Finn happy to be 'selectable' again
Acceptance, they say, is the first link on the chain to recovery, and Steven Finn has swallowed hard truths about his game this year. His bowling had deteriorated to such an extent that he was shipped home midway through the ODI series on England's unhappy tour of Australia, with a "fragile" sticker slapped on his ego.
Finn's problems were both technical and mental, then-coach Ashley Giles said. Some unknown complication had invaded his cricket, and as weeks passed without a clear-cut diagnosis or an acceptable cure, his confidence had gradually eroded. By January, he was so low that Giles labelled him "not selectable at the moment". This was a 24-year-old bowler who had at that point taken 90 Test wickets at an average under 30, and 59 ODI scalps at a similarly robust rate.
"Unselectable is a harsh way to put it," Finn said of his troubled time. "Harsh and frank. If I'm being honest, I couldn't have gone out there and done myself justice in an England shirt back then. But saying that has spurred me on and motivated me to become selectable again. I wanted to be selectable to play for England again, that was my dream when I left Australia."
He eventually fought his way back via county cricket. In August, Finn played his first international in almost a year, in the ODI series against India. He has now arrived in Sri Lanka hoping that months of working past self-doubt have left him better equipped than before.
"Everyone goes through tricky times in their career," he said. "I don't think there's a player ever who hasn't gone through a tricky time and I think you learn a lot about yourself. I think before I experienced what happened in the last 12 months I didn't really have an understanding, I just ran up and bowled. You can't bowl with naivety. Now I have a far better understanding so if it is going wrong or I'm halfway through a game and it doesn't quite feel right I can pinpoint what's going on.
"I was in a bad place at the time. I'm in a good place now. I don't really want to dwell on the past, I want to look to the future."
His immediate future comprises of the ODIs in Sri Lanka, but higher-profile challenges loom. The upcoming series marks the beginning of World Cup preparation proper for both sides, and with James Anderson and Stuart Broad unavailable through injury, Finn has his chance to impress.
"I see this Sri Lanka trip as a platform to kick on," Finn said. "There are World Cup places up for grabs, which no one is guaranteed. I really enjoy bowling in subcontinental conditions, I can control a reverse swinging ball quite well which plays a big part out here."
If Finn's self-confidence was still a little low after the time away from the top level, it may recently have had a boost thanks to a former England quick. Steve Harmison last week identified Finn as the "key to England's success", suggesting Finn could be a menace during the middle-overs at the World Cup, as well as in next year's Ashes.
"It's flattering that someone of his stature would say that about me," Finn said. "But I don't want to put too many goals and milestones on myself in the next 12 months. Initially this Sri Lanka trip is going to decide whether I'm going to the World Cup or not. From there, if I get into that World Cup squad, then I can worry about what happens beyond that."
Finn's tour began on a bright note in the warm-up match against Sri Lanka A on Friday, when he took two top-order wickets for 43, opening the bowling. He may have the use of the new ball in the ODIs and, due to the absence of the more experienced seamers, possibly some additional duties as well.
"Hopefully I can keep opening the bowling which is something I enjoy doing," Finn said. "When you become one of the more experienced bowlers, you have that responsibility to communicate more with the other guys - to take the bull by the horns a little bit, and really make sure we're always discussing stuff out on the pitch.
"That's what Jimmy and Broady do. That's going to be my responsibility if I do play these ODIs - to make sure we're always talking about what's working and what's not working."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando