What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months ago, Aaron Finch was preparing for a white ball tour of the Caribbean and Bangladesh as part of Australia’s build up to the T20 World Cup in the UAE.
Vaccines had just become available but it was still a world of strict quarantines and bubbles and, as a result, seven of Australia’s best white-ball players had declared themselves unavailable for the tour.
Rumblings surrounding the players’ unhappiness under coach Justin Langer had been growing louder after the Australian summer and overshadowed every interview and press conference, all conducted via Zoom calls because journalists were still house bound and unable to travel but the impression from afar was of a squad cobbled together and unsure of its best configuration or tactical approach.
It was hardly the ideal tour to build for a World Cup tilt and the results – Australia lost eight out of ten matches played – hardly inspired confidence, particularly for a side that had never won an ICC tournament in the shortest format.
Jump to the present and Australia are World Champions, appear relaxed and happy with Andrew McDonald installed as head coach and, perhaps most importantly, have a settled and almost full strength side as they embark on a run of eleven T20 matches before a home campaign to defend their world title.
“We’ve probably settled a little bit more on the structure of the team and the balance of the team,” said Finch, speaking from Colombo, where the squad has assembled ahead of the first T20 against Sri Lanka on Tuesday.
“We’ve played a lot over the last three years with two frontline spinners and we changed that pretty late to go with the three quicks, the one spinner and then use our allrounders in Maxi [Glenn Maxwell], Marcus Stoinis and Mitch Marsh throughout that World Cup.
“We feel as though that’s a really good balanced side for T20 cricket because we’ve still got seven genuine batters with Matty Wade at seven and we saw the importance of that role throughout the World Cup.
“Having the genuine seven batting options, four genuine frontline bowlers but then, when the conditions suit, Maxwell’s as good as a frontline spinner, Mitch Marsh and Marcus Stoinis, their bowling is very underrated in T20 cricket as well.
“I think it’s just it’s not so much about the results, it’s about the process that we take and the balance that we build our side with.”
If last year’s winter tour was a patched up search for a team – the side Australia fielded during the World Cup bore only a passing resemblance to that which played the matches in the West Indies – the three T20s against Sri Lanka start a run of eleven matches that will be more focused on fine-tuning and consolidation.
“It’s about making sure that we still feel that’s the right way to go into a World Cup in Australia,” Finch said.
“And we’re pretty confident that it is but just [having] guys continually playing those roles because, particularly in Big Bash and competitions like that, guys don’t always bat in the position that they play for Australia.
“So just giving guys an extra opportunity to nail down their roles and get more comfortable in different situations I think is really important.”
Australia’s most recent tour, to Pakistan in March, took place in an extremely restrictive bubble for security and Covid-19 considerations but the Sri Lanka visit marks the first time since early 2019 that life on the road is slowly returning to something resembling normal.
The players will be allowed to dine out and experience some level of freedom, although current civil unrest in Sri Lanka and lingering Covid concerns will prevent a full return to pre-pandemic conditions.
But after two-and-a-half years of being largely cut off from the outside, Finch welcomes any chance to see more than the interior of a hotel and a cricket ground and Cricket Australia is working with the Australian High Commission to plan some appearances and activities outside of the cricket.
“Over the last couple of years we haven’t been able to get out and do appearances with local people wherever we’ve travelled, school kids and things like that,” said Finch.
“So that’s going to be something that’s starting to get back, a little bit, to normal.
“I remember on the last tour here in Kandy we had an unbelievable experience with underprivileged kids and that was something that you live with forever.
“So hopefully we can get back to that as soon as we can and we can have a really positive impact.”
Twelve months on it may all look very different, but Australia hope the end result will be a repeat of their success and another World Cup trophy.