch feeling inadequate while failing with the bat.
These are major headaches a struggling team could do without. How has it reached this low point?
In hindsight, Finch's elevation to the Test side was disastrous for the opener. In the longer version of the game bowlers and captains have more time and opportunity to exploit a weakness. The bowler has more overs for his plan to evolve and the captain has fewer field restrictions to hinder his tactics.
Adding to Finch's demise as a Test batsman (which led to him entering the ODI's with confidence at a low ebb), Indian Test opening bowler Ishant Sharma was ideally suited to exploit Finch's biggest weakness. Ishant predominantly moves the ball into right-handed batsmen and Finch is vulnerable to bowled and LBW dismissals.
Ishant accompanied Finch to the top of the slippery dip but it was Bhuvneshwar Kumar who gave him a shove.
Kumar's skills make him even more qualified to exploit Finch's weakness and he did so with ruthless efficiency. These two have proven what the rest of the world's bowlers suspected and now it's open season on the Australian finch.
Despite the ODI team's struggles there was one encouraging sign.
This was the impressive showing of young quick Jhye Richardson. Without the helpful experience of Australia's 'big three' to fall back on, Richardson displayed a mature head on his shoulders. It's no surprise he was chosen as a replacement in the Test squad for the injured Josh Hazlewood.
Unfortunately the two weaker divisions - batting and spin bowling - didn't throw up any potential saviours. Shaun Marsh added to his recent impressive ODI form but at Test level he continues to flatter to deceive. All rounder Marcus Stoinis has shown glimpses of the talent required to influence games but is yet to take the final step.
Nathan Lyon was unable to re-establish his short form credentials and whilst bowling steadily, Adam Zampa didn't provide the potency required to take the middle-over wickets that are crucial to winning ODI's.
There's no doubt Australia will be a serious challenger at the World Cup with the return of David Warner and Smith (if they are fit) and the three leading pace men. However the return of five top-class players will be severely diluted if the captaincy dilemma isn't resolved.
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