Big hit ... Aaron Finch hits Shane Warne for six. Photo: Getty Images
AARON FINCH reinforced his status as Australia's form limited-overs batsman to propel Melbourne Renegades to a stirring eight-wicket derby win over the Stars - and pummel their captain, Shane Warne, in the process.
The right-hander blasted an unbeaten 111 from 65 deliveries, including 12 fours and four sixes, to secure the Renegades, laggards last season, a perfect start to the Big Bash League season at Etihad Stadium against their arch rivals.
Finch's importance to the Renegades is perhaps only second to that of West Indian superstar Chris Gayle to Sydney Thunder.
After the Stars posted a creditable 5-167 the result largely hinged on how long the 26-year-old could remain at the crease. Ultimately, he was there for all of it in a chanceless innings.
Despite his lusty hitting, he secured victory with a simple pushed single to point with 10 balls to spare, then mimicked Test opener David Warner with his energetic celebration jumping in the air waving his bat.
The main support for Finch came from unheralded limited-overs specialist Ben Rohrer, who made 34 not out in a brisk 75-run partnership with his captain. Both batsmen hit Warne for consecutive sixes to leave the champion leg-spinner with figures of 0-41 from two overs - the worst economy rate recorded in domestic T20 in Australia.
Last season the Renegades' pace-first strategy was a disaster. Season two started in the same vein when 23 runs were conceded in the opening two overs, prompting Finch to rely on left-arm finger-spin, his own and that of Aaron O'Brien.
Former South Australia regular O'Brien had been close to being usurped by Pakistani leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed for the secondary spin berth but his consistency saw him preferred. He removed Rob Quiney (5) with his second delivery and, more crucially, conceded only 16 runs across his first three overs as smartly in line with the field placement.
Brad Hodge was typically threatening but the Renegades' biggest obstacle was Luke Wright, who from the second to the fifth over surged from one to 24. That form allowed the Stars to be scoring at nine runs an over approaching the halfway mark of the innings.
The home team crucially interrupted that stand as the batsman chose to run on South Africa import Faf du Plessis' misfield at mid-off, only for Hodge to be beaten by du Plessis' accurate throw to wicketkeeper Peter Nevill. From that point the Stars managed only two boundaries in the next five overs, with Wright and David Hussey having to be content with nudging the spinners into the gaps among the five fielders in the deep. Wright's desire to become unshackled resulted in his attempting a switch-hit pull off Finch that he directed straight to point, to depart for 53. While that came off only 41 deliveries his pace was much faster in the first half of his innings.
Hussey (42 off 31), Cameron White (20 off 14) and Matthew Wade (14 not out off eight) each chipped in to ensure the Stars would post a challenging total for the Renegades.
But it wasn't enough once Finch got into the groove.