July 15, 2013

Finn must fly

Some say he is 24, with time on his side. Others say his Test career is going sideways

Try telling Steven Finn that victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan. As England celebrated their victory over Australia at Trent Bridge he will have felt if not alone then certainly detached. Finn's relief at victory was probably greater than anybody's - had England lost, he might have been a Fred Tate for the 21st century - but even that will have been overshadowed by the insecurity that surrounds his Test career and his apparently recurring Ashes nightmare.

The final day at Trent Bridge was almost humiliating for Finn. Alastair Cook only trusted him to bowl two of the 39.5 overs, and they disappeared for 25 to get Australia back into a game that they had apparently lost. Then he dropped Brad Haddin at deep backward square leg, a difficult chance but one he would have taken to the grave had England been beaten.

Finn had allowed Australia back into the match once already, with a poor spell to Phillip Hughes and Ashton Agar on Thursday. He went from taking the new ball in the first innings to not getting a bowl until the 29th over of the second. Even allowing for the context - Stuart Broad's first-innings injury and Graeme Swann's early use in the second innings - it felt like a significant demotion. For a bowler there are few things as hurtful as realising his captain does not trust him. The match wasn't an unmitigated disaster - Finn bowled a superb five-over spell on Saturday evening - but it wasn't far off, and his place in the team will be England's main point of discussion ahead of Lord's.

There are two ways of looking at Finn: he is either 24, with time on his side, or he has been a Test cricketer for three years - Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann, established stars, only began their Test careers seven and 14 months before Finn - and is going sideways. The sense that he has not progressed is most acute in an Ashes series, for Finn is enduring the same problems as on the 2010-11 tour of Australia, when he was dropped for the fourth Test despite being the leading wicket-taker in the series. The reason was simple: he was a walking four-ball. The problem has re-occurred two and a half years later. Finn has been set aside for potential greatness for a few years; his development is taking a frustratingly long time.

In the age of media training, sportsmen are not encouraged to be lavish with the truth, yet Finn recently suggested that he had not developed as he had hoped. His overall career record is fine - 90 Test wickets at 29.40, a lower average than any of his team-mates - yet a more relevant statistic is his economy rate of 3.65. This compares unfavourably to James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett, who are all between 2.90 and 3.10, although Graham Onions concedes runs at a similar rate to Finn.

That does not fit the ethos of a side obsessed with bowling dry. The peculiar thing is that, on paper, Finn is David Saker's driest dream: he could have been invented by boffins trying to create a parsimonious fast bowler, and when he first arrived as an international player, he cited Glenn McGrath as the bowler he wanted to be.

Increasingly Steve Harmison seems a more relevant point of comparison. Both make the little girl with the little curl seem like the model of equilibrium. Finn's outwardly secure exterior suggested he was a different animal to Harmison, yet increasingly he seems to suffer damaging lapses in confidence. His two overs on the final day against Australia were those of a man whose head had gone. Yet at other times he has been unplayable, most notably during a wonderful spell against South Africa at Lord's a year ago. He has excelled at times in one-day cricket, although he was dropped from the England side during the Champions Trophy.

The most encouraging thing for Finn is that, generally speaking, he is good at the things you can't teach and not so good at those you can

Much of Finn's success in one-day cricket has come from a drive-inviting length, whereas in Tests he frequently bowls too short. McGrath is an obvious reference point for a tall fast bowler, but in some ways Finn is more reminiscent of Jason Gillespie. At his best, Gillespie bowled a much fuller length than almost all new-ball bowlers, allowing the snarling seam movement to do the rest. This is something Finn does not do nearly enough at Test level. It is not possible for Finn to simply change his default setting; Finn needs to train his brain over time.

In the short term it might be beneficial to replace Finn with Bresnan, merciful even, yet it's hard to know how that would impact his confidence in the medium-term, especially as it would be the second time he had been dropped in the middle of an Ashes series. After that spell against South Africa at Lord's it seemed that Finn had left Bresnan in his slipstream forever, and that he would always play when England were picking three seamers. After a decent series against India, he was poor in New Zealand and has not recovered.

Finn shortened his run-up during that tour, which has been cited as the main problem by many; equally significant if not more so, however, is Finn's relative lack of tactical awareness. England, particularly Saker and Anderson, are big on understanding the game and reacting to circumstances. This is one of Finn's weakest points, and was demonstrated again during Agar's innings on Friday.

The most encouraging thing for Finn is that, generally speaking, he is good at the things you can't teach and not so good at those you can. There is no need to panic yet. In Anderson he had a perfect role model. The two are incomparable as bowlers, yet their early careers had a similar arc: a burst of success followed by some lost years as they attempt to understand their game and their action.

Anderson went through some extremely dark times, far darker than Finn is going through at the moment. At Finn's age, Anderson had not been a regular in the team for over three years and had 46 Test wickets at 38.39; at Trent Bridge yesterday he went from extremely good to truly great. Anderson may have been born with a degree of greatness in him, but ultimately he had to achieve it. There is no reason why Finn should not do the same.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 16, 2013, 20:06 GMT

    Finn will play in the Lords Test...of that there is no doubt...

  • Stuart on July 16, 2013, 15:33 GMT

    I'd leave him out of the next test, but rather than picking Bresnan I'd go with Onions. Onions will bowl it in the channel more often, making batsmen play at balls they'd probably want to leave at Lord's. Forget any extra runs Bresnan might get, we need the 4 best bowlers.

  • martin on July 16, 2013, 12:39 GMT

    Finn bowls well for England at Lords, his home ground. Stats show that he picks up wickets, he has one five wicket haul and five times 4 wickets. Not a bad return for playing just 5 Tests at Lords. 29 wickets at an average of around 18.

    Bresnan does not compare. 5 wickets for 330 runs at Lords, ave 66.

    Onions has 10 wickets for 193 at Lords, ave 19.3. V Australia, 2009 he took 3-91 in the match at over 4 an over.

    Bresnan would be the safe option as he would extend England's batting and he might bowl tighter, but the Lords wicket takers are Finn and Onions.

    If it were any ground but Lords I suspect Finn might be dropped to find his form in County cricket, but his Lords record and the fact that England are usually fairly consistent in not resorting to knee-jerk decisions after one game. After all, if many England "fans" had their way Bell would have been dropped for this last Test and his match winning contribution would have been lost. England would be 1-0 down.

  • H on July 16, 2013, 9:45 GMT

    @Jono Makim Wouldn't cut him loose, he's definitely a future leader of the attack for me. However, I'd leave him out at Lord's for his own good. Your boys, as they've done so often in the past, have gotten in his head. Like Warne did with Bell.

    Bell eventually got dropped and came back a much stronger, much better player. It wasn't that he lacked those qualities before, just that he'd begun doubting himself. He himself has said as much.

    I think I'd let Finn have a good bowl in County Cricket, try and get him fired up and confident. We've still got 8 more Tests after Lord's, and like last time I can see him being very good on the harder, bouncier pitches in Australia. We dropped him back then because he lacked control, but if he can find it before we go back, it could be a big factor in deciding where the Ashes finally end up.

  • H on July 16, 2013, 9:38 GMT

    @Chris_P I don't think too many English fans would argue with you that Finn's not a better bowler than Bresnan. However, right now Bresnan is probably a better bet to give the captain what he really needs; control. The biggest reason Cook kept on bowling Anderson wasn't just his wicket-taking, but the fact that nobody else could give him that control. Finn, for all his attributes as a wicket-taker (and he's a good one) hasn't got that ability.

    @Greatest_Game He's Alistair Cook, the greatest captain evar! I'm amazed Cooky doesn't get more criticism for his tactical issues. Fantastic leader and batsman as captain, but his tactics are shockingly bad.

    @Int.Curator agree about an injury, but the ball barely swung at TB, conventionally at least. First day aside, it was mostly reverse.

    Can't believe people criticising Broad's bowling. Watson and Clarke in the second innings to good deliveries (Finn got Cowan and Watson to loose shots), broke the final wicket partnership in the first.

  • Mark on July 16, 2013, 8:01 GMT

    This article outlines the depth of english cricket bowling. Selecting an injured Broad over Bresnan, Finn , Swann and Anderson. I really can't see theses bowlers getting the job done if the ball doesn't swing for Anderson or he gets injured. It will be a long ashes series for england.

  • David on July 16, 2013, 3:19 GMT

    @ Herbet. Very interesting comments on the height and work ethic of the tall bowlers. SA's tall skinny quick, Morkel, is 6' 5" (same as Broad, 1" under Finn,) yet he is consistently out-bowled by little 5' 10" Steyn. He also blows hot & cold, but has had some time - debuted in 06 - & applied himself to steadily tighten up his game. Even so, he still has expensive & unproductive spells.

    Steyn & Anderson & similar in work ethic, skills development, & tactical thinking. Neither had an easy career start & both had to work at their game to reach the heights they have. Both are well disciplined, bowl very accurately, & are very economical.

    Interesting parallels - you make a good point.

  • David on July 16, 2013, 2:51 GMT

    I'm puzzled by this talk of Finn's "Finn's relative lack of tactical awareness" I thought it was the skipper's job to be 'tactically aware,' and to put a boot up the arse of a tall bloke who is pitching them too short.

  • Peter on July 16, 2013, 0:37 GMT

    From someone on the other side of the fence to England, Finn represents the future. Does any young other bowler have the potential to run through a side? He has an abundance of talent & has to be nurtured, cricket will be the overall winner when he realizes his potential. Almost all good bowlers have taken their time to get to their top. McGrath spent a couple of seasons trundling before he stepped up, Steyn wasn't the success he is now & in Finn, there is something that I believe can elevate him. Sorry, but I don't see that in Bresnan.

  • John on July 16, 2013, 0:03 GMT

    I guess Finn need to back to his old run up where he was falling over after his delivery stride every 3-4 balls