Fraser endorses Finn for Ashes
Angus Fraser, Middlesex's director of cricket, has backed his county colleague Steven Finn to live up to the hype and expectation that his impressive home Test debut against Bangladesh has generated. Though he cautions against expecting too much too soon, Fraser does not believe that Finn would be overawed at the prospect of leading the attack in Australia this winter.
Finn was the outstanding player in the recently concluded first Test, in which used his height and accuracy to claim match figures of 9 for 187, including a second-innings haul of 5 for 87, his first five-wicket haul in any first-class match at Lord's. His uncomplicated method has led to inevitable comparisons with Fraser's own career, which was also launched on the true surfaces of Lord's, and which culminated in 177 wickets at 27.32 in 46 Test appearances.
"Steven has been very complimentary about me in the last few weeks, but where he's at is all down to himself," Fraser told Cricinfo's Switch Hit podcast. "He's got a bit extra on me in a couple of areas - he's a bit taller and a bit quicker - but if he combines that with a bit of accuracy and some perseverance, he's going to have a long successful career ahead of him, because as you saw in the Bangladesh game, he's a very capable young man."
As Bangladesh demonstrated in their attritional batting displays, wickets can be hard to come by on a Lord's surface that rarely assists the bowlers, except in overcast conditions. But as Fraser recalled from his own playing days, it is surfaces such as these - and the deathly-flat decks that Finn encountered on debut in Bangladesh in March - that can turn promising young bowlers into the finished article.
"When I was young, playing at Lord's, and playing on good pitches in general, really helped, because you've got to learn to be disciplined," he said. "If you're not, you can leak too many runs. Sometimes you can kid yourself that you're bowling better than you are, on pitches that are nipping and seaming around everywhere, and then you get to a higher level and play on flat ones and you get exposed.
"He's had to develop that discipline to be successful, and it ingrains the skills you require to exploit pitches that are helpful," Fraser added, having watched Finn carve Worcestershire apart in a 14-wicket haul on a juiced-up New Road track in April. "He played exceptionally well in that match, and that showed what he can do when conditions are in his favour. Bangladesh are not the strongest team in the world, but he's shown he can be effective on pitches that aren't offering assistance."
Finn's performance was impressive not merely for the wickets that he collected but the level-headedness that accompanied them. In the aftermath of the contest, for instance, he acknowledged the fact that that he had conceded too many boundaries - a total of 24 in 49 overs. "One of his strengths is his self-analysis," said Fraser. "He sets himself high standards, and he wants to be better than he is each day. He can walk off having taken 9 for 37, but still thinking about a couple of poor balls that he bowled, rather than the nine wickets that he took.
"If we're being honest, there have been games for Middlesex this season where he's bowled better [than at Lord's]," added Fraser. "If you want to give him a bit of criticism, he pushed the ball in a bit, whereas this year he's shaped the ball away from the right-handers a little bit, and he conceded maybe four an over, which is something he's not keen on."
On the subject of the Ashes, which seems destined to remain the hot topic of the summer, Fraser was happy to endorse Finn's credentials. Although he guarded against the comparisons with Glenn McGrath and Curtly Ambrose that have already come Finn's way, Fraser did not believe that such a high-profile campaign would prove too much too soon for a 21-year-old in his first full season of international cricket.
"We're expecting a lot from someone at a very early age, but he is a very capable young man," said Fraser. "By Brisbane, he might have played eight Tests, so his Test career will be well on its way. Playing there would be another step forward in his progress towards being an international bowler, because he's got assets that are worth sticking to. When he does get it right he can be a real handful, and he's got the potential to be a fine bowler.
"I do think you can get carried away," he added. "Names like McGrath and Ambrose are being bandied around, but they are all-time greats who took their Test wickets at under 22. England have not had many bowlers in the last 20 years who've taken their wickets at under 27 or 28. He knows and we know at Middlesex that he's young and he's going to have the odd bad day and bad game, because youngsters do that. But he's his own man, and he'll bowl in his own way, and I think everyone at Middlesex has taken a huge amount of pride at Steven's progress."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo