Another captain’s knock from Aaron Finch and clinical bowling display by Ashton Agar has pushed Australia to the brink of a memorable comeback in New Zealand.
Having gone 2-0 down before winning back-to-back fixtures this week in Wellington, Australia is now just one more victory away from clinching the five-match T20 series 3-2.
Here, we look at the talking points for Australia after it tied the series on Friday night.
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AWKWARD REALITY ABOUT LATEST RESCUE ACT
Cricket: Aaron Finch and the Australian side have forced a deciding 5th match against New Zealand with an impressive win.
No matter what happens from here, Australia will be proud to pull this five-match series into a decider.
And rightly so. This is an understrength line-up that’s been on the road for about a month and — despite a slow start — has twice delivered when it simply had to.
But Australia would do well to not get carried way with Friday’s win, because it was far from a complete performance.
On Wednesday, Finch fired, but so did Glenn Maxwell and Josh Philippe before Ashton Agar did the damage with the ball.
On Friday, however, it was a largely limp performance with the bat.
The Wellington wicket played far slower on Friday and about 150 was a par score — but that was a total Australia didn’t look like touching before a late, solo effort from Finch.
He was the only Australian to make more than 20 runs on the night, smoking an unbeaten 79 runs off 55 balls.
At the start of the 20th over, he was on 53 off 49, and Australia had just 130 runs.
Luckily for the tourists, Finch exploded into life, crushing four maximums in the final five balls to take Australia past 150.
Those five balls applied enough scoreboard pressure to make it an entirely different task for New Zealand in the chase — and it was one it ultimately couldn’t meet.
Of course, Australia’s bowlers also deserve credit for turning the screws in clinical fashion.
But without that late, one-man flurry, New Zealand realistically would have been chasing a score under 140.
Even on a slow wicket, that’s a far more manageable task for an international outfit.
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THE THIN LAYER OF PROTECTION THAT WON’T HOLD MISFIRING AUSSIE MUCH LONGER
WE’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE
Cricket: Aaron Finch came up massive when Australia needed it most. Smashing four sixes off the final over.
If you’re waking up on Saturday with a sense of deja vu, there’s good reason for it.
This script has been played out before.
It’s 2019, Aaron Finch has come off a disastrous summer, and the World Cup is just around the corner.
Questions are being asked about whether it’s time to axe the white ball captain of Australia.
Those questions ramp up as Australia goes 2-0 down in an away, five-match ODI series against India. Finch makes 0 and 37 in those first two matches.
And then everything changes.
Usman Khawaja has a big role to play, but the headline is Finch who finally makes a big score, posting 93 off 99 in Ranchi as Australia take the series at least one game deeper.
But the innings proves to be the catalyst for a stunning comeback, as Australia wins in Mohali, and Delhi, to complete the nation’s first-ever ODI series win from 2-0 down.
From there, Australia whitewashed Pakistan in the UAE 5-0 to build up winning momentum before the 50-over World Cup. Finch went on to make 115, 153* and 90 in three-consecutive matches that series.
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In New Zealand in 2021, Australia has come from 2-0 down again to force a decider — and it largely has Finch to thank.
The Australian captain finally erased the memories of a woeful 2020-21 summer with his 69 in game three, which proved to be the series’ major momentum shift.
He then blasted an unbeaten 79 in game four to lead Australia to another big win in Wellington.
We are only days removed from a time when the blowtorch was being applied to Finch, but it somehow feels like a lifetime ago.
Now one team is firmly favourite to win this series, and it will have Finch to thank for repeating history.
Cricket: Rishabh Pant has whacked a blistering ton, sending a new ball into the stands to bring up his 100.
AGAR’S GOLDEN RUN CONTINUES
It was last month that Craig Howard – the former spinner turned bowling guru for Cricket Australia – made an interesting observation to colleague Tom Morris about Ashton Agar.
“In the last 18-24 months there has been a real shift in Ashton’s bowling ability and his shape,” Howard told Fox Cricket when quizzed on the oldest Agar boy’s potential.
“He spent a long time trying to perfect his seam position for the subcontinent.
“That may have impacted his ability to bowl in our conditions, where pitches are less abrasive.
“Now he bowls with more over spin and tries to beat people in the air. This has transferred into all forms and all conditions. He has made some adjustments with his shoulder path, leg drive and energy levels too and doesn’t just rely on his accuracy and side spin anymore. It’s easier to bowl with side spin. There aren’t too many Nathan Lyons out there!”
Well, in the past two matches we are starting to see Agar bear fruit again after an impressive 2020, in which he took 13 T20I wickets at just 12.46 — including a hat-trick in South Africa.
The left-armer continued where he left off on Wednesday’s Australian best figures of 6-30 by taking 2-11 from his allocated four overs.
Agar was thrown the ball from the outset.
He didn’t take a wicket in his first over, but he varied his pace beautifully bowling as slow as 90 and 92kmh on his second and third deliveries to Martin Guptil, before a quicker drifting yorker over the 100kmh mark with his fourth ball to Tim Seifert and a slower ball of 89kmh with his fifth ball that almost had him dead in front.
It was smart bowling, and it continued the theme from the third match where Agar reflected in his post-match interview that he had bowled too quickly and wasn’t brave enough to give the ball enough flight.
That wasn’t the case on Friday. The ball took spin and Agar proved nigh impossible to get away.
If Australia is to progress deep in India at October’s World Cup, they’ll need their spinners to back themselves and be willing to give the ball some flight and take a chance.
AUSSIE SPIN STRUGGLES
If there was an aspect that stand-in Australia coach Andrew McDonald and his men would be concerned about it, it’s Australia’s struggles against spin.
In particular, it’s Australia’s struggles against left-arm finger spin.
During the home summer Australia had their struggles not for the first time against Ravindra Jadeja and off-break bowler Washington Sundar.
Both men continually managed to beat the Australians with subtleties.
Across the ditch, Australia’s struggles have continued against the spin, particularly Mitchell Santner’s left-arm spin that once again had the tourists in sixers and sevens.
Santner finished with 1-16. It could have been better.
The crafty finger spinner fooled Australia’s batsmen with his varying of pace, as the ball often held in the wicket and Australia’s batsmen felt for it with hard hands.
His figures for the series are impressive. He’s only been hit for 6.60 runs an over — the least of any bowler except Riley Meredith (6.28) — while his six wickets have come at 12.66 runs.
Meanwhile, fellow spinner Ish Sodhi is the series leading wicket-taker with 10 poles at 13.30.
If the batsmen are struggling in New Zealand, how will they fare in India?
T20: Akila Dananjaya was feeling on top of the world after taking a hattrick, however in his very next over Kieron Pollard belted him for 36 to bring him right back to Earth.