Usman Khawaja (left) and Aaron Finch.
Usman Khawaja (left) and Aaron Finch.

The watershed moment that put Australia on path to WC glory

There's a sin so many of us are guilty of when we recall sport's greatest comebacks.

We remember the ending, attempting to recapture the glorious moment and revel in its grandeur.

We think Steven Gerrard's passion overflowing while lifting the Champions League trophy in Istanbul or, more recently, Tiger Woods hugging his son just off the 18th green at Augusta.

They are images that live through time, but what they capture is a moment that was easy. Long before they were taken was the moment - far less glorious but infinitely more important - that came hard, but gave birth to the miracle.

 

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Where Australia winning the 2019 World Cup would sit among cricket's greatest comebacks is up for debate. We probably won't know unless it happens, which it may not, no matter how vividly Australian fans can picture Aaron Finch beaming from the Lord's balcony with the World Cup trophy in hand.

But should Australia pull it off, it would be a comeback fairytale that started with its own inglorious moment of grit and defiance, too.

The moment came in March, when India won the toss in Ranchi and put Australia in to bat.

Virat Kohli smelt blood in the water and needed just one more win to seal a five-match ODI series in straight sets. The loss would be Australia's 21st in 25 matches and consign it to a seventh-straight bilateral ODI series defeat.

Finch walked to the crease with Usman Khawaja having averaged just 15 since the start of November. He was woefully out of form having been dismantled on home shores by first South Africa's quicks, and then India's led by Jasprit Bumrah.

The latter in particular unearthed a flaw in Finch's game that made him susceptible to full, inswinging deliveries targeted at his stumps. He was repeatedly removed LBW and bowled in this fashion during both Test and white-ball matches last Australian summer.

Khawaja was averaging more than 40 in the same period, but batting with Finch was a relatively new partnership only tried a handful of times either side of three years, and once in 2013.

Finch fell for a duck in the first match of the series before the partnership was broken for an improved 83 in Nagpur. There was no manual on how to drop a team's captain before a World Cup, but selectors were going to have to make the rarest and most brutal of calls on Finch.

But what followed in Ranchi was one of the most unlikely acts of defiance by a besieged opener and his partner - the importance of which is still being learnt today.

Finch and Khawaja - having only provided a hint of positivity in the match prior - went on to post 193 runs for the opening stand. It remains Australia's eighth-greatest opening partnership of all time, and the best since January 2006.

Australia would go on to set India a target of 314, which it fell 32 runs short of.

Suddenly, Australia found some momentum and belief, relying on both to chase down 358 in the fourth match to level the series. The blood in the water was now India's, and Australia pounced by winning the fifth match in Delhi by 35 runs.

In doing so, Australia won its first ODI series since January 2017, its first in India since 2009, and its first ever after trailing 2-0 in a five-match series.

Another five-match series that came against Pakistan in the UAE followed. This consolidated the resurgence of Finch, who made 451 runs at 112.75 alongside Khawaja (272 runs at 54.40).

Australia swept the series 5-0 and, after six World Cup victories, has won 14 out of its past 15 ODIs.

Those wins wouldn't have come without the Ranchi partnership of Finch and Khawaja which laid the framework for the team moving forward.

The 193 was a watershed moment. Wickets in hand would become the key, while the big-hitting, fast scoring ways of England would be shunned.

'England have it wrong, we have it right' would be the message. How accurate that has proven at the World Cup so far.

The approach could be traced back to the home series against India in January when big hitters Chris Lynn and D'Arcy Short were turfed out for the likes of Khawaja and Peter Handscomb.

But apart from once at the SCG, the wins didn't immediately follow. The approach needed its moment of validation before coach Justin Langer could set it in stone and take it all the way to the World Cup semi finals.

So influential has the partnership been that there is complete buy-in within Australia's ranks - even David Warner is observing caution well into his innings.

England has chased the pipe dream of 500 at the tournament - fast bowler Mark Wood described that mark as a "realistic target" and 400 as "easily gettable" before it started.

Meanwhile, Australia has been happy to go at under a run-a-ball and keep wickets in hand before exploding later in the innings. Australia is the only team to have secured a semi-finals spot so far, having won six of seven matches.

England is teetering on the edge of the top four. It hasn't passed 400 once.

The bookmakers now have Australia the favourite to win the tournament, only rivalled by India which is undefeated.

Should Finch go on to raise the World Cup trophy in London, it would be worth remembering the moment was birthed when he raised his bat in Ranchi.

News Corp Australia


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