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Finn Allen braced for trial by spin as he prepares for Lancashire T20 Blast debut

Young New Zealand star leaning on tips from Maxwell and de Villiers in RCB nets

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Allen in the Lancashire nets at Emirates Old Trafford  •  Allan McKenzie/SWpix

Allen in the Lancashire nets at Emirates Old Trafford  •  Allan McKenzie/SWpix

In the era of comprehensive video analysis and advanced data, there is nowhere for young T20 batters to hide. After a brief honeymoon period, in which teams have limited access to footage of a player and have to work plans out on the spot, analysts and coaches can get to work by poring over every shot in their career to come up with a strategy to counter them.
Finn Allen knows he is no different. After hitting a competition-high 512 runs for Wellington in this year's Super Smash (averaging 56.88 and striking at 193.93) and earning a New Zealand T20I debut and a deal with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, Allen has arrived in Manchester ahead of a T20 Blast stint with Lancashire as a marked man, with teams scrambling to work out how to limit the damage he can cause.
That much was apparent in his only warm-up innings, against Nottinghamshire's last week in a 2nd XI T20. Notts threw the new ball to Samit Patel, the veteran left-arm spinner, and Allen whipped the first ball he faced through midwicket for four. To his second, he charged down the pitch, only to see Patel rip one past his outside edge to have him stumped. North Group teams, take note.
"Teams will potentially see that as a way in," Allen admits, speaking via Zoom from his room in the on-site hotel at Emirates Old Trafford. "I think my strike rate is a little bit lower against spin [181.81 across his T20 career, compared to an eye-watering 204.69 against seam] but I'd like to think I'm a good player of spin and that it will give me a chance to play my array of shots and think about planning my innings differently.
"I have thought a little bit about it. I did some work before going to India [for the IPL] around being less one-dimensional. I've obviously had a very aggressive approach and still do, but for me, it's about being able to hit similar balls in different areas, or moving around so I can access different areas of the ground, especially if one side is closed off by the bowler. That's what I've been working on the most, trying to manipulate the ball a bit better - still playing strong shots, but potentially being a bit harder to bowl at."
Lancashire have bowled more overs of spin than anyone else in the Blast over the past three seasons, pushing the boundaries back at Old Trafford and playing on used pitches in a concerted effort to play to their own strengths, and for Allen - whose success to date has largely been on postage-stamp grounds in New Zealand on flat surfaces - that provides a fresh challenge, for which his time with RCB in the IPL served as ideal preparation.
"I have heard that Old Trafford tends to spin, especially when pitches are used, [but after] India, I've had a lot of experience playing a lot more spin that I was used to, and on turning wickets as well. My main focus over there was being able to get close to the ball when it's spinning. I like to sweep and reverse-sweep, so [was] working on those when it's spinning and bouncing which I've already experienced out here in the nets and in the middle.
"It's a little bit different over there: when it's spinning a bit more, you have to get close to the ball so you can have a bit more control. It'll be interesting to see what it's like out here when pitches are a little bit used. I was learning off [Glenn] Maxwell and AB [de Villiers] - they're pretty good players of spin, so pretty useful to talk to about how they go about it, as you can imagine."
"He had long blond hair, he didn't really drink, he didn't score a hundred in the league, but he was a good lad. Snapchat and Love Island was about all we got from him."
James Overy, Allen's opening partner at Brondesbury CC in 2017
This will be Allen's first season in the UK since 2017, when he used his British passport to travel over as a teenager and spend the summer playing for the MCC Young Cricketers and for Brondesbury in the Middlesex Premier Division. He arrived for his club stint with glowing recommendations from Glenn Phillips - who had played for both teams the previous summer - and Bob Carter, then New Zealand's batting coach, but it was not until an innings of 275 off 124 balls in a 40-over friendly that they realised they had a special player on their hands.
"We were pretty excited when we heard he was coming over," James Overy, the club's current captain, says. "We knew his pedigree was pretty high but then in one of his first friendlies he got 275 - I was blocking it up the other end while he just went ballistic, hitting every ball for six towards the back end.
"His best knock was 90 not out off 56 balls in the league in our record run-chase. He didn't consistently score runs, but he probably won us four games single-handedly, and when he scored runs, we won, which is kind of what you're after. He had long blond hair, he didn't really drink, he didn't score a hundred in the league, but he was a good lad. Snapchat and Love Island was about all we got from him."
"It was my first year out of school," Allen recalls. "I was in a different stage of my career, and was playing a lot more three-day cricket in terms of the red-ball stuff and that was how I'd seen my career going at that stage, but this season, moving [from Auckland] to Wellington and getting the confidence boost from the coach to express myself against the white ball was pretty good. Playing that amount of cricket at that age was really good for me."
He is still part of Brondesbury's WhatsApp chat, and remains in touch with Lulu Lytle - the designer behind the controversial renovation of Boris Johnson's Downing Street flat - and her family, who hosted him for six months. "I'd like to think I'd grown up a little bit since then," Allen laughs, "but I'm still looking forward to the new Love Island coming out in a few weeks' time."
Allen is expected to open the batting against Derbyshire in Lancashire's opening game on Wednesday afternoon, but with Jos Buttler available for the first six games and Alex Davies and Liam Livingstone also in the squad, there is a logjam of options at the top of the order in what looks like one of the North Group's strongest squads.
And he is already eyeing up the two Roses fixtures, after watching Lancashire's raucous celebrations following their four-day win over Yorkshire from his balcony while quarantining last weekend. "You could see how passionate they all were to win the game. I've heard a lot of chat about the rivalry: Maxi shed a bit of light on it over in India, and what it's like playing in the away games and getting a bit of stick from the crowd, which will be nice.
"I've watched a lot of [the Blast] back home on TV, and can already tell it's quite a good standard… With all the overseas players, it's probably a bit of a step up from what I've come from in the Super Smash. I'm hoping to be tested and learn from that. It was a no-brainer for me coming over: it's a step forward in my career, an opportunity to win titles, learn and play in different conditions, and to put my name up there and show people what I can do."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98