Break can be good for Finn - Fraser
Angus Fraser, Middlesex's director of cricket, believes that a period away from the scrutiny of international competition can help Steven Finn return to his best form. Fraser said Finn's omission from the squad for the third Investec Ashes Test had not come as a shock, after the fast bowler was dropped at Lord's, and suggested his time would be better served playing for Middlesex than carrying the drinks with England.
Tim Bresnan replaced Finn for the second Test, after the latter produced a faltering performance at Trent Bridge, taking two wickets with the new ball in Australia's first innings but being trusted with only 10 out of 110.5 overs in the second. That ended a run of six consecutive Test appearances for Finn - his longest spell in the team since making his debut in 2010 - as he struggled for rhythm as part of England's three-man pace attack.
The change to a shortened run-up, in an attempt to counter a problem of kneeing the stumps in his delivery stride, was abandoned but Finn's form and confidence appeared to have visibly dipped. In Tests in 2013, Finn has taken 20 wickets at 33.50 and he was also dropped from the ODI side during the Champions Trophy, having been a bulwark of their success last year.
"I know he'll be pretty disappointed. He needs to get some bowling under his belt really," Fraser said. "He's got to bowl better than he has done and the only way you're going to improve is by playing cricket. There's only so much good that net practice can do, you need to get in games where it counts."
Fraser pointed out that Finn has had to hone his game on the international stage, with its attendant pressures and demands. At 24, Fraser had only recently made his England debut; Finn already has 74 caps - and 168 wickets - in three formats for England. "He's a young bloke and he's done all his growing up and his learning, to a large extent, in front of everybody's eyes," Fraser said. "Sometimes it's quite nice to get away from it all, to groove yourself and get it right and come back.
"He's been in the spotlight. Jimmy Anderson had four or five years before he really established himself as an England bowler - Steven has had quite a bit of success early on but it's just not happening for him at the moment. There are a few little things that he's got to work at and careers aren't straightforward. Players get dropped, players get left out, players go through periods where their confidence and their form is not what they want it to be. Players go away, sort it out, come back and perform to their highest level again."
Since the end of May, Finn has made only five competitive appearances - two ODIs, a Test and England's Ashes warm-up against Essex, plus the second half of Middlesex's Championship fixture at Sussex. Rather than continue to keep him on the sidelines, England have chosen to bring Chris Tremlett back into the squad - something that has always been part of their planning - and allow Middlesex to work with Finn.
Fraser doesn't believe Finn's run-up remains an underlying issue, although he suggested the focus on hitting the stumps may have contributed to clouding the bowler's mind. Although Finn trimmed his approach to the crease by a few paces on the tour of New Zealand, he has since returned to using his original mark.
"No, I don't think it is," Fraser said, asked if the run-up was still a problem. "Cricketers tinker, they're always trying different things and some you try and abandon, some you try and keep going. Obviously during the winter they tried this shorter run-up, he wanted to give it a go and it didn't work, didn't feel as good as he would have hoped in the long run so he's gone back to his old run-up.
"I've always been keen on his longer run-up because he's a big lad and it tends to take big men some time to get going, rather than being a short sprinter. He gets up to full speed quite early and can then keep going for the last ten yards and concentrate on letting go of the ball."
An opportunity to relocate his groove in red-ball cricket will come at the end of the week against Durham - who themselves will be augmented by the return of another England discard in Graham Onions - with Middlesex hoping to stoke the flames of their Championship title bid. Progression to next week's FLt20 quarter-finals also remains possible and many beyond Lord's will hope that Finn's return to county cricket can be mutually beneficial.
"We love having him around at Middlesex, he's a good lad," Fraser said. "Hopefully he'll get back to enjoying his cricket and start performing as we know he can."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here