Ashes 2015: The men who made Steve Finn mighty again

Fast bowler's career looked to be hanging in balance but help from the likes of Ohuruogu's running guru has seen him revitalised at the perfect time

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The Independent Online

“Let’s just say he wasn’t full of the joys of spring,” says Middlesex’s bowling coach, Richard Johnson, the man widely credited with resurrecting the career of Steve Finn.

The revitalised England fast bowler was man of the match on his return to the Test side at Edgbaston after taking a Test-best 6 for 79 in Australia’s second innings in the Third Ashes Test, for match figures of 8 for 117. But his mood in the early months of 2014 was hardly surprising given the winter of discontent he had just endured Down Under on an Ashes tour that proved a sobering experience for the 6ft 7in paceman – and English cricket in general. The contrast to the celebratory scenes in Birmingham last week could hardly be greater.

Bowling at speeds approaching 90mph, Finn ripped through Australia’s top order, obtaining the type of steep bounce and movement that has long singled him out as one of international cricket’s most potentially potent pace bowlers.

Finn, who was the fastest England bowler to 50 Test wickets, has a Test strike-rate of 46.2, which is the best by an English bowler since the Second World War. Yet in the chill of winter 18 months ago, it looked as if that statistic would remain one of the great anomalies – with Finn’s ability to take wickets matched only by his propensity to frustrate and confound the best efforts of England’s coaching staff.

Sent home from that disastrous Ashes tour in January 2014 as the only player not to appear in the Test series and labelled “unselectable” by the then one-day coach Ashley Giles, Finn’s international career hung by a thread.

“On most Ashes tours now you don’t get any games between Test matches, you don’t get a chance to play any matches,” says fellow paceman Chris Tremlett, who was in that touring party. “Steve was bowling at a stump, the management took him out of bowling at batters most of the time. He did his own drills, his own technique stuff.

 

“I remember at Perth, it was 45C and he was bowling at a stump on his own for an hour and a half. He just needed to get away from it, get some games and find some confidence, that’s what it’s all about. You saw in this game how wickets can change a bowler – Steve got those wickets in the first innings and his speed went up immediately.”

Test scalps were the last thing on his mind as Finn trudged into the Lord’s indoor school to work with Johnson after his chastening experience in Australia. “One of the first things we discussed was how we could not only get him back to where he was as a bowler but then get him to be better than he was,” says Johnson. “That was the benchmark we set.

“Myself and Kevin Shine [the ECB’s lead fast bowling coach] felt very strongly that it was a technical issue. We felt if we could get his technique back and get him back to the basics then the confidence would inevitably follow. We talked a lot about hurdles and overcoming them, and piece by piece the confidence returned as the technique got better and he began delivering the ball the way he wanted.”

With the help of Raph Brandon, the ECB’s head of sports science who had previously worked closely with Olympic 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu, Finn then addressed the run-up problems which had dogged him since he played against South Africa in the summer of 2012.

In addition to repeatedly falling over in his follow-through, his habit of