Steven Finn - new and improved
I had hoped for more from my first live match of the season, but I didn't even get three days because I couldn't be bothered to trek up to the ground to watch Middlesex knock off 54 runs to win on the third morning. The ball swung, it must be said, but even so Middlesex's batting on the first day was mediocre and on day two Essex really stank the place out.
From such a match there are few highlights to remember. Oddly enough, both the events that caught my eye involved Steven Finn.
The second of these was on the second afternoon, when Alastair Cook had seemed to be making a rather better fist of things than in the morning but popped up a half-chance to which Finn tumbled and completed the caught-and-bowled. It was a surprisingly gymnastic effort from the gangling bowler.
What had been even more surprising, though, was Finn's batting on the first afternoon.
Ravi Bopara had come on to bowl after tea, presumably to help spin things out for the new ball, and had obliged with the quick dismissal of Tim Murtagh, bringing Finn to the crease at number 10. He has previously demonstrated an ability to block and help a proper batsman through to a hundred or to graft out time for a draw but there was little evidence that he could score runs for himself. In 19 innings last season, nine of them not out and most of them for Middlesex, he averaged a princely 4.70 and had a career-best of 26.
In his bulletin for the day , ESPNcricinfo's Sahil Dutta mentioned the ninth-wicket stand as one in which Finn and Ollie Rayner “swung merrily”, which was not inaccurate but risked giving a slightly false impression of tail-end slogging. For at least the first half of his career-best 32, however, Finn did a very passable impression of a proper batsman. There was a sweet on drive which would have made Michael Vaughan happy if he'd played it and a cover drive as crisp and efficient as anything Jonathan Trott produces along with the solid defence which we already knew about. He has adopted the raised-backlift stance which England batting coach Graham Gooch used to employ and approached his batting very positively rather than with mindless aggression. The case which Bopara is trying to assemble in favour of his replacing the retired Paul Collingwood in the England set-up rests partly on his handy bowling, but it will have been set back considerably by his being hit out of the attack by a tail-ender, however improved.
Taken together, these two passages of play show that Finn has profited immensely from his winter tour despite losing his Test place. It would be pushing it to describe Finn as an incipient all-rounder on this scant evidence, but he has returned from Australia a much better cricketer than he was.
It is good to see that even with today's schedules which mean that touring teams play very few games outside the international fixtures, it is still possible for cricketers to continue their development.