Finn revels in the joy of redemption
Steven Finn presents himself as a throwback, an acolyte of Jay Gatsby, perhaps, with his side parting, foppish fringe and easy manner. Of course, he is nothing of the sort. He is a blue-collar bowler, eager for the hard yakka of his demanding trade.
When Finn burst on the scene everyone became tremendously excited. At 6ft 7.5in tall, he had the world at his feet - literally and metaphorically. He bowled fast and made the thing bounce like one of those superballs you delighted in as a child. He was the next McGrath, we said, but such metronomic accuracy comes from the mind every bit as much as from the repeatable action. The trouble was, he had neither of these. The action was of youth and promise not practice and miles. Understandably, the mind was drifting into the void that destroys so many young careers, the void of acclaim and reward.
Then Chris Tremlett arrived. Half an inch taller and consistently straighter of line. In Perth on the triumphant 2010-11 tour of Australia, Finn went to the bench. Even Tim Bresnan got a go ahead of him on the occasions that followed. The big Finn, modest to a fault, smiling upon inquisition and uncomplaining of the selectorial whims that send a man to and fro, was reduced to a small fish.
Worse was to come. He developed a worrying jerk of his right knee upon delivery. This jerk sent the stumps at the non-striker's end into disarray. At first it was just an occasional thing but soon it became habitual. Graeme Smith, the wily South African captain, grumbled to the umpire about it and Finn was warned off. When it happened again, Smith pulled away claiming distraction. Fair point too. The umpires decided to label such transgressions as dead balls and with the sound of the call and the derision of the crowd came the humiliation. Thus, the confidence from which we all feed began to drain from a talented boy who, two years previously, had been billed as the future of English fast bowling.
At Middlesex Angus Fraser spent hours with his protégé trying to kick the habit. Or rather, helping him to try not to kick the stumps. So bad was the problem that the no-ball law was rewritten in penalty. Imagine you have bowled all your life in a certain way and then, without warning, you start something you simply cannot stop. Hard as Finn tried, he continued to reach the crease, leap into his delivery and land with a collapsed right leg whose knee careered into leg stump. Exasperated umpires felt sorry for him but were now without option in calling foul.
Goodness knows how he came to play various one-day internationals and numerous county games for Middlesex with this wretched and freakish thing haunting his every over. It told you a lot about the man. The mind was willing even if the flesh and bone were disobedient. They tried a short run-up and a longer one. They tried changes of action and points of delivery. They went wide on the crease and back deep in the crease. They changed the sync of his stride and the nature of his jump. The tinkered and fiddled and adapted. And they got close to nowhere.
Fast bowling is bloody hard work. Never is a day completed without pain of one sort or another. Fast bowlers form a bond because theirs is dirty work of blood and sweat. Only the fraternity truly know how it feels to hurt in your daily grind; how the hard ground punishes joints; how the yards sap strength and energy; how lifeless pitches destroy the soul; how the lawmakers favour batsmen; how umpires get on your nerves; how captains get away with asking for the extra over that they promise will be remembered on your grave-stone; how it feels to see first slip drop a dolly; how trite it sounds when second slip urges you to "keep going"; how coaches meddle with your given ability; how rehab messes with your brain; and how many long and lonely hours go into the finished performance at Test-match level. Add all that up and then add the involuntary jerk of the right knee that is no-balled each time it slams into the stumps. You have to be a special fellow to keep at it.
The winter before last, Finn was taken to Australia in some vague hallucination that he might recover the form of a previous life. He was so not ready for this that before the tour was over he was on his way home, considered unable to do his job. He was, said the one-day team's coach Ashley Giles, "unselectable". By heaven it is a long way back from that calamity.
But back he has come. And how. Ask Steven Smith and Michael Clarke.
The bad news that Mark Wood was unable to play was tempered by the good news that Finn was in.
After a decent start by James Anderson and Stuart Broad, a start that included the wicket of David Warner, Alastair Cook threw the ball to our hero. The first over was pretty typical of the old Finn - or the young Finn I suppose - and by that we mean four good balls, one to forget that disappears to the fence and a crackerjack. This particular crackerjack came last ball and as Smith shuffled across his stumps he was encouraged to flirt with the danger of a perfect, testing line. The nick came, Cook held on and the joy on the face of the bowler was overwhelming.
His second over hit 93mph. Wow! Best of all, that knee was no threat to the stumps. Granted, some of the old fluency in the bowling action was missing but hey, the pace and bounce were there. As was the old threat. Who cares what it looks like if it is this good?
Finn steamed in at Clarke, who found himself squared up to a fabulous yorker - though the line appeared to beat him more than the length. It was a strange look into the mirror of the slower ball with which Steve Harmison snared Clarke on this ground back in 2005. Tall bowler, very full length: a good lesson to all. The stumps were shattered. England celebrated with wild abandon. These were two serious wickets, the wickets of opponents who have caused much grief. Any fall of the baggy green is good cause for English celebration but the win-double of captain and vice-captain at so little cost is inspirational.
There you have it. The bloke who must, surely must, have been close to losing the will to battle on not that much more than a year ago was England's inspiration on an unforgettable day at Edgbaston. Bravo!
Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK