Can it really be that Steven Finn is turning 30? Few fast bowlers in English cricket have been so talked up and talked down in the course of a single career. From the precocity of his maiden tour of Bangladesh in the spring of 2010, to the biomechanical misery of his second Ashes campaign four years later, perhaps the one thing that has kept Finn so firmly lodged in England's peripheral vision has been his seemingly eternal youth, and the promise of a better future.

Well, without labouring the point, big birthdays have a habit of bringing that future rushing rather rudely into the here and now. Is there still time for the real Steven Finn to please stand up, before it's all too late?

"I had a party about two weeks ago and I think about 30 people wished me happy birthday, so I was very keen to tell them I still had two weeks of my 20s left!" Finn tells ESPNcricinfo on the eve of Middlesex's County Championship campaign. "So yeah, turning 30 … it's nine years now since I first played cricket for England, so it's starting to feel a long time ago, but I certainly don't feel old by any stretch of the imagination. Hopefully there's some life in me yet."

Fitness permitting, there's no reason why there should not be plenty of life left in Finn. The last 18 months of his career have been eaten up by a knee injury that ruled him out of the 2017-18 Ashes tour after the first nets session of the tour, and following a hampered 2018 summer, he underwent surgery in the winter just gone to remove a benign tumour.

But assuming all that is behind him - and, touch wood, the prognosis is encouraging - Finn's natural attributes remain every bit as alluring as he enters his fourth decade. When on song, reaching high with his beanpole frame and pushing 90mph with that awkward kick from a good length, Finn has always had that rare and enviable ability to rattle the very best, and so keep himself lurking on the fringes of another recall.

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It's been the bits in between whiles that have always been the problem, such as his perceived failure, on his maiden Ashes tour in 2010-11, to keep the runs down at the same time that he was scalping 14 wickets in the first three Tests of the series - more than any other bowler on either side. And the expectation thereafter that he could iron out those aberrations and turn himself into England's answer to Glenn McGrath, a line-and-length merchant with an ugly bouncer up his sleeve.

It was, in hindsight, a ridiculous expectation, but one that had seemed attainable at the time, because the one thing that Finn has always had on his side was time.

In 2011, at the age of 22 years and 63 days, he became the youngest England bowler to reach 50 Test wickets, breaking Ian Botham's record along the way, no less. And even when his career, and technique, tumbled down the rabbit-hole in his lost years of 2013 and 2014, the manner in which he roared back to action in the 2015 Ashes - ripping up second-innings figures of 6 for 79 at Edgbaston to seal a 2-1 series lead - suggested that it could all come back together again as quickly as it had fallen apart.

"I think that my goal has always been to bowl as quick as I can, but accurately," Finn says. "I've never looked to take my foot off the throttle, but there've been times in my career when I've been criticised for being too expensive and that's when I probably did bowl quicker.

"I leaked runs but I took wickets, so then I tried to focus on where the ball was going and probably lost five miles an hour of pace. So then you're a bit more consistent but not as threatening … so it sounds a bit clichéd but balancing the two would be great. Obviously not many people in the history of the game have been able to do that, and that's why it's so challenging, and why you do have ups and downs with it."

Right now, however, the word from the shires - or more specifically, from Mike Selvey, Middlesex's new club president, who was watching approvingly from the sidelines during the club's warm-up against Oxford MCCU last week - is that Finn is looking fast and nasty again. And, irrespective of circumstance, there are few sightings on the county circuit more certain to get the pulses of the faithful racing.

"Selv wasn't wearing his glasses though, which worries me, I don't know if he could see that far!" Finn jokes. "But yeah, I do feel in a good place. I've had a good opportunity to work on some things that, when you're on the treadmill of playing cricket 12 months a year, you don't actually get the opportunity to do. And now that my knee feels better, I can put in some really good work on it, but the proof it will be in the pudding, it will be in the results.

