Australia has handed an international debut to Riley Meredith as it aims to keep its T20 series alive against New Zealand in the third match.
The tourists made one change in Wellington, dropping all-rounder Daniel Sams for Tasmanian quick Meredith, who was taken for $A1.42 million in the IPL draft.
New Zealand won the toss and Kane Williamson elected to bowl first.
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Australia is 2-112 after 12.5 overs after Matthew Wade (5) edged to first slip off the bowling of Trent Boult. Josh Philippe then rode his luck in a 27-ball 43 before holing out in the deep of Ish Sodhu.
Out-of-form Aaron Finch narrowly survived a DRS review for lbw on the first ball he faced before going on to make a drought-breaking half-century off 34 balls.
“I’m giving that out every day of the week if I’m umpiring,” Mark Waugh said on Fox Cricket after the narrow call. “That’s out every day of the week.”
But Finch has made the most of his second chance, bringing up his fifty with a reverse sweep six off a free hit.
“He’s cooking with gas now,” Waugh earlier said after one of the boundaries. “That’s the best shot he’s played in a month or two.”
Sams hasn’t performed with the ball this series but did blast 41 runs off 15 balls in the second T20 to draw Australia close to pulling off a miraculous comeback.
Shane Warne on Fox Cricket praised Meredith before play, saying: “He’s got all the tricks.
“He bowls absolute gas consistently, not just occasionally. And he puts the feat into the batsmen.
“No one likes that pace. No one likes 150 km/h plus, it’s as simple as that.
“He might go the journey occasionally but he’s a wicket-taker.”
New Zealand was forced into a late change due to a coronavirus scare for one of its players.
Mitch Santner was ruled out of the match having woken up with a head cold, the Black Caps announced on Twitter two hours before the toss.
“He is self-isolating as a precautionary measure while awaiting the results of a COVID test,” the Black Caps said.
The remainder of the five-match series has been moved to a Wellington hub after Auckland was placed into a snap seven-day lockdown due to a new community coronavirus case.
There are nine active coronavirus cases in the community.
The remaining matches in Wellington will take place behind closed doors.
Australia: Aaron Finch (c), Matthew Wade (wk), Josh Philippe, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Marsh, Ashton Agar, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Adam Zampa, Riley Meredith
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Tim Seifert (wk), Kane Williamson (c), Devon Conway, Glenn Phillips, Jimmy Neesham, Mark Chapman, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Ish Sodhi, Trent Boult
Australia is staring down the barrel of a straight-sets loss to trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand, but the individual fortunes of Aaron Finch have dominated the discussion in the build-up to the third T20.
The Australian captain is out of form, and his side simply struggles to win without him — it’s no coincidence the tourists lost the first two matches while he made scores of 1 and 12.
Australian white ball success has long been married to the performances of its veteran opener, who has had an up-and-down two years with the bat.
In the run-in to the 2019 World Cup, Australia lost back-to-back home ODI series — Finch averaged 13.83 — and went winless in two T20 series against India that saw the captain average 12.60.
When Finch’s form turned, so did Australia’s.
His 93 in Ranchi in March 2019 helped instigate Australia’s stunning comeback from 2-0 down against India to win a five-match ODI series 3-2.
Finch’s resurgence then continued in the UAE where Australia trounced Pakistan 5-0, with the opener making 451 runs at 112.75.
Now, months out from the T20 World Cup, Australia has lost four of its past five 20-over matches with Finch scoring just 48 runs at 12.00 — and that’s to say nothing of his dire BBL season.
Australia will hope that 2021 mirrors the pattern of 2019 when Finch — faced with the prospect of being axed in the build-up to a World Cup — came good, and the nation did with him.
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Of course, there’s merely a strong correlation between Finch scoring runs and Australia winning white ball games, rather than one being the sole reason for the other.
There are other pieces to the puzzle an understrength Australia is missing in New Zealand.
The tourists haven’t pieced together a strong, 20-over bowling performance, folding in the death overs of the first T20, and bowling poorly in the powerplay of the second.
Meanwhile, Finch isn’t the only Australian batsman guilty of misfiring across the ditch: Matthew Wade is averaging 18 while Glenn Maxwell has faced 10 balls all series for four runs.
But such is the fickle nature of T20 cricket that nothing is as good, or as bad, as it seems.
That’s important for Finch to remember on Wednesday as his spot in the Australian XI increasingly comes under question.
Mark Waugh said during the second ODI: “His job is to score runs… no batsman is immune from being dropped when you’re not scoring runs, doesn’t matter if you’re captain or not.”
Meanwhile, Finch has been copping abuse online, leading to his wife Amy last week speaking out against the trolls.
“I don’t appreciate it, neither does my husband who is battling and doing everything he possibly can to get back into the runs,” she said. “Honestly, these keyboard warriors need to go and get a bloody life.”
Despite the fact Finch has been out of form since the start of the Australian summer, any calls for his axing still feel largely premature.
The 34-year-old averages more than 35 in T20I cricket, more than 40 in ODIs and offers a decade of international experience, including a World Cup win in 2015.
He has a track record of bouncing back to his best after a lean run while his captaincy credentials are arguably second to none in the Australian white ball set up.
It’s no wonder national selector George Bailey said on the weekend that Finch will still be captain at the time of the T20 World Cup in October.
“He’s got a terrific average, he’s the captain of this side and he’ll be the captain of this side at the World Cup,” Bailey said.
“It’s just complete white noise for me,” he added of the criticism.
Nonetheless, good faith will only buy Finch so much time. The day will eventually come when he’s tapped on the shoulder should his poor run continue.
That’s highly unlikely to occur in New Zealand, however, where Finch still has ample opportunity to recalibrate with bigger challenges on the horizon.
History suggests he will deliver sooner rather than later.
Third T20: New Zealand vs Australia, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Wednesday March 3, 5pm (AEDT)
HOW TO WATCH
Watch every ball of the third T20 live and ad-break free during play with Fox Sports on Kayo.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Met Service was predicting a few showers on Wednesday night, but not until after the match is scheduled to end.
The Met Service predicted a high of 21 degrees on Wednesday with northerly winds.