Less than three months ago, Aaron Finch, alarmingly down on form and confidence, actually feared he might not be chosen for the Australian squad that he was due to lead.
He fretted too about whether he would be able to inspire his team by example with a flashing blade just as the Aussies’ previous ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup-winning captains Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke had.
Er, so what exactly was he worried about?
For on Saturday, with his most strikingly impressive contribution yet to the champions’ title defence at the Oval, it really did feel as if the 32-year-old may have come of age here as Australia’s one-day skipper. He did it, he said afterwards, by making things simple, by going back to basics.
His 153 here was simply superb, the joint-highest score of the entire tournament and a total that no previous Australian captain, not even the great Ponting, had ever been able to amass in any World Cup knock.
It was a crisply muscular effort, adorned with five awe-inspiring sixes and 15 boundaries that also put him atop the overall tournament run-scoring charts with 343.
It lay the imposing foundations for an 87-run victory that puts Australia back on top of the table, foundations that were initially shaken over the first helter-skelter 15 overs when Dimuth Karunaratne responded with a captain’s innings of his own but which eventually held convincingly firm thanks in large part to Finch’s nous in choosing the right moments for his nifty enforcers, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, to strangle Sri Lankan resistance.
“I feel like I’m playing reasonably well,” Finch shrugged after his innings, playing down the sheer quality of his joint-highest ODI effort that made it look from his two sweetly-driven fours in Nuwan Pradeep’s opening over as if this really could be a signature innings.
There’s a winning modesty about the down-to-earth Victorian, who reckons he must seem boring beside some of the great characters who have previously filled the captain’s role.
There are no airs and graces about him; a blue-collar player who’s a diamond bloke but who has perhaps not received his due as a baggy green warrior, presumably because he’s not enjoyed a stellar career in the Test arena like his Cup-winning predecessors.
Well, maybe his time really has arrived. For here was further evidence that his consistently excellent ODI career, which is now decorated with 14 glittering tons, really deserves proper acclaim in its own right.
Don’t forget, Finch took the reins of this team at a difficult period of recovery for Australian cricket and, while his own form did suffer at the end of last year when he tried unsuccessfully to juggle his performances in all three international formats, his recent recovery has been absolutely key to Australia’s hopes in the tournament.
Since his revival in March, he has scored 794 runs from 10 knocks, including three hundreds and four fifties. There’s an infectious gum-chewing, relaxed swagger about him; his maximums on this monumental ground, including one glorious inside-out monster off Milinda Siriwardana over long-off that took him to three figures, were, well, monumental, struck with seemingly effortless power.
One hoik, mowed flat from lightning hand speed, made you wince for the crowd at square leg.
It was an act worth following. Steve Smith, suitably inspired by the man who on Friday hailed him as the ‘best batter in the world’, gave a fairly good attempt at living up to the billing with 73 made to look outrageously simple off just 59 balls before dear old Lasith Malinga reminded him of the power of his yorker.
Finch, cross with himself for slicing one to cover when he may have been fancying a double hundred with seven overs left, still won’t have been happy that his ‘finishers’, Glenn Maxwell excepted, finished the Aussie innings so absent-mindedly.
Still, it was Finchy’s day. Michael Vaughan has been among those who have hailed him as the best and most tactically astute captain so far at the tournament and, again here, with Ponting in his backroom team and Clarke looking on as a TV pundit, might we have just been watching the next Australian World Cup-winning leader in waiting?