By Robson Sharuko
Harare - It was a series whose countdown was overshadowed by the negativity related to the fallout between Zimbabwe Cricket and some of the country’s high-profile players, including Brendan Taylor, and the threats of the country’s possible suspension from the International Cricket Council.
There was also the issue of Australia’s poor form in their tour of England, where they crashed to a 0-5 whitewash in the ODIs and a defeat in the sole Twenty20 International and concerns over the team’s safety in Zimbabwe in the wake of a bomb blast at a rally in Bulawayo just days before the series.
And, of course, the Aussies were – for the first time – returning closer to the part of the world where, just four months ago, the ball tampering scandal erupted during the third Test against South Africa when Cameron Bancroft was caught by television cameras roughing up one side of the ball to make it swing in flight. The scandal provoked a damaging chain of events in Australian cricket, with the then captain Steve Smith and vice-captain, David Warner, being banned from the game while coach Darren Lehmann, who was cleared from any misconduct, announced he would step down from his role.
Well, those who have been chewing on the negativity, ahead of the series, have been pushed into the shade because, at long last, everyone around the world is talking about events on the pitch at this Tri-Series which ends with the final in Harare this weekend.
Australia, who looked a poor clone of their usually competitive team during their recent tour of England, have somehow sparked to life and their nine-wicket crushing of Pakistan, who are ranked number one in Twenty20 Internationals in the world in their first game on Monday, was simply brilliant.
There were warnings from the Aussie captain, Aaron Finch, that he could blast a score that could shock the world during the tour of England and he was impressive in the defeat of Pakistan but then turned on his explosive bat in the brutal destruction of Zimbabwe in their second game at Harare Sports Club on Tuesday. There have been some savage innings in Twenty20 Internationals, a game that keeps being challenged by batsmen who now just free their arms and hit out at anything, but Finch was brutal as he piled on a world record 172 from just 76 balls to power his country to a crushing victory over Zimbabwe.
His runs alone were more than what the Zimbabwean batsmen, in their combined efforts, managed as the hosts fell to a 100-run defeat – their biggest mauling in the Twenty20 Internationals. It has been a tough few weeks for the lightweights of world cricket as the heavyweights flex their muscles with India powered to a 143-run victory in the second Twenty20 International against Ireland last week, their biggest victory margin in this format.
It was also India's biggest victory margin (by runs) as they bettered their 93-run win over Sri Lanka at Cuttack last year and also the joint second-highest margin (by runs) in T20Is with Pakistan’s 143-run win over West Indies in Karachi earlier this year.
Only Sri Lanka’s 172-run win over Kenya in 2007 is a better winning margin. Ireland were bowled out for just 70 in pursuit of 213-4.
India had also earlier handed Afghanistan a baptism of fire in the Test arena by dismissing their fellow Asians twice in one day and closing out a victory by an innings and 262 runs inside just two days.
And, on Tuesday at Harare Sports Club, it was the Finch show.
“Thank you everyone for the very kind messages today, really appreciate all of them,” Finch said on his Twitter account after sending the world buzzing with his knock.
“I hope everyone is having a great day.” Along the way he smashed his own record for the highest Twenty20 International score, blasting 172 from 76 balls, and passing the previous mark of the 156 he scored against England five years ago in the 18th over the contest on Tuesday.
With four balls left for the Zimbabwe bowlers, the score read 223-1 at Harare Sports Club and Finch and opening partner D'Arcy Short put on 223 runs – the highest partnership in T20I history.
Zimbabwe captain Hamilton Masakadza has an unbeaten 162 but that came for Mountaineers in a domestic game and he could only watch from the other end as the Aussies went on their merry run-making adventure.
Chris Gayle has an unbeaten 175 five years ago in the Indian Premier League for the Royal Challengers Bangalore but Finch’s knock was special because it came in the colours of his country.
"It feels good,” he told the host broadcaster. And, Twitter, inevitably exploded.
Harsha Bhogle, the Indian television commentator, said “must have been some game, this! #AUSvsZIM. One opener on 46, the other on 172,” while former England captain, Michael Vaughan said, “172 off 76 balls from @AaronFinch5…bloody love this era of cricket.” RP Singh asked Finch, “172 off 76 deliveries, @AaronFinch5, what did you eat last night?” while former Aussie star Dean Jones said, “Oh @AaronFinch5, 172 off 76... one of the greatest knocks of all time! And selectors wanted you to bat down the order! Always a true opener.”
Pat Cummings, the Aussie fast bowler, only described it as “Incredible.
Behind Finch's two top scores, Maxwell is next on the all-time T20I record list after he belted an unbeaten 145 against Sri Lanka in 2016.