Australia captain Aaron Finch believes the defending champions will head into the World Cup with a left-hand right-hand opening combination, but just which left-hander – David Warner or Usman Khawaja – will partner him at the top of the order remains to be seen.
Australia named their 15-man World Cup squad on Monday and as expected Warner and Steven Smith were named alongside Finch, Khawaja and Shaun Marsh as the specialist top order batsmen, with Peter Handscomb the unfortunate man omitted.
One of the biggest conundrums for Australia is how to configure the top order. Warner dominated one-day international cricket for two years prior to his suspension and has returned to the IPL in devastating form scoring 400 runs in seven games to be the tournament’s leading run-scorer halfway through the season.
But Finch and Khawaja built a formidable partnership across the two successful ODI tours of India and the UAE combining for partnerships of 209, 193 and 134, as well as four other half-century stands in just 10 matches.
Finch did not know what combination Australia would go with for the start of the World Cup although all-but locked himself in to open.
“There’s going to be plenty to think about over the next six or eight or 10 weeks, working back from that first game, and trying to find our best combination and the best way to structure up our side,” he said. “Davey’s record at the top is unbelievable. Uzi’s been in great nick recently. I think whichever way we go there’s probably scope to mix and match that throughout the tournament as well as we see fit. I think we’ll work that out. There’s nothing set in stone right now.”
When asked which of the three players would be best suited to batting at No.3, Finch did suggest it was unlikely to be him.
“I think all three of us could do it. I’ve probably got the least experience out of everyone in that position in limited overs cricket. Like I said, it’s something that we will juggle and we’ll tinker with. I think a left-hand right-hand combination will be the way that we’ll go. Just depends on which left-hander…we’ll wait and see.”
Finch and Warner have never batted at No.3 in ODI cricket but combine for 27 centuries at the top of the order, both with a superior strike-rate to Khawaja.
Khawaja has opened 20 times in 30 innings averaging 53.63 and striking at 85.66 with two centuries and eight half-centuries. He has batted at No. 3 on 10 occasions scoring just two half-centuries at an average of 24.33 and strike-rate of 71.80.
The argument for Finch and Khawaja to remain together is strong. They combined for 817 runs at an average of 81.70 in the last 10 ODI’s.
However, the combination of Warner and Finch was equally destructive in the same conditions. The pair have combined for 437 runs at 72.88 in six games in India and the UAE with a double-century stand and two half-century stands.
Overall, Warner and Finch have batted together on 48 occasions, combining for 2126 runs at 44.29 with five century-plus stands and 10 half-century partnerships. They were also the opening combination when Australia won the 2015 World Cup.
But Finch spoke glowingly of the chemistry he built with Khawaja over the last 10 matches.
“We’re both pretty relaxed out in the middle,” he said. “We’ve known each other a long time and we’ve played quite a bit of cricket together. That’s what makes partnerships quite unique at times. The ability to sort of have personal relationships as well that goes quite a long way on the field.
“Being friends for 15-16 years, that’s a lot to fall back on and when you’re under pressure you go back to your default. And knowing someone inside-out is crucial I think and that helps. You read each other a lot better, you get a sense of body language and how they’re feeling without actually having to talk about it. I think that’s the real advantage of having good close relationships.”
Finch was adamant Warner would deliver for Australia in the World Cup on his return from a 12-month ban from international cricket. He was also confident Steve Smith would find his best form despite the pressure of expectation.
“As world class players you always put pressure on yourself to perform and I think that’s what great players do well, they perform under pressure when they’re needed. Obviously the form that Davey has been in has been unbelievable in India. I know that he’s as hungry as he’s ever been to perform well for Australia. I don’t see that being an issue at all for him.
“Steve has probably been a bit slower to start and his injury has probably held him back slightly. But we’ve seen in the past that they are two of the great players in international cricket. I’ve got no doubts that they’ll be up and going and firing.”
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne
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