Sussex v Middlesex, Hove, 3rd day April 8, 2014

Prior and Finn begin fightback


Middlesex 105 (Lewis 4-34, Magoffin 3-21) and 57 for 1 trail Sussex 386 (Prior 125, Anyon 50, Finn 6-80) by 224 runs

The decline of Matt Prior and collapse of Steven Finn were among the most concerning aspects of England's degeneration over the winter but on the third day at Hove they both provided performances to suggest English cricket might have bottomed out.

Prior, dropped three times, made a century as breezy as the wind which kept the day on the chilly side, and Finn took six wickets - and perhaps more interestingly did not concede an extra. They were a pair of pleasing performances with both players, particularly Prior - the Test vice-captain - set to be a large part of England's regeneration.

Having to drop arguably their finest ever wicketkeeper-batsman and brightest young fast bowler were signs that English cricket had veered alarmingly off course. Prior's form dropped off even when England were still winning but without him England's ability to entertain faded and their appeal in world cricket lowered.

Finn's fall into the abyss, a quite remarkable tumble for a bowler who played in the first Ashes Test last summer, asked deeper questions of England's coaching staff and the relationship with their Middlesex colleagues who guided Finn through their youth system.

Without one-day cricket to worry about Prior had time to take part in the Cape Rouleur cycle race over 600km and almost 6,000m of climbing in South Africa and in his first competitive innings since the Perth Test made his 28th first-class century.

It was a Prior innings with all the signs of the form that led him to be named England player of the year for 2012-13: lavish driving, crisp cutting and aggressive pulling in a 112-ball century. He blazed a cover drive into the pavilion fence to go into the 90s. Another in the over before lunch and a hook off next ball brought up an enthusiastically-celebrated century. It featured 17 fours and a six, the maximum a chance to James Harris at long leg that swirled in the wind and through his hands.

It was one of three chances Prior survived. The first on the opening evening the most costly when Prior had only 10, the second, with the game resuming after a washout on day two, on 32 at second slip and when 55 by Harris.

All three missed opportunities cost Middlesex dear as not only did the lead build with Prior at the wicket, it ratcheted up leaving Sussex with plenty of time to take another 10 wickets.

Finn at least emerged from an afternoon of struggle for the Middlesex attack with much credit. Despite his figures, this was by far a menacing performance to wow observers but a pleasing display that suggested Finn is heading in the right direction.

After four weak overs on the first evening, he returned to end a fourth-wicket stand that numbered one more than the Middlesex first-innings total. He nipped one in to clip the top of Matt Machan's off stump and followed up by getting Ashar Zaidi to edge to third slip. The wickets saw Finn grow in confidence and he bowled with greater pace and certainly greater accuracy than has been on show for a long time.

His length was consistent and while the mistimed pulls of Prior - caught at deep square leg - and James Anyon - taken at midwicket - might have inflated his figures, it was an encouraging display and he was the most dangerous of the Middlesex seamers. The other three disappointed: Finn was the only visiting bowler to take a wicket on day three and Harris and Toby Roland-Jones proved expensive.

One of the best attacks in the country on paper leaked runs at a healthy lick all day. The morning's runs came at a shade under 4.5 an over. Ben Brown, a brisk-scoring wicketkeeper in the mould of Prior, then joined the England wicketkeeper for a stand of 92 at the same rate before Brown was given out caught at slip - a decision he was visibly dissatisfied with and for which he should expect repercussions.

Middlesex were left with a huge deficit and having to bat out over 100 overs to save the game. A bad day had the potential to get much worse when Sam Robson provided a blot on an encouraging day for England by shouldering arms and being bowled but Chris Rogers survived two convincing lbw appeals to take his side into the final day in solid shape.

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rob on April 10, 2014, 2:10 GMT

    jmcilhinney on (April 9, 2014, 9:27 GMT) I couldn't agree more, Finn was a massive prospect in both test and ODI's and they do seem to have messed about with his action and head. RyFish on (April 9, 2014, 11:18 GMT) Stats are stats- I am a big Prior fan but Stewart was an opening bat and wickets did not seem so batsman friendly as in today's game, maybe I am wrong but 600 scores were an oddity until recently.

  • John on April 10, 2014, 0:39 GMT

    @Front-Foot_lunge on (April 9, 2014, 13:19 GMT), you pretend to be someone you're not (although I wish the person who was that person wasn't either) and you claim a bowler who took 3 wickets was the leading destroyer when another bowler took 4 and then call this article disingenuous?!The article even states that Finn's performance was not menacing but a step on the road to recovery none the less. You're the pot calling the kettle a pot!

  • front on April 9, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    As an England fan, this article is slightly disingenuous because it paints Finn as being on the road to recovery, when in the context of this match his performance is anything but. On a wicket where Middlesex feature an Aus test opener and Australian England test hopeful in Robson, they scored 255 for 20 wickets.

    The leading destroyer of the middlesex team, was yet another Australian dishing out the pain, the journeyman Steve Magoffin who has come over to the UK to feast on English batting.

    In contract, Finn, did get 6 wickets but Sussex were all out for 350 and didnt have to bat twice! This is hardly a performance to write home about as a bowling unit or for Finn as an individual in a losing side.

    Not sure what a 'recovery' is, but this surely isn't it. Yes, it's slightly better than the debacle in Australia, but not by much.

  • Ryan on April 9, 2014, 11:18 GMT

    @FieryFerg Stewart, by his own admission, was not as good a keeper as Prior. And as for "far better bat" - well, the stats don't do you any favours there at all, I'm afraid, with Prior having the better batting average, despite his recent Test slump.

  • John on April 9, 2014, 9:27 GMT

    Prior was an important cog in the England wheel so his getting back to his best would be a good step on the road to recovery. There may well be other candidates but I doubt anyone could have the impact Prior is capable of. If he can't recapture his form fully though, they need to look elsewhere.

    Finn is a different story. It really is critical for England that he regains his mojo. The problem is do they work on him to try to make that happen or just leave him alone and hope that the easing of pressure will be enough for him to work it out on his own? He seems to have been completely over-coached lately so the latter seems to be the better option right now. I think Finn is the sort of player that needs the system to bend a little bit for him rather than being forced into a rigid system. Hopefully England have learned from their mistakes and will do that. I understand the notion of bowling dry but if the others are doing that and Finn is taking wickets then I don't see the issue.

  • a on April 9, 2014, 9:12 GMT

    Davies would be a good bet for the keeper spot but I am sure Prior will be picked now unless he gets a string of very low scores.

    As for Finn he has suffered from being carried around as 12th man and from the kind of excessive focus on bowling tight that led to the slow and ineffectual Tremlett being preferred over him in the first ashes test of the winter. Just invest in the guy.

    I would try Tredwell for the spin slot - he has done well in pressured situations and may work for a few years or even more - by which time another spinner may have fully emerged.

    The batting issue will be tricky - Trott will probably come back with Bell, Cook and Stokes but still 2 more slots to fill. Root might make no 6 but is too weak technically at the moment to open. Robson or Ali possibly as opener

  • Dummy4 on April 9, 2014, 5:55 GMT

    Finn shouldn't be picked for England this summer. He should be left in County Cricket to regain his bowling confidence out of the glare of the international spotlight. Knowing England he'll probably be picked for the Sri Lanka series and left in the nets for most of it.

  • Dummy4 on April 9, 2014, 0:11 GMT

    Excellent, just what England needed. Just proves that a spell in country cricket is worth far more than endless ODIs and 20/20 games. I hope both guys get three or four games in before the Test series, so hopefully they'll be good to go. Prior was always going to come back, but there was a very real chance that England's useless coaches would ruin Finn. Hopefully he got back to Middlesex and was told to forget all the messing around and just bowl as he felt natural.

  • Fergus on April 8, 2014, 20:37 GMT

    I don't think he would even make the top 5 wicketkeeper/batsmen - Ames, Knott, Parks from the past would certainly be ahead. More recently Alec Stewart was a far better bat and at least as good a keeper. No wonder this England team have an over-inflated opinion of their own ability

  • Paulo on April 8, 2014, 19:53 GMT

    Good to see them making recoveries.

    I doubt England will even consider anybody other than Prior now. I still like Davies though.

    Finn should be left alone for a while. But encouraging signs non the less. His economy wasn't great but it was better than the others.

    Middlesex bowling figures don't read pretty. Surprised considering their seam attack on paper is probably one of the best in the country. Roland-Jones and Harris have had lions opportunities (Harris also in ODI squad) and Murtagh is a consistent county performer.

    Robson not off to the start he would have wanted. I reckon he's got a good chance of a test place, but I'd rather open with Root. Morgan will hope to better his performance to push for his test place, but I reckon the place is his regardless of form. I certainly wouldn't pick him but I'm sure he'll get picked.

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