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.