"The simple focus for me this year is just hit the track as hard as I can. If I'm slightly shorter of a length, or fuller of a length, I don't actually care because it means I'm hitting the deck hard, and that's the one simple goal that Stuart Law [Middlesex's new head coach] has given me this year, to be that guy that hits the deck hard.

"If I do bowl slightly shorter, then so be it. I think that floating it out there and trying to swing it, or trying to be pretty and get outside edges all the time, probably isn't the way I've got my wickets over the course of my career. But now that I'm a little bit older and understand where my strengths lie, I think that gives me a goal for the summer. Hopefully, it'll bring me wickets, and bring us wickets as a team."

It's the continuation of a promise that Finn seemed to make to himself in the wake of his Ashes setback in December 2017, when he spoke of how the county grind can "suck the pace" out of fast bowlers, turning the season into a war of attrition in which survival can sometimes feel more important that making a telling impact.

"If I was going tell myself anything if I was younger again," he had said at the time, "it would be keep bowling as fast as you can, because if you take wickets that'll look after itself."

I'd love to play for England again. I look at myself in the mirror and if I wasn't motivated to do that, then I'd question what I'm doing

And he ought to be aided in that quest this summer by the enviable depth of seam-bowling options in Middlesex's ranks - with Toby Roland-Jones returning to fitness after his stress fracture of the back, and the likes of Tom Helm, Martin Andersson, Tim Murtagh and James Harris all competing for selection as well.

"I think treadmill's a funny word to use because we're very blessed to be able to play a game that we love as a job professionally," Finn says. "But that freshness is a very important thing. And I think for everyone as fast bowler, when you are tired, you do groove bad habits

"So, if you look at our top-strength line-up, there's probably seven or eight guys who could play first-team cricket, so I think that gives everyone confidence that it's a squad effort.

"There will be frustrations that come with that, because there will be times you feel great and you're told you're resting, but I think we realise here this year though, no person is bigger than the communal goal, which is winning trophies at the end of the year."

The individual goal, however, cannot be discounted in Finn's case, particularly given that England's hosting of the World Cup in June and July has delayed the Test leg of the summer by two months - ample time for any number of candidates to make a strong case through the power of their performances, but particularly one with a proven track record at international level.

"There's going to have been lots of cricket played by the time the Ashes come round," says Finn. "It's such a big series that I think it will be a horses-for-courses selection, with whoever's doing the best at the time in with a chance.

"If I put my focus on that, I think that's a bad thing, but I certainly think I'm capable of doing a job for England, as I have done in the past. It's my ultimate goal because I love representing England. Getting that buzz, and being in that environment for your country is something I'm very passionate about still.

"But there are a lot of bridges to cross until we get to that stage. And that first one, is this week against Northamptonshire."

Whatever Finn's fate may be in the course of the 2019 season, the identity of the men ahead of him in the England pecking order remain exactly the same as they've been for the entirety of his international career. At some stage, surely, England will need a new pace spearhead to replace James Anderson and Stuart Broad, but the fact that they are still both going strong at the respective ages of 36 and 32 both confirms how many years Finn could yet have left in his career, but also how hard it may be to get back into the mix.

"I feel like we've been talking about this for last three or four years, and they just keep going and going," he says. "With his action and the way that he's done it so far, Jimmy could keep playing for England until he's about 45, he could have 1000 Test wickets by them. Those guys have been outstanding servants and whoever has to fill those boots it's going to be a very tough job to do.

"I'd love to play for England again. I look at myself in the mirror and if I wasn't motivated to do that, then I'd question what I'm doing, especially at the age that I am. But I'll just keep hoping that my knee feels good as the season goes on, and that hopefully I'm building up a head of steam by the end of it.

"But we'll see what happens. I'm certainly not pinning my summer on being selected for that Ashes series. At the moment, my focus is very much just Middlesex, helping this club that I have played for for the last 14 or 15 years, helping us to achieve the things that we should be capable of with the squad of players that we have."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @miller_cricket