“They don’t write how many hundreds you got on your headstone.”
With that one sentence, Aaron Finch’s perception of what was important in life changed together. The guidance came from leading New Zealand batsman Kane Williamson. It was during the drive back from a county Twenty20 game while the pair were Yorkshire teammates in 2014. The advice had sound pedigree. Williamson had been given that counsel by another of international cricket’s best batsman, South Africa’s Hashim Amla.
Finch is set to play in the Boxing Day Test for the first time. For any Victorian cricket prodigy, it is the stuff of dreams. Yet for years this day didn’t look like it would arrive. There’s a very good chance his opportunity would not have arisen if not for the attentiveness of a South African cameraman.
After all, Finch is 32, and well over a decade into his professional career. Little over two years ago Finch was dropped from Victoria’s Sheffield Shield team. Even as recently as last week, after his finger was broken by a blow during the Perth Test, doubts re-emerged.
“There’s times all along the journey that you doubt yourself,” Finch said this week.
“Whether it was a couple of weeks ago, whether it was when you were out in the middle batting. I remember times when I was 19 or 20 and I wasn’t having a great run in club cricket or Victorian second XI, and you’re in your last year of your rookie contract and you think ‘I’d better start looking for a job’ and things like that.”
So then given the likelihood of wild fluctuations in self-belief that come when you are a batsman, that conversation with Williamson was critical for Finch’s mental state.
“It sort of makes you sit back and think, ‘there is more to life than cricket’. So make sure that while you’re on this journey you work as hard as you can and you dedicate yourself and do everything you can to be successful, but you’ve also got to enjoy the journey,” Finch said.
Wife Amy has also helped Finch’s maturing process. And of course, the death of Phillip Hughes, later in 2014, shaped Finch’s outlook too. Finch was a pallbearer at Hughes’ funeral.
“When one of your close mates is taken from you, whether it be in a tragedy like Phil’s incident, or a car crash, or an illness, it changes a lot of people’s lives dramatically and quickly.“
Finch’s doubts about his ability may have emerged over the course of a career spent largely at the top of the order, but any confidence issues weren’t apparent to those who knew him when he was first making his way through the ranks as a teenager.
Fellow Colac product and mate Liam Buchanan is six years Finch’s senior. Buchanan, now coach of Geelong cricket club, played a handful of one-dayers and Twenty20s for Victoria in 2005 and 2006, but first came across the young Finch when playing football for the Colac Imperials as a 14-year-old.
“As you can imagine, the little nugget burrowing in to get the football.”
Leigh Garner, who coached Finch in junior cricket and later captained Finch in his first A-Grade game, says his talent and apparent assuredness were evident early.
“He was a nuggety little fella but he just had raw power. He hit the ball and it’d stayed hit,” Garner said.
“I wouldn’t say he was arrogant or anything like that, but you could tell that nothing really shocked him or nothing really worried him.”
What endures as much as anything from those early days is Finch’s toughness. The son of Sue and Gary Finch will open for Australia only a week after bone protruded from one of his digits. It’s no surprise to learn then that he didn’t flinch when much more senior opponents got stuck into him.
“It was water off a duck’s back,” Buchanan said.
“You could just tell, when it got hard, Aaron did better. Whenever the chips were down, he rose to the top.”
Buchanan has his suspicions that some of Finch’s rough edges may have counted against him. The “typical country kid” loves his family, playing golf, spending time with mates, having a few beers, and trying to identify a winning quaddie. It’s not a particularly offensive image, but not quite perfect either.
“I think that Finchy has been a touch overweight, and it’s been well-documented that he smoked and he drank, I think he’s been an easy target in that set-up at times,” Buchanan said.
In this age of professional sport, Finch’s smoking, in particular, has been a talking point. It has been a source of considerable mirth from time to time, too. There was one occasion when he walked out for a post-play media conference only to be advised it probably wasn’t a great look if he fronted the media with a cigarette behind his ear.
However during the first Test in Adelaide, Finch revealed he’d been working to kick the habit. It came via stump mic of all places. Finch had been hit in the neck while fielding at short leg, so captain Tim Paine jokingly asked Finch “do you want a dart?” To which the opener responded: “Nah, haven’t had one in six months!”
That everyman-like quality has won him plenty of fans too. He communicates well, is polite around the media, and gives thoughtful, considered answers in interviews and press conferences.
“He’s one of the most generous and caring people I’ve met too,” Buchanan said.
“He’s got a lot of friends in Premier Cricket. He’s never made any enemies. Always had a beer with opposition teams. I think it will be unprecedented support that he’ll get at the MCG on Boxing Day.