Steven Finn lays down high marker
The Ashes may be six months away, but a solitary Test against an unexpectedly obdurate Bangladesh has already identified the man who will surely come to be recognised as England's new attack leader. Whether it rains or shines in Brisbane in November, and whether England opt for four bowlers or five, one man has the attributes to be a menace in all conditions. Steven Finn is now 6-1 on to board that flight to Australia, and if David Laws was still at the Treasury, he'd be wiring the budget deficit down to Ladbrokes as we speak.
It's not so much the wickets that Finn harvested, but the overall manner in which he went about his work. After all, Steve Harmison once used his extreme height to claim nine against Bangladesh at Dhaka in 2003-04, but you cannot imagine two fast bowlers with more polarised temperaments. Of course, when it comes to Brisbane, the less said about Harmison the better, except to say is hard to imagine Finn's mood and mechanics collapsing in anything like the same manner as occurred on the opening morning in 2006-07.
Finn's modus operandi is simple and to the point. He has a measured run-up and an easy action, reminiscent of the great Glenn McGrath insofar as there is next to nothing that can seemingly go wrong with it. No exaggerated leaps or collapsing front arms, no obvious strain on his back or knees or neck - just a peculiar propensity to lose his footing in his followthrough, which the man himself put down to a 6'7" frame that turns him into "Bambi on ice" when he gets his tail up.
Like McGrath, Finn has made his mark on the Lord's honours board at the very first attempt. But as James Anderson put it on the third evening, the character whom he takes after the most is his director of cricket at Middlesex, Angus Fraser, who claimed six of his finest wickets on a dead deck in Melbourne in 1990-91, and whom Finn unwittingly echoed when appraising his Man-of-the-Match performance after the game
"It was nice to get nine wickets in the game but if I'm being hard on myself I probably got hit for a few too many fours," he said, as images of Gus's flying boot and double-teapot stance flooded the mind's eye. "I'm going to be tough on myself, so if I play the next game at Old Trafford it's something I'll look to rectify."
The modesty wasn't intended as false, but there's no question that Finn - injury permitting - will resume his role on a surface that is arguably the most consistently rapid in the modern Test game. "Of course Old Trafford appeals to me, after playing in Bangladesh and now on a relatively slow wicket out here," he said. "I've never bowled there before, and it'll be interesting to go up there tomorrow, but at the end of the day, a cricket wicket is a cricket wicket, you've got to land it in the right area whether it's bouncy or slow and low."
That is the attribute that marked Finn out as the most reliable and aggressive bowling option on display at Lord's. Where Anderson's effectiveness seemed to be in direct correlation to the position of the sun - and there'll be no place to hide in the midday heat at Adelaide - Finn kept his opponents on their toes in all conditions, and while he dismissed his two key breakthroughs on the fifth morning as "indifferent" balls, the drip-drip of pressure that he had already applied meant that Shakib Al Hasan and Junaid Siddique snatched at their offerings and gave their wickets away.
For Andrew Strauss, who admitted he'd felt somewhat "rusty" in his first game for England since January, Finn's excellence was as much of a relief as it was a delight, and he was happy to welcome the notion of taking such a player Down Under. "If you look at bowlers who take wickets in Australia, those kind of heavy hit-the-deck bowlers tend to do well," he said. "Glenn McGrath had a reasonable career in Australia.
"There's a lot of water under the bridge to be had before then," he added. "Hopefully we'll have a full complement of bowlers to pick from, with the likes of Stuart Broad and Graham Onions to come back, and everyone will be jostling for position which is a healthy thing for the side. But he's obviously got some great attributes, his height and a pretty clean action, and early in your career it's fantastic to get wickets and show you belong at this level, which he has done."
In keeping with the tradition that Tamim Iqbal alluded to in century celebrations on Sunday, Finn had the pleasure of returning to the dressing-room to find his name already taped up on the board by the team physio, Kirk Russell. "He'd been nagging me all game," said Finn. "Since I got four in the first innings and messed up a bit in the morning trying to take five yesterday, the physio has been down my earhole, saying 'I want to see you on the board, I want to see you on the board'. So it was great to see my name up there, it's something I've dreamed about since I was younger."
So too, presumably, is that starring role in an Ashes campaign, but right now, Finn is reluctant to let his thoughts drift too far from the present. "I'm not going to kid myself," he said. "I've had fun in this Test match and I'm loving playing for my country at the moment, but it'll be a lot of hard work for me, because there are guys to come back in who are ahead of me in the pecking order.
"Fundamentally, it's up to me to make it difficult for the selectors to drop me, whether I do that playing for England or through consistent performances for Middlesex throughout the season. If I keep taking wickets, my name will be there or thereabouts, but it'll be a lot of hard work."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.