England in Australia 2013-14 January 15, 2014

Tough times for Finn and Root

Vithushan Ehantharajah

With England's men winning in Australia on the same day that the blundering Sydney Thunder ended a 19-game losing streak, reports of full moons and pigs being cleared for landing at Brisbane Airport were, as of yet, unconfirmed.

But as emphatic as England's 172-run win was against the Prime Ministers' XI in Canberra it could not hide the fact that this remains a squad with a host of problems as they try to claw back from 1-0 down in the one-day series.

The decision to send Steven Finn home is sad but inevitable. His absence in Canberra, against a team of players who happened to be free from Big Bash League commitments, confirmed what was coming. To say it has been a sudden fall is not quite right, but his disintegration on this tour has been alarming and, often, painful to watch.

The sight of the six foot seven inch bowler, who has terrorised ODI batsmen on the pace sapping tracks of India and the UAE, walking through a once ferocious action so tentatively, as training aids and water bottles were packed away, was a sad one. How can it be that the youngest Englishman to take 50 Tests wickets spends the last moments of training, deep into an Ashes tour, undergoing remedial work on his own?

Much of the discussion around Finn's demise - and it absolutely is - emanates from alterations that have yet to benefit him. The suggestion that his country and county have been at loggerheads over what's best for him contradicts the noises made by all three parties involved.

Whether dealing with David Saker and Kevin Shine at the ECB, or Middlesex's Richard Johnson, the indication is that messages to Finn have been clear. Over the last English summer, both sides liaised regularly, as amendments were made. Middlesex's director of cricket Angus Fraser was not a fan of Finn's shortened run, but he was happy to admit that different things needed to be tried and tested.

Even the Australians had little trouble sympathising with Finn. Brett Lee, captain of the Prime Ministers' XI, was "shocked" at the paucity of cricket he has played on this tour. "Where is Steven Finn?" has been a starter for chats over schooners in this part of the world for the last month.

One question does remain: how much responsibility should Finn - a player who made his international debut in 2010 - be taking for his own troubles?

At times for Middlesex last season he tried to bowl too fast, some believing he was approaching county matches like a net. But there were signs that genuine progress was being made. Against Derbyshire in August, he had the ignominy of completing a pair inside six hours in a County Championship encounter, but filled that time with a hostile spell of bowling (albeit for the reward of a single wicket). The sort of spell that suggested he was too good for that level. Neil Dexter, his captain in that match, was hopeful it was a sign of even greater things to come.

Now he will be trying to remember what it felt like to be in control, bowling fast and straight.

While not in same state as Finn, there are two more England cricketers who are starting to look as though this tour is the last place they want to be right now. Although it was a comfortable win in Canberra, the top order was again unconvincing as Alastair Cook and Joe Root both fell for 1.

Neither was a surprise: Cook has had to lead the tour from hell and Root is showing the effects of his workload since his debut in December 2012. From then he has played 40 matches across all formats, seven more than the next busiest player who is Ian Bell.

From No. 6, to opener, back to No. 6 to No. 3 - Root has moved so many times within the English system it would make Craig Bellamy blush. Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire's director of cricket, has been particularly damning of England's handling of Root, who he feels should be starting at the top of the order.

Despite coming into an experienced side rediscovering their strength after losing the No. 1 Test status following defeat to South Africa in 2012, the responsibility placed on Root's shoulders has increased exponentially. After being moved to open in Tests at the expense Nick Compton, Root's initial Ashes experiences (although that already amounts to nine Tests, something it would have previously taken at least three years to amass) were tough.

His battles with Mitchell Johnson in the Ashes were compelling (and Johnson returns for the second ODI in Brisbane). An 87 in the second innings at Adelaide, his debut at first-drop, spoke volumes of the desire to get his hands dirty and convert grit into quality. But those battles have clearly taken a lot out of Root, who looked fatigued during his 23-ball innings at the MCG in the first ODI.

It's a far cry from the bopping boy who walked out at Nagpur over a year ago, with England teetering on 139 for 5. He displayed remarkable confidence and self-assurance that even had Kevin Pietersen double-taking, as the pair punched gloves in the middle and Root offered his tuppence to a man who had hit one of the greatest knocks in recent memory at Mumbai, just two Tests previous.

What Root is undergoing is a period of self-reflection that virtually all young batsmen go through when they first come into Test cricket; where a player begins well before subtle chinks in their armour are ripped open bit by bit, for all to see. In Root's case, it's a unwavering desire to play forward without fully committing. Geoffrey Boycott once described this moment in a career as simply "growing up" while Australia batsman Ed Cowan called it a much-needed "therapeutic cleanse".

Root and Finn are the types of player England's rebuilding should form around. In the short-term, however, they both have some personal battles to overcome first.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Scott on January 18, 2014, 0:07 GMT

    @Nutcutlet, not sure where you're getting those stats, but Steve Waugh was, at the very least, 5'10.

  • ESPN on January 17, 2014, 7:33 GMT

    Listening to the radio last night the blame is on the England coaches. They've tried to change his action, which is a ridiculous thing to do. Why change what worked to get him to the top? He's not the only player the England coaches have messed up either!

  • Tim on January 17, 2014, 0:45 GMT

    @mux164 - LMFAO - Love it! Go the colonials!

  • Merv on January 16, 2014, 22:57 GMT

    Root seems a good future prospect if he can sort out some of his shuffling at the crease. GIve him a couple of season in the Counties first. At least he is English born and developed and not a colonial import.

  • Ashley on January 16, 2014, 18:12 GMT

    Root will be ok. Many a young batsmen have come a cropper down under on their first tour and I reckon he will be a fixture in the Pommy side for years to come. Given the abject batting of far more experienced players on this tour its a bit rich to place to much responsibility on the young lad. Plonk him at 5 and let him develop. Compton to open with Bell at 3.As for Finn send him back to county cricket and let him build his confidence. The furnace of an Ashes tour is no place to lose form. My third piece of advice as a gloating Aussie supporter is more attacking cricket please and less of the gamesmanship that have infested English cricket in recent years. My last piece of advice to the ICC is reduce Ashes tests to 3 per series until England become test standard agaim

  • Dummy4 on January 16, 2014, 10:32 GMT

    @Kev Martin - which article were you reading? The second half of the article was all about Joe Root!

  • ian on January 16, 2014, 10:27 GMT

    @Posted by 'facebook' on (January 16, 2014, 3:19 GMT): I see where you're coming from, but I seem to recall a throwaway remark from one of the TV or radio pundits that Taylor was regarded as "too small'! This, if true, is about as crass a remark as it's possible to make. The list of short men who have been brilliant bats, is, of course, a long one: Bradman (5' 7"), Tendulkar & Gavaskar (both 5' 5"); Steve Waugh (5' 6"), Jayesuria (5' 7"). OK, Laura was a relative giant at 5' 8". Go back a hundred years, Gilbert ('Croucher') Jessop - arguably the greatest destructive bat of all time - was 5' 7" (and 11 stone). Go back 80 years & the redoubtable Eddie Paynter (Test av 59.3; 4 tons) was no more than 5' 6". Sizeism has no place in cricket, any more than it has a place in the rest of civilized society. To those who argue that James Taylor is 'just too small' - go hang your heads in shame. Does any one say, for example, that Boyd Rankin is just too big? Eng's obsession with inches: tripe!

  • corey on January 16, 2014, 4:53 GMT

    sorry steve i dont think you will get a game as there are too many englishmen in the team, if you were south african or a new zealander you might get a look in

  • Dummy4 on January 16, 2014, 3:19 GMT

    I have to agree with Jackiethepen. The treatment of Taylor is embarrassing. A hugely talented young man that has obviously got on the wrong side of someone in the upper management. Root is good but he's no better than any of the other young batsmen coming through, yet he is allowed to fail time and again. There needs to be a serious clear out of England's backroom staff after this tour. Things have got so bad if they put Ray Illingworth back in charge it couldn't get any worse.

  • Andrew on January 16, 2014, 1:58 GMT

    I think the England guys have been over coached. Finn had a problem with his knee hitting the stumps - well just move a half step to the left - ,also the rule about a no-ball being awarded when the stumps are broken by the bowler is the most ridiculous rule I've seen. It actually disadvantages the bowling side as the bail is already removed - why a no-ball. I can't understand why people aren't up in arms about this. I also think Root is fine just young, he needs to just rethink his batting on his own. He should never have been promoted to No 3 - way ahead of his time, but he'll come back. Gee you Poms you eat your own. All will come back together with Kerrigan. The hardest done by is Pietersen, THE quality bat in England's side & look how he's been mucked about. Pick & Stick, form is temporary but class is permanent. Hope England don't do what we did last couple of years & England in the 90's & keep the faith

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