Six-eight and rising
Steven Finn turned 19 last week. For someone not yet afflicted with the cynicism that comes with age and experience, he speaks with an assurance beyond his years. Considering he stands at a towering 6ft 8in, early maturity probably runs in the Finn family.
That is the hope, anyway, for he is a highly regarded cricketer who possesses the two deadly qualities essential for any aspiring fast bowler: pace and bounce. Finn made his first-class debut for Middlesex in 2005, before he had even sweated through his GCSEs - the youngest debutant at the club since Fred Titmus in 1949 - and he recently returned from an encouraging display in the Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia. He was named in the MCC squad to play the County Champions, Sussex, for the season's traditional curtain-raiser on his home turf at Lord's. It has been a rapid rise - pun partially intended - but beneath the cool façade lies understandable anxiety.
"Yeah, it was quite a surprise to be selected," he said. "It's very pleasing, obviously, being selected out of the group. I'm looking forward to it. I'm a bit nervous with the anticipation of it, obviously, but also, I've always been nervous. I've never played in a game in my life in which I haven't been nervous, so it's really nice to get recognition."
Nerves are de rigeur for sportsmen, but an admission of their presence by a young cricketer is something else entirely. Without context, they could suggest a weakness to be exploited. At Finn's young age, however, it demonstrates a character who is understandably keen to make his mark while wary of the pitfalls that might lurk along the way. Like most fast bowlers, he is his own man, but he attributes his success so far to Toby Radford's academy at Middlesex.
"I had two winters on the academy at Middlesex, which is probably what I owe a lot to at the moment - the academy structure [at the club] is brilliant. The professionalism it taught me for my training has helped massively, and taught me not to get ahead of myself, and hopefully to perform well."
Finn's form in Malaysia in the youth World Cup, which was won by India last month, was encouraging. He took 3 for 21 against Ireland to earn the Man-of-the-Match award, and he finished the tournament with eight wickets at 10.37, conceding a miserly 2.37 runs per over. His natural short length pushes batsmen onto the back foot and, at this early stage in his career, he is hard to score against. For all his relative success, however, Finn was quick to point out that he wasn't at his best in Kuala Lumpur.
He had an operation just after Christmas for a groin strain he sustained while out in India with the performance squad. "It was a long process to get back playing," he said. "I ended up just playing the first game in Malaysia and I was a little bit short of practice going into the World Cup, but from my own personal point of view, my economy-rates were pretty good throughout the tournament and I picked up a few wickets. That was pleasing. It would've been nice to take more, but it was still a relatively good performance."
As a point of comparison, Finn's New Zealand contemporary Tim Southee - who starred on debut against England last month - took 17 wickets at 6.64 in the tournament, and the phrase "relatively good" is probably too generous to describe England's overall performance. Knocked out in the quarter-finals by India who routed them for 146, their tournament never took off, but Finn offered a partial explanation for their poor performances.
"We probably had as much talent as any [side] in the World Cup and we could have done better than we did. First-class experience doesn't count for much, especially when you've got subcontinent sides who play their game really naturally, whereas we're quite technically based coming from England. The Indians who won it, and the Sri Lankans and the Pakistanis, are all really natural players and they just go out and play their game. As Under-19 cricketers, we [England] were a little too technical."
|Finn is a highly regarded cricketer who possesses the two deadly qualities essential for any aspiring fast bowler: pace and bounce. He made his first-class debut for Middlesex before he had even sweated through his GCSEs, and returned recently from an encouraging display in the Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia|
Young he might be, inexperienced certainly - he is yet to even cement his place with the Middlesex first team - but Finn speaks with the worldliness and perspective of someone far older. With cricket's landscape changing frighteningly fast, and the Indian Premier League and Indian Cricket League offering financial incentives that previously only footballers could dream of, how does a 19-year-old react to it all?
"From my point of view, it's important to have an international career first and foremost for my country, who I've dreamed of representing since I was eight or nine years old, since I first started picking a cricket ball up," he says. "So I'm just going to focus on that and not let other external factors blur my vision of what I want to do, which is ultimately play for my country.
"There are a lot of other people in the same boat as me; young people growing up into professional cricket," he said. "First and foremost you perform in second XI cricket, Under-19 cricket, get established in first team cricket, and then hopefully move up to the international level.
"I don't give myself goals. I just want to do everything that I know I can in order to perform well, and hopefully the opportunities will come. Just be prepared, basically."
This is Finn's biggest challenge yet, facing Sussex, in an MCC side that contains an exciting mix of the tried, tested and hopeful - and all in front of an expectant audience who will be as keen to get stuck into a new season as the players themselves. It is a prime opportunity to show what he is made of.
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo