Tasked with the unusual chance to captain an Australia side on home soil with 16 of their best players unavailable for selection, Aaron Finch insists there’s plenty on the line for the new-look T20 side.
With the nation’s Test squad gearing up for their four-match series in India against the ICC’s No.1 ranked team, Australia’s T20 squad trained together for the first time at the Albert Ground in Melbourne ahead of their KFC T20 INTL series-opener against Sri Lanka at the MCG on Friday night.
Picked largely on performances in the recent KFC Big Bash League, Australia’s 13-man squad could see three players – veteran Michael Klinger and up-and-comers Ashton Turner and Jhye Richardson – make their international debuts in the three-match series, which also features games in Geelong (on February 19) and Adelaide (on February 22).
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With Darren Lehmann and the rest of the Bupa Support Team coaching staff also in India, Perth Scorchers mentor Justin Langer steps in to lead the side, forming an all-star cast with fellow Test greats and former teammates Ricky Ponting and Jason Gillespie as his assistants.
And while Finch understands cricket fans may have trouble getting their head around the fact there are two distinct Australia teams preparing for two very different challenges, he stresses there’s still a great deal of pride at stake for his men.
“While it’s not ideal to have guys like Smith and Warner, (Mitchell) Starc, (Josh) Hazlewood, (Glenn) Maxwell all missing from a T20 side, it gives other guys a great opportunity,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“These guys are going into a huge Test series so you have to take that into consideration.
“Any time you represent your country in any format against any opposition it’s a huge honour.
“There’s going to be some guys who do it for the first time.
“Someone like ‘Maxi’ Klinger who gets an opportunity after the best part of 15 years grinding it out and being very successful (at domestic level).
“There’s still a lot of pride to play for.
“I think this is a great opportunity for some young guys and some experienced guys to get some international experience and put their names up there.”
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For Finch, his elevation to the captaincy in the absence of captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner caps an up-and-down 12 months for the powerful opener.
This summer alone, he lost his spot in Australia’s one-day international side in December, regained it for the recent Chappell-Hadlee Trophy series last month before being named skipper of that team to play in New Zealand following an injury to stand-in captain Matthew Wade.
Now back in charge of the T20 team as well, a post he lost ahead of last year’s World T20, Finch expects the “impressionable” side to benefit from the fresh approach that the coaching trio of Langer, Ponting and Gillespie will bring.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be coached by all three at various points,” said Finch.
“They’re all fantastic coaches. Any time you’ve got guys of their calibre in and around a group – especially a young group who are very impressionable – it makes you want to impress them really badly.
“’Punter’ is one of the greatest of all time and ‘JL’, who’s had so much success as a player and a coach.
“If you’re under the one coach the whole time, the messages start to become the same. It’s good to play under different coaches … to challenge yourself, challenge your game mentally and technically.”
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Sri Lanka have named veteran slinger Lasith Malinga in their 15-man squad and is in line to play his first international match in close to a year.
And although Finch is well-aware of the threat posed by ex-Melbourne Stars paceman Malinga, he also expects the likes of canny seamer Nuwan Kulaskera and left-arm leg-spinner Lakshan Sandakan to challenge Australia’s batsmen.
“Malinga’s been one of the best T20 bowlers to ever play the game,” the 30-year-old said.
“We’ve seen him in the Big Bash how successful he is. He’s a dangerous player and someone who’s so important to Sri Lanka.
“But there’s also another couple of bowlers in their line-up who are also very important. Kulasakera is someone who moves the ball, bowls exceptional yorkers and played as much of a part (as anyone) of Sri Lanka winning a World T20 a couple of years ago (in 2014).
“(Sandakan) had a lot of success in Australia’s last tour to Sri Lanka. The wickets don’t turn as much as they did over there. But he can turn the ball and he’s got a good wrong-un.
“It’s just a case of wait-and-see and try to whack it.”
Australia squad: Aaron Finch (c), Ben Dunk, Patrick Cummins, James Faulkner, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Michael Klinger, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Billy Stanlake, Ashton Turner, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.
Sri Lanka squad: Upul Tharanga (c), Niroshan Dickwella, Asela Gunarathna, Dilshan Munaweera, Kusal Mendis, Milinda Siriwardena, Sachith Pathirana, Chamara Kapugedara, Seekuge Prassanna, Nuwan Kulaskera, Isuru Udana, Dasun Shanaka, Lakshan Sandakan, Lasith Malinga, Vikum Sanjaya.