Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh

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The Independent Online

The time was just on quarter past four. Steven Finn was running in from the Pavilion End, limbs pumping and the boisterous Birmingham crowd cheering every stride as he delivered his hat-trick ball.

Mitchell Marsh shouldered arms and it flew off the pitch and into the hands of wicketkeeper Jos Buttler. A huge cheer erupted but it was nothing compared with the noise moments earlier as Finn cemented England’s advantage with the wickets of Michael Clarke and Adam Voges in successive deliveries.

Finn had already accounted for Australia’s golden boy Steve Smith, collecting that significant scalp for the second time in this match. Clarke, too, was a first-innings victim of the Middlesex bowler. By the time Finn was limbering up for that hat-trick ball to Marsh, Australia were 76 for 4, still 69 runs in arrears, and staring down the barrel of the first two-day defeat in an Ashes Test since 1921. The venue then was across the Midlands at Trent Bridge.

When England arrive in Nottingham next week they look certain to have a 2-1 series lead. But they appear likely to be without James Anderson, who pulled up midway through his ninth over with what England termed a “tight side”.

 

He was assessed by team medics this evening, but with side strains usually taking at least six weeks to heal, Anderson’s prospects for the series do not look good.

On his 33rd birthday, it was the one thing Anderson and England would not have wished for. His injury and likely absence means Finn, just one match into his Test comeback after a two-year absence at this level, looks as though he will have to lead England’s attack at Trent Bridge alongside Stuart Broad.

Nottingham, of course, was the scene of Finn’s last Test before this, in July 2013. His wayward performance with the ball almost cost his side an Ashes Test they eventually won by only 14 runs.

It was the start of a downward spiral for the Watford-born bowler that would, six months later, lead to him being branded “unselectable” by Ashley Giles, then England’s limited-overs coach, after he had sent him home from a nightmare tour of Australia. By the end of his stay in Australia in 2013-14, Finn had totally lost his action. As with the yips for golfers or the “dart-itis” that brought an end to the career of Eric Bristow, Finn’s professional life was in the balance. However, he went back to Middlesex and, alongside the guidance of Angus Fraser, the former England seamer and current selector, Finn rebuilt himself from scratch.

There had been signs last summer of a revival in his fortunes. He then returned to the international fold for the limited-overs tours of Sri Lanka and then Australia and New Zealand, which culminated in the World Cup campaign.

Before that tournament, though, Finn had shown how far he had come in a  Tri-Series game against India in Brisbane, where he took his maiden one-day international five-wicket haul.

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Steven Finn takes the wicket of Adam Voges (Getty)

Back then Finn had said: “A lot has happened in the last 12 months, it’s pretty much a year to the day where I went home from that tour of Australia. But that corner has been turned – I felt like I turned it a little while ago – and all of that stuff’s in the past and I’m really just looking forward.”

He has looked forward with increasing optimism since returning to Middlesex this summer. Seasoned observers at the county have been raving about his form, a return of 27 wickets at 27.85 not a true reflection of his actual potency. That was clear for all to see here at Edgbaston as the extra bounce he generated from a lively pitch had a succession of Australian batsmen struggling to cope.

After the drama of the hat-trick ball, Finn came back to get Marsh eventually, bowling him with a rapid delivery that uprooted his middle stump. It is the kind of dismissal that makes fast bowlers purr and fans scream. The lively Eric Hollies Stand, who have been goading Mitchell Johnson all match, had a new hero. That spell had seen Finn take three wickets for 12 runs in 17 balls.

The biggest roar from the Hollies stand, though, came when Finn dismissed Johnson late in the day to seal his first five-wicket haul at this level since the Auckland Test of March 2013. “There have been dark times along the way but it makes those good times more satisfying,” Finn said. “Every cricketer goes through highs and lows, and to come through is pleasing.”

One man who knows a thing or two about fast bowling is Glenn McGrath, the Australian still the game’s leading seamer with 563 wickets. His verdict on Finn? “Simply unplayable.”

There were 25,000 people here and five Australia batsmen who would agree.

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