The Finishers

ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2015

The wait is almost over.

With just a week to go until world cricket’s major limited overs tournament kicks off in Christchurch, I take a look at a vital role in the ODI game – The role of “The Finisher.”

The pressures that come with the World Cup bring together hero’s and villains alike. Batsmen and bowlers who keep their nerve to guide their respective sides to glory or the polar opposite and guys who wilt in the heat of the moment and fail under the expectations.

The term finisher originates from the man many believe was the finest finisher of them all – Australian Michael Bevan. Bevan was part of the 1999 and 2003 Australian World Cup winning sides and scored 6912 runs from 232 ODIs at 53.58. When it came to an ODI chase, the burly left-hander came into his element. In successful run chases his 45 innings brought him 25 not outs and 1725 runs at 86.25 – which also included three hundreds and twelve fifties.

The importance of being a good finisher is keeping calm, often when batting with the tail, with the run rate increasing and regular wickets falling at the other end. Many batsmen panic and fall to the big shot in these situations while others simply keep calm and back their abilities to see the job through using calculated risks whilst also making sure they often rotate the strike and shepherd the tail.

With history showing the role of the finisher to be an important factor between glory and failure I have picked five key finishers to look out for during the upcoming global tournament.

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James Faulkner – Australia

imageDespite the fact that he’s set to miss the first week of the tournament due to a side strain, the all-round abilities of Faulkner remain a vital part of a strong looking Australian outfit.

Although he is primarily seen as a left arm medium fast bowler, it’s his late order hitting and composure with the bat that has seen him talked up as Australia’s latest finisher – following in the footsteps of the greats in Bevan and Michael Hussey before him.

With the all round depth that Australia currents possesses in their ODI side, the Tasmanian is not usually scheduled to come in until number eight and often doesn’t get a bat. But when he is required to strap the pads on he is often the man for a crisis and a high pressure run chase.

In twelve ODI second innings he averages 109.50 with eight not outs and a strike rate of 131.53 – A record better than any other player going to the World Cup.

The 24-year-old currently averages 48 in ODI’s and first truly showcased his lower order hitting prowess in a 2013 ODI series in India – where he scored an impressive 230 runs across just four innings at an average of 115 including a career best 116 and a stunning unbeaten 64 off 29 balls to lead his side home in Mohali.

Best finisher innings: 69no v England (at Brisbane – Jan 14′)

Coming in at number nine with his side staring down the barrel at 7-206 chasing a further 95 to win with 15.1 overs remaining, Faulkner pulled off a remarkable heist and led his side home with three balls to spare.

After seeing two wickets fall at the other end he was joined by number 11 Clint McKay with 57 runs still required but kept his cool and launched three 4’s and five 6’s in a 47-ball 69. His partnership with McKay was the second largest ten-wicket stand to win a match and Faulkner duly knocked off the final 25 runs needed in just seven deliveries.

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Luke Ronchi – New Zealand

imageThe wicketkeeper-batsman returned to the country of his birth in 2012 after initially representing Australia in four ODI’s back in 2008 and by 2013 he was a fixture in the Blackcaps limited overs sides.

By picking him in their ODI side the Kiwi’s have allowed skipper Brendon McCullum the freedom to focus on the captaincy and his aggressive batting without worrying about keeping wicket.

But Ronchi isn’t just here to keep the balance of the side intact. Coming in at number seven he has started to put his own mark on the side and compliment their strong middle order with his late hitting and finishing skills.

In a recent ODI against Sri Lanka at Dunedin he blasted the highest ever ODI score by a number seven when hitting a brutal 170 not out off just 99 deliveries. His century came of just 74 balls as he, alongside Grant Elliott put on a world record unbeaten 267 for the sixth wicket, having come to the crease at 4-82 they left the visitors with a chase of 361.

Best finisher innings: 32no v Sri Lanka (at Nelson – Jan 15′)

Despite his record breaking hundred getting all the plaudits he also helped the Blackcaps chase down Sri Lanka’s 276 in Nelson with an unbeaten 32 from just 15 deliveries. With centurion Kane Williamson having just been dismissed, Ronchi walked to the crease with 47 runs still needed from the remaining 36 deliveries, when Corey Anderson was then run out, Ronchi had seen enough and quickly made light of the chase by taking 24 runs off one Thisara Perera over to all but finish the game off.

Two other performances of note came in a pair of matches against South Africa in Mount Maunganui last year where he made 99 and 79 in losing causes.

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Mahendra Singh Dhoni – India

imageWhat more needs to be said about Mr Calm.

A veteran of 254 ODIs and 90 Test matches, India’s most successful leader is approaching his third World Cup after an appearance in 2007 and a winners medal in 2011. The man known as ‘Mahi’ is undoubtably ranked up their with the finest limited overs players of all time.

Time and time again the cultured right-hander has snatched his side victory from the jaws of defeat with powerful and calculated hitting toward the end of the innings and he is regarded alongside Bevan as the greatest finisher in the history of one day cricket.

Only Sachin Tendulkar can claim to be adored by the billions of India public more than Dhoni – Especially after the latter led his side to their first World Cup title since 1983 four years ago with a breathtaking finishing act to the scale of 91 unbeaten runs on home soil.

An ODI average of 52.29 is almost unrivalled in the modern day, but for a player who plays the risky and entertaining brand of cricket that Dhoni does – it strikes of greatness.

After giving up Test cricket recently, the 33-year-old has decided to stake more of his time in ODI and T20I cricket alongside his commitments for IPL side Chennai Super Kings and India will hope there are a few more years left yet in his hugely successful limited overs career.

Best finisher innings: 91no v Sri Lanka (at Mumbai – April 11′)

The world’s premier finisher of course had to show off his skills under pressure on the world’s biggest stage, the World Cup final.

Leading into the final, Dhoni had had a quiet time of things during the World Cup with teammate and national icon Tendulkar taking centre stage, but his captain wasn’t to be out done – cometh of the hour cometh the man.

Chasing 275 to win, India lost openers Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag inside the first seven overs and when Virat Kohli also fell with more than half the target still required, Dhoni decided to promote himself ahead of the in-form Yuvraj Singh.

Alongside Gautam Gambhir he took the Sri Lanka’s on for a tournament winning undefeated 91 from 79 balls adding a 109-run partnership in the process and eventually sealing the victory with a huge six into the grandstands to send over a billion Indians into party mood. Well played sir, well played.

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AB de Villiers – South Africa

imageThe man of the moment! de Villiers recently stopped the world in its tracks after blasting the world’s fastest ever ODI hundred against the hapless West Indians in Johannesburg.

Although he only came to the crease just eight deliveries before the 40th over, the brilliant right-hander somehow managed a brutal 31-ball hundred and still didn’t bat out the innings after falling for 149 in the 50th over chasing yet another six. He hit sixteen in total to go alongside his nine fours.

Despite this magnificent achievement, it perhaps didn’t shock that many people. That’s AB de Villiers for you, there’s not many things that he can’t do on a cricket field!

Although it seems he has been around forever (he made his ODI debut almost exactly a decade ago) he will only turn 31 during the tournament and could have at least another 5-10 years of cricket left in him.

If South Africa are to win their first World Cup and finally rid themselves of the chokers tag that has followed them for years, then they need their captain and talisman to perform the Lance Klusener like finishing skills of the late 90’s.

Test and ODI averages of over 52 confirm de Villiers as the best batsman in the world at present and with 19 ODI hundreds at a strike rate of 97.16 few would bet against him leading his side to next months World Cup final in Melbourne.

Best finisher innings: 136no v Australia (at Harare – Aug 14′)

Faced with a steep target of 328 against a good Australian bowling attack, the Proteas made light work of the chase thanks to hundreds and a 206-run partnership from de Villiers and Faf du Plessis. They eventually chased the total down with 20 deliveries spare.

De Villiers’ unbeaten 136 was made off just 106 balls and was at the time the second highest score by a South African captain in one day cricket.

The innings was typically clinical de Villiers – including both power and finesse on equal measures and helped with eleven fours and two sixes at a high strike rate of 128.30.

If there’s one man who knows how to pace an ODI innings, it’s the Proteas captain.

……..

Darren Sammy – West Indies

imageSt. Lucia’s first international cricketer has had a turbulent past 12 months in international cricket and his previous visit to New Zealand ended with him resigning from the Test captaincy and retiring from the format altogether.

Since then he has also been involved in contract disputes and was originally left out of the squad for the recently concluded 4-1 ODI series defeat in South Africa before been reinstated.

Once a captain across all formats for the Windies, Sammy is now just leader of the T20I side and has come back into the ranks as an ODI player with the side now skippered by youngster Jason Holder.

But despite of this he still remains an important part of the side in the forthcoming World Cup not least due to the absence of fellow hard hitting all rounders Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard.

Despite his lack of an ODI hundred, Sammy has a high strike rate of over 100 and previous history of finishing off run chases – A skill he has transferred over from his past experiences in T20 cricket. His remarkable finish’s in T20I’s in the past year include: 30* off 9 (v England), 34* off 13 (v Australia) and 20* off 7 (v South Africa).

Best finisher innings: 63no v India (at Visakhapatnam – Nov 13′)

Up against a powerful Indian side on home soil and facing a stiff chase of 289, the West Indians got home with three balls and two wickets to spare, mainly thanks to Sammy’s unbeaten 45-ball 63.

The chase was set up by fifties to Kieren Powell, Darren Bravo and Lendl Simmons, but wickets kept falling and the asking rate climbing. Walking in at 5-185 with over a hundred still required, Sammy took it upon himself to seek boundaries with four 4’s and as many sixes been blasted from the bat of the tall right-hander.

His innings was reached at a strike rate of 140.00 despite him playing out a maiden when he first came to the crease.

With the current disarray in West Indies cricket, they will need a few more Sammy specials to brighten the spirits of their long suffering fans.

New cycle approaching for Australia?

Progression happening earlier than expected for Australia.

Things are happening thick and fast for Australian cricket. After the tragic death of Phillip Hughes a couple of weeks ago and the dramatic final session victory over India in Adelaide on Saturday the team already has a new (stand in) captain and half a new bowling line up for the second Test against the Indians in Brisbane.

Steven Smith was chosen as the man to replace the injured Michael Clarke as Australian Test captain.
Steven Smith was chosen as the man to replace the injured Michael Clarke as Australian Test captain.

With the clouds circulating over the future of incumbent captain Michael Clarke, who underwent major hamstring surgery on Tuesday. Steven Smith was named Australia’s 45th Test captain for at least the final three Tests of the summer.

While most of us expected previous vice-captain Brad Haddin to take over the helm of the side in Clarke’s absence – As he was lined up to do so when there were worries over Clarke’s fitness for the originally scheduled first Test of the summer at the Gabba, rearranged due to the death of Hughes – The seriousness of Clarke’s injuries and the lack of a timescale for his comeback has led the selectors to promote Smith ahead of schedule.

Although Smith is a good choice as captain and his appointment has been well received by ex-Australian captains Ian Chappell, Kim Hughes, Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting – Even he must admit that his promotion is way ahead of the expected schedule.

It helps that alongside David Warner, Smith is now the side’s premier and inform batsman. Since the start of the home Ashes series last summer he has scored 984 runs at 61.50 and now looks like replacing Clarke as the sides middle order rock. He has also already moved himself up into Clarke’s number four batting spot as he looks to take more responsibility with the captaincy.

Elsewhere the lineup is starting to evolve much sooner than many expected from the side that dominated England over five Tests just a year ago.

At the end of that whitewash series players such as Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Ryan Harris had stated their wishes to continue on to be able to defend their Ashes crown in England next summer and although that might yet happen – things are starting to look less certain now.

The 2015 Ashes tour of England was supposed to be end of a cycle as far as a few Australian players were concerned, but with form and injuries taking over at the present, that day looks like it could be happening rather sooner than expected.

Taking a look at the current side, there remains plenty of questions over the mid-to-long term future of many players. Starting with the top order I take a look at the immediate and long term future of those who’s places could be under threat throughout the next year of Test cricket.

Chris Rogers – Despite a recent from slump which has seen him not pass fifty in his last eight Test innings, he received reassurances from the selectors over his immediate future in the side. Despite not scoring as much as the selectors would have liked, the fact that he has had a huge affect on the development of Warner as a world class opener has earned him some credit in the bank. Another reason for the selectors leniency towards Rogers is the lack of other opening options.

IThe likes of Ryan Carters and Ed Cowan have been amongst the runs in the Sheffield Shield. While Carters could do with at least another season batting at the top of the order after spending more of his early career in the middle order, returning to Cowan would be a backwards step after he was largely found wanting during his previous spell in Test cricket.

The main challenge to Rogers at the top of the order was of course Phil Hughes – Who in an ideal world would have replaced the 37-year-old at the conclusion of next summers Ashes.

Someone else who could possibly replace Rogers in the future is Jordan Silk, 22, but the Tasmanian batsman is currently averaging just 25 during the first part of the Shield campaign.

With no more Shield cricket to be played during the Test summer due to the Big Bash it’s unlikely that Rogers will be dropped even without a significant score and the chances are his vast experience in English conditions will earn him an Ashes swan song next summer.

Allrounder Shane Watson’s place in the side also seems up in constant question. With the inclusion of Mitchell Marsh as a second allrounder batting at six, Watson has not had the same workload of bowling as he once had and can now fully concentrate on his batting.

Like Rogers it has been a long time since Watson made a significant score in Test cricket and with a brittle body that seems to break down after every other match it looks like Watson could be on thin ice if Shaun Marsh makes runs at number five and Clarke returns to the side for future assignments next year.

On top form he remains a lock in at number three for the next couple of years but with the injuries and his inability to make hundreds when they matter the most, Watson’s days could be numbered if an adequate replacement batsman shines through in Shield cricket.

Michael Clarke’s recent back and hamstring injuries a becoming a far greater concern than first feared a couple of months ago, so much so that after hobbling out of his sides victory in Adelaide, Clarke told reporters that he could have played his final cricket match for his country.

Since then he has undergone major surgery on his hamstring injury and has said his future is now in the hands of the medical team. It remains likely that he will return to Australian colours sometime next year and despite the usual two month recovery for such surgery, the World Cup seems to come too soon for him – Perhaps a return to the side for next June’s tour of the West Indies remains more likely.

Jury still out....Brother's Mitchell and Shaun Marsh prepare to play their first Test together.
Jury still out….Brother’s Mitchell and Shaun Marsh prepare to play their first Test together.

Both the Marsh brothers, Mitchell and Shaun have yet to secure their places in the side with any real authority as of yet. Although the young allrounder Mitchell has impressed with his exciting batting style and tight bowling in his three Tests to date, he has yet to score match changing runs or take any vital wickets.

Shaun has been in and out of the Test team since make his debut over three years ago. His two Test centuries have both contributed at difficult times – 141 in Pallekele on debut and 148 in Centurion last February. Despite these two impressive overseas knocks, he has only passed single figures in five of his other thirteen innings.

If he can find some consistency between the all or nothing part of his game then there is likely going to be a spot available to him in the middle order with the futures of Watson and Clarke in doubt.

Despite being over looked for the captaincy Brad Haddin remains the current incumbent wicketkeeper. While he has failed to score more than 22 in his last eleven innings, his exploits in last summer’s Ashes have likely earned him one last chance to win a World Cup on home soil as well as an away Ashes. The shoulder injury he picked up in the UAE perhaps remains a concern for a man of 37 but without Clarke in the side for the next few months, Haddin’s experience will be vital for new skipper Smith.

When the time comes for Haddin to step aside, likely to be after next summer’s Ashes, Matthew Wade remains the front runner to replace the New South Welshman.

Alongside Wade, Peter Nevill and Sam Whiteman will be talked up by many, with Nevill’s current Shield form currently edging him ahead of the younger Whiteman.

The next generation...Josh Hazelwood receives his Baggy Green from Glenn McGrath.
The next generation…Josh Hazelwood receives his Baggy Green from Glenn McGrath.

With his exclusion for the ongoing Test at the Gabba, Peter Siddle has now been dropped twice in the past year. Although the 30-year-old still remains in the picture, he is increasing finding his place more threatened by his younger and quicker counterparts. First in Cape Town he was replaced by James Pattinson and now by Josh Hazelwood.

It has been clear since his axing in South Africa that he has been down in pace and with younger men such as Hazelwood now staking an impressive claim to be in the side, he must accept he is now just a squad bowler and not the spearhead he once was. It’s very unlikely that a man with 192 Test wickets will be disregarded so quickly yet though.

Elsewhere across the quick bowling corps Mitchell Starc has remained performing in ODI and Sheffield Shield cricket earning him a recall to the side for the second Test match despite an ordinary outing in his only match in the UAE. He has yet to play back-to-back matches and remains slightly unconvincing at Test level.

Jackson Bird and Pat Cummins have recently returned from long term injuries to represent their respective State sides Tasmania and New South Wales. But it will be a while out yet for either of them to return to the Test side without decent match practice beforehand.

Another impressive young quick bowler in James Pattinson remains on the sidelines after a series of serious injuries. The 24-year-old last played for his country in the final match of their 2-1 Test series victory in South Africa back in March before a reoccurrence of a back stress problem put pay to his 2014. He has since remodelled his bowling action and hopes to make a return to Shield cricket with Victoria before the end of the summer after playing as a batsman only for grade side Dandenong in recent weeks.

Ryan Harris, when fit, still remains a world class bowler, but following knee surgery in March he is now likely to be managed even more cautiously than last summer – Where it was a minor miracle that his knee managed to make it through five Tests on the bounce.

He will fitness permitting be on the plane to England next Summer where it is expected he will wind down his international career. A career that started when he was already 29-years-old and has crossed between him being a world class opening bowling and a regular member of the physio table.

Mitchell Johnson’s resurgence in the past twelve months has seemingly added a couple of years onto his international career and he will likely remain as the spearhead of the Australian bowling whilst the inexperienced men find their feet.

At least the critical vultures will now be off the back of spinner Nathan Lyon – Who’s twelve wickets in Adelaide have earned him some patience in the side after a disastrous tour of the UAE. His place in the side could have been under threat had his fellow New South Wales colleague Steve O’Keefe impressed more on his Test debut in Dubai, but for the next year at least he will remain the number one tweaker.

Much will be determined by the ongoing series result against India and the performances of those involved as to who will make the tours of West Indies and England next summer, while the final Sheffield Shield matches to be played at the conclusion of the Big Bash tournament in February will also be a chance for those on the outside to claim a place on the plain new year.

Will the the new cricketing cycle start earlier than expected? We will have to sit back and see how the summer unfolds to find out.