After Aaron Finch wrecked England with the fastest hundred in the shortest format, in the ethereally-splendid Rose Bowl, a few months before the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh, Finch was thrown up a question he has been asked perhaps most often in his career. Do you compete with David Warner? So Finch hadn’t to rummage through his stubble to reply. He put it succinctly, if not with candid self-depreciation: “The day you start trying to compete with Davie is the day that your career goes downhill pretty quick.”
It must have been genuine awe, or acquired wisdom.
Two years later, you can imagine Finch sitting with microphone uttering the same set of words if he’s asked the same question, maybe after one of them knock out another’s franchise in the second qualifier on Friday.
Nonetheless, the honesty of the reply should be taken on face value, as few contemporary cricketers can lay claim to know each others’ mind so well as them. For, ever since they began representing their respective states, New South Wales and Victoria, in age-group cricket, they have struck along, grown up together, strove against and together, first as rivals, roommates and best buds in the Australian Cricket Academy, where they were thrown out together, and then in every Australian junior side including the U-19 World Cup.
It wasn’t any bit a furtherance from the truth when Warner remarked that to open with Finch across all formats is a childhood dream. Finch says theirs is a relationship “where you don’t need to speak about things most of the time.” There is almost telepathic, cosmic understanding between them, much like the most prolific Australian opening pair of this generation-Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer.
Still, there was a clear, contrasting, pattern to how their respective careers had panned out. The recurring theme was this—Warner always did it first. Finch was the late bloomer. Whatever Finch did well, Warner did it better. Warner made an instantaneous impression with New South Wales. Finch initially struggled to cope with domestic rigours. Warner caught the national selectors’ notice first, making his T20 and ODI debuts in 2009. In 2011, he earned the Baggy Green. The same year, the Victorian made his T20 debut, and it took him two more years to break into the ODI side.He is still waiting for his Baggy Green while his mate has racked up 51 Test appearance while establishing himself as one of the most destructive cross-format openers in the world.
In IPL auctions, Warner always commanded astronomical sums. Finch just sneaked in by invisibly, until Mumbai Indians forked him out for 530,000 USD in the 2015 auction. Finch was dallied around from one franchise to another — his 51 matches coming for six different franchises. Conversely, Warner’s 98 matches had come for only two clubs, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Daredevils.
Only the honour of captaining Australia in T20Is beckoned Finch first. Then you know how it all ended for Finch early this year —unceremoniously. So it’s fair to assume that Finch, all this while, was not trying to compete with Warner, but merely trying to catch up with him. Finch wouldn’t have qualms to admit it either.
In this light, it’s irresistible to not compare and contrast their career graphs, for the sheer fact that both are of the same age plying the same trade, and vying for the same spot. There must have countless instances wherein the selectors had to choose between them, until such a time as that came when both could be accommodated. That time finally came in early 2014, and they promptly ransacked England for a 163-run partnership in Melbourne to reignite their teenage dream of opening the innings together for the country. Since then, they have firmly established themselves at the top, in the 50-over format with a fairly robust average of 40.75 in 24 matches. In this relatively shorter association, they have already crossed the three-figure mark thrice.
And remarkably, Finch has matched up to his more acclaimed colleague — in fact he has more hundreds (7) than Warner (5) in fewer matches, was faster to the 2000-run mark and has played several match-winning knocks already in his career.
And until injuries of bad form to either do them part, they look destined to hurl away a few standing Australian partnership records, while enjoying it all the way.
“Sometimes, we don’t even talk about cricket. We just chew the fat. The only time we talk is when the spinners are in. If he’s an offie, Grinchy would take him on. If he’s a leggie, I will take him on,” Warner had written in a column before the T20 World Cup. And while batting together, they have often matched each other, in terms of strokeplay as well as the weight of runs.
Not exactly mirror impressions
Warner calls his friend Grinch (he resembles the Dr Seuss character, he feels). He feels he bats like a right-handed himself. Though, in reality, they are not exactly mirror impressions. Both are ferocious strikers of the cricket ball, but Finch’s range of strokes is bit more conventional. Whereas Warner sometimes can be freakishly innovative — reverse sweeps and switch hit and all —Finch steadfastly sticks to the textbook, except may be for the odd swipe through midwicket.
The Indian summer didn’t begin well for either. Both Finch and Warner had indifferent World Cups. Warner was forced to bat in the middle order, which turned out to be a counter-productive ploy. In two innings each at number three and four, he eked out only 38 runs.
Finch, stripped off captaincy while nursing an injury, sat out for the first two matches, despite coming to the tournament as the highest-ranked player in this format. It turned out to be the lightening rod for criticising the pre-tournament favourites who crashed out in the group stage. When Finch was benched, Warner openly came out in support for his friend. “Don’t think his career is over,” he screamed.
But a month from thereon, their fortunes have dramatically swung. Finch has been a decisive influence on Gujarat Lions reaching this stage, almost single-handedly driving his team forward in the first half, winning three successive Man of the Matches in their first three matches.
Though he missed a few matches to injuries and was less impactful batting down the order, he still has an enviable average of 49.2 in matches Gujarat have won. Only that Warner has bettered him on every count. Again.
The latter has plundered exactly twice as many runs (686 to Finch’s 343), at a better average (52.76 to 38.11 ) and strike rate (147.84 to 128.46). Like Finch, it was Warner who catalysed their turnaround after defeats in the first two matches.
In Sunrisers’ wins, Warner has marauded 478 runs at an aggregate of 68.28. His combative style of captaincy too has won accolades, for the side at his disposal was far from world-class or IPL-class, bereft of a quality spinner, a fellow opener in shambles, an underwhelming middle-order, their figurehead bowler injured. But he pulled his side through all those setbacks, forging a resillient group now on the brink of qualifying for the final.
The young Deepak Hooda, some reckoned, was getting more than his due time in the middle and Moises Henriques couldn’t provide the utility that was expected of him. But Warner persisted with them, sometimes because he had few other alternatives. But throughout their rough patch, he was steadfastly behind them, and gradually, one by one, they are reposing the skipper’s trust.
Ask Henriques, Man of the Match in the eliminator, for vindication: “He is a bowler’s captain. He lets you set the field and even if you sometimes get hit, he backs you if he feels you’ll deliver the goods.” Such has been his dynamism and the mutual trust and respect he has forged in the side that there are hushed whispers in Australia that he should replace Steve Smith as skipper in T20s.
His success as a captain might have come as a surprise, for his hot-headedness was widely assumed to be a hindrance in sustaining team harmony, but it wouldn’t surprise Finch too much.
For he knows his mate all too well. He also knows that Warner will be single biggest threat for them to make the final. So would feel Warner, for despite a fair sprinkling of star dust among the Lions’ line-up — Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith and Suresh Raina — he knows Finch the best.
And what pandemonium he can inspire single-handedly, like on that August evening in quaint Rose Bowl, where Warner’s own contribution was just a single.