England in India 2012-13 October 25, 2012

Fast, but not so furious

Steven Finn is content to play the understudy in England's pace attack - for now

Two simple things mark Steven Finn out as one of the most exciting fast-bowling prospects in the world: height and pace. But while Finn became the youngest Englishman, to reach 50 Test wickets in 2011 (aged 22) and has displayed such controlled hostility in limited-overs cricket this year as to become England's leading short-form strike weapon, he is well aware that the start of the four-Test series against India could see his back-bending exploits once again limited to reaching down and picking up the drinks.

This recognition - and acceptance - tells you something about the man. Finn may be a terrifying prospect on the pitch, with his ability to touch 90mph while trampolining the ball at batsmen from a vantage point of over 6ft 7in, but he is an affable, even sweet-natured, presence off it. One day he may possess a glowering demeanour to match Curtly Ambrose or Allan Donald but for now he fiddles distractedly with the winding mechanism of his watch while talking about his much-discussed dead-ball problem, and offers a playful apology when absently knocking a dictaphone on the table in front of him.

Finn even smiles shyly to himself when it is suggested that his recent form must have pushed him close to rivalling James Anderson and Stuart Broad in England's fast-bowling hierarchy. Despite a troubled 2012 for England in Tests, Broad is the leading wicket-taker in the world this year, with Anderson not far behind, and Finn is quick to affirm his junior status.

"I don't think I'm in that place yet, and I'd love to be," he says. "I'm working towards being on a par with them but I still see myself as being way behind them in the pecking order. Those two have been exceptional for England and consistent for a long time now, certainly ever since I've been around the team.

"They are the new-ball pairing and they've done exceptionally well. I look up to them and can relate to experiences that they've had in their careers. I can learn off them and if one day I was as good as either of them I'd be very happy."

Would he like to lead the attack? "Obviously I fancy that, but it is a question of what my role in the Test team would be now, and I have to be realistic about that. I'm not going to be the opening bowler if I do play, and that means a different role. In the one-day and T20 teams I've loved opening. I love doing that and have done it throughout my career at Middlesex, and in the long run I see myself as a new-ball bowler for England, but you have to earn those stripes and I'm still off doing that."

Having returned to the England team with ten wickets in two Tests against South Africa, the particular demands of playing on the subcontinent may cause the ground to shift under Finn's feet. The inclusion of a second spinner, either Samit Patel or Monty Panesar, or the possibility of England falling back on Tim Bresnan's doughty lower-order batting and scuffed-ball reverse swing could lead to Finn being squeezed out again, for the fifth time since his 2010 debut in Bangladesh under Alastair Cook, the man now installed as England's official Test captain.

"I've been on the end of that chop quite a few times over the last two years and it is just one of those things," he says. "You desperately want to be out there and you don't hold any grudges when you're fighting for a few spots. It is just the way team sport works and you have to accept that you're not always going to play. If you're the person to miss out then it is how you deal with that which makes you a better cricketer."

Like a regular week in Westminster, spin might be expected to be the primary battleground during the series, with Graeme Swann going head to head with India's R Ashwin. Finn is probably just displaying a single-minded focus on his craft, then, as he lists the qualities that the bowlers will bring to England's quest for a first Test-series win in India since 1984-85.

"England haven't won in India for 27 years, so as a young team with a new young captain it will be exciting to go there and try to break records and prove people wrong"

"You need a little bit of the X-factor, which we have. We've got the best swing bowler in the world in James Anderson, we've got one of the best allrounders in the world in Stuart Broad, and we've got Tim Bresnan," Finn says. "We've also got others who bring different skills to the party. We've got that as a team and a bowling unit, and I think it is going to take all of our collective skill to beat India, and I think we can do it."

Finn does not mention what his own X-factor is but it is not too difficult to work out. A career strike rate of 46.0 in Tests is the best of any of his current team-mates - some way ahead of Anderson (58.6) and Broad (61.6) - and beaten only by the freakish Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn among active bowlers. Although Finn's wicket-taking in Tests has often been punctuated by waywardness, his impressive displays in ODI and T20I cricket this year have been marked by control as well as penetration.

That threat is partly down to adopting a tight, wicket-to-wicket line, which has given rise to one of Finn's other most notable feature: his capacity to clip the stumps at the non-striker's end during his delivery stride. With umpires now regularly calling this as a dead ball, Finn has experienced the disappointment of missing out on a wicket - when Graeme Smith edged to slip but survived in the Headingley Test during the summer - and the unexpected bonus of being saved runs by his bad habit.

"Obviously it is an issue that needs to be addressed," he says. "It's a very minimal thing, not like I wipe the stumps out of the ground. It's a matter of centimetres, not even that. It's a very fine, intricate thing. When you run in 30 metres and clip the stump by a couple of millimetres - it's just about getting a little bit wider. I don't mean to do it."

Finn puts the problem down to a tendency to slow down and weave slightly on approach to the crease. Ominously, for opponents, he suggests that accelerating more smoothly through the crease may help correct the problem - as well as add on half a yard of pace.

Missing out on a wicket through a moment of klutz in the heat of Ahmedabad or Kolkata would bring added frustration, however, and while India have lost the services of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman since England last played them, Virat Kohli now comes with a health warning to bowlers in all forms of the game. Gautam Gambhir, meanwhile, has issued a staunch defence of his opening partnership with Virender Sehwag, and there is also the small matter of Sachin Tendulkar - he of 51 Test hundreds. After last year's 4-0 Test humbling in England, only partially atoned for by India's clean sweep in the return ODI series, the local crowds are likely to turn up ready to teach Phil Spector a thing or two about the wall of sound.

"The way they targeted us in that one-day series as a revenge series, every billboard you saw around India was 'Revenge, we are coming to get you'," Finn recalls. "It wasn't intimidating for us as a team. It didn't affect our performance. They just played better cricket than us in that series in conditions they are more familiar with.

"The first session of the first game is where you can set the tone for the series, whether it be with bat or ball. It is not the be all and end all, because you have to play exceptional cricket. If you get be on top early that will hold a massive part of who owns those early bragging rights. It will be an interesting series because I think it will go to and fro."

There are collective and individual points for Cook's England to prove in India, and while a subcontinental slog is not most fast bowlers' idea of a good time, there is a gimlet glint in Finn's eye when he considers the challenge ahead. The niceties may not last for long.

"I am really excited about getting there and fighting my way into the Test side and becoming an important member of that team. Whether I can do that on this tour, after Christmas or in three years' time, that is my long-term ambition. We're also looking forward to trying to break records because England haven't won there for 27 years, so as a young team with a new young captain it will be exciting to go there and try to break records and prove people wrong. People are writing us off already but write us off at your peril. We have been written off before and we have come back and proved them wrong."

Investec, the specialist bank and asset manager, is the title sponsor of Test Match cricket in England. Visit the Investec Cricket Zone at investec.co.uk/cricket for player analysis, stats, Test match info and games

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Randolph on October 28, 2012, 16:44 GMT

    i rate Finn, will be interesting to see how he goes in India

  • Sharon on October 28, 2012, 11:25 GMT

    @FRRR on (October 27 2012, 14:02 PM GMT) You say that "England were never world class, innovative, dangerous". I suppose you will say that India is full of world class - but if this true when did India ever beat Australia in Australia 3-1??? You have very very short memory - regarding dangerous - ask Yuvraj if Broad is dangerous. Yuvraj will show you his broken thumb. Ask Gambhir who gave him concussion - it is Stuart Broad. Very very funny that you say (like many many other India follower...) "England have no world class player", very funny indeed - what you are basically saying is - England have no world class player - but they were still good enough to beat Australia in 3 of last 4 Ashes and then whitewash India. Not bad for team with no world class player - how bad would it have been for India if England DID have world class player???? Basically @FRRR India are just not as good as you think.

  • David on October 27, 2012, 16:50 GMT

    Actually I think Steve Finn is the one England cricketer who is worth a bit of hype! I haven't been this excited about an English fast bowling prospect since Botham burst onto the scene in the 1970s.

  • Faisal on October 27, 2012, 14:02 GMT

    @jb633 ,,, mate you have to read the comments of other people where Cook and Anderson are being called world class by (i guess British people). This is the problem that i am pointing at ,,,, Players like Cook, Anderson or (any other England player) might be best players England has to offer, but on a Global scale ,,, They were never world class, innovative, dangerous. You do not have played who can put the fear in opposition team. This is the bitter truth. and i stand by my statement England has no world class player ,,, No one is Ajmal, Tendulkar, Steyn, Umar Gul, Jaywardena, Dilshan etc.

    I agree with other people that Indian bowling attach is abysmal ,,,, Actually to be fair Indian bowling is equal to English batting ,,,, Both are best the teams have to offer but certainly not world class.

  • Ivan on October 27, 2012, 8:24 GMT

    I agree with Cpt. Meanster - India is at it's weakest point in recent history so if any team has a chance to win, it is England. While Kohli has proven that he is up there among the best, Dravid and Lax at home along with Gambhir, Viru and Sachin was one of the best lineups of all time. The latter 3 are all struggling at the moment so India is actually very vulnerable. The bowling is in reality much better IF they play Ashwin, Bhaji and Ojha along with Zak- but the days of 3 spinners ended in the late 70's so Zak and Yadav will probably play. Expect this to be a low scoring series but really England has a chance that they have seldom had before. KP could well make a big difference given his match winning ability

  • Shanmugam on October 27, 2012, 0:38 GMT

    Clearly, India start as favorites. Their 0-8 drubbing in overseas tests notwithstanding, they will be playing in familiar conditions and have some fantastic players. England will be happy that they won't need to bowl to Dravid and Laxman but they would still need to beat Kohli, Sehwag, Gambhir, and above all, Tendulkar. In the bowling front, there is Zaheer and Ashwin. Harbhajan may also get a recall considering England's known problems against spin and he is a world class bowler too. So, England's challenge is huge. Our performances this year have been nothing less than shoddy. Even considering the class of the opposition, letting SA score over 600 and picking up only 2 wickets in the process is poor by any standards. Pakistan whitewashed us, Mahela broke our bowlers' back, Marlon Samuels drove them all around the park and even Denesh Ramdin, Darren Sammy, and, worse, Tino Best had fun against our bowling. Our batsmen have to improve against spin, else 0-4 beckons.

  • Jon on October 27, 2012, 0:06 GMT

    @CptMeanster- fair enough I can see the point of view about the inexperience but still personally feel you will have to much for us. @FRRR- ok then try and find England fans who hype Stuart Broad as the best player in the world. During the SA series the whole of this country witnessed our side being outclasses by the best team in the world. Nobody will disagree with this. We do have some good players but so do other sides. We are not as bad as many Indian fans make out but not great by any stretch either. Please understand that our media do not represent the fans. Do not believe that every article you read on cricinfo is the reflection of what people think. Look at the opinions of JG207 and jmichillney and they will generally represent what most people are thinking.

  • Jay on October 26, 2012, 23:54 GMT

    @A_Vacant_Slip: Sadly, many Indian fans will never admit our team is not good in test cricket. Being an Indian fan, I have gained consciousness. I won't be charmed by the false laurels and egoistic pride displayed by some of our cricketers. There is nothing wrong in supporting team India BUT it also takes guts to stand up to the poor performances from time to time. Nothing has been done to improve the standards of Indian cricket since those 8-0 defeats away. Thanks to Rahul Dravid, kookabura balls are now used in Indian domestic cricket as a step towards learning to play in overseas conditions. Then the matters regarding the pitches across our vast nation is on hold. India, as a test nation is back to its crawling days. Yes, India is a baby once again. Time to get some learning under way from a really world class England test team. England start favourites.

  • michael on October 26, 2012, 23:52 GMT

    FRRR. Cook isn't world class? Averages nearly 50. Trott also has an excellent average with runs all over. Swann and Anderson are indisputably world class while prior is head and shoulders over everybody in his position. And I think we've established Pietersen is South African.

  • Jay on October 26, 2012, 22:56 GMT

    @sk12: hahaha.. I guess I forgot about Sehwag, Yuvraj, Tendulkar and Zaheer lol. Well a mixed underdog team lol. Still we are not the favourites to win this series. Even if we do win, there is nothing for us to boast about since we been doing it for eternity. Perhaps the younger players will gain some confidence playing against a world class England test team who are clearly very good in test cricket.

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