Aaron Finch has turned famine into feast, producing arguably the best knock of his ODI career to march Australia to another crushing eight-wicket win over Pakistan in Sharjah.
Finch’s lack of runs was among many concerns for Australia when they landed in India last month, their World Cup defence seemingly a lost cause.
The captain has turned the corner with consecutive match-winning centuries, backing up his 116 on Friday with an unbeaten 153 on Sunday.
Australia completed a venue-record chase of 285 with minimal fuss in 47.5 overs, thanks to a 209-run opening stand between Finch and Usman Khawaja (88)
It is the highest score of Finch’s 106-ODI career and the second time he’s posted back-to-back hundreds in the format.
Nathan Lyon can’t recall a more complete or controlled innings from the 32-year-old Finch, whose dig overshadowed Mohammad Rizwan’s maiden ODI ton that helped Pakistan post 7-284.
“For him to bat the whole innings … it shows a great leader,” Lyon said.
“He deserves every accolade he gets. Especially for that innings but hopefully he can take a lot of confidence out of that and the way he’s leading this side going into the World Cup.”
Finch played 21 consecutive international white-ball innings without reaching 50 but ended that slump earlier this month in India.
The Victorian, last month described as “mentally shot” by former selector Mark Waugh, is now making a mockery of anybody who suggested he should be axed.
“He’s been working his backside off,” Lyon said.
As professional cricketers, you’re always going to get criticised. Even when you have good days, you get criticised.”</p> <p>
Khawaja, recalled amid six changes to the XI at the start of the year, threw away a golden chance to make it three tons in five matches but the consolation was he shared the fifth-highest Australian ODI opening stand.
Australia banked a fifth-straight 50-over win, something they haven’t achieved since 2016.
The victory was all the more meritorious because injured paceman Jhye Richardson only delivered five overs, while Pat Cummins was rested for the second game in a row.
Richardson has been ruled out of the match after dislocating his right shoulder while fielding.
Australia are now marching towards the World Cup with a stack of in-form contributors and a new-found sense of composure and confidence.
Suspended superstars Steve Smith and David Warner are still expected to be squeezed into the batting order at the World Cup but assumptions about the latter opening with Finch may have to be revisited.
Finch and Khawaja have produced opening stands of zero, three, 63, 76, 83, 193 and 209 this month.
Sunday’s partnership was chanceless until Khawaja picked out Imam-ul-Haq in the deep in the 37th over.
Finch displayed trademark aggression, hammering six sixes, but for the most part he and Khawaja kept the scoreboard ticking over with singles.
A couple of nasty bouncers from teenage debutant Mohammad Hasnain, including a glancing blow to the helmet, and a late run-out chance were the closest Pakistan came to dismissing Finch.
The series continues in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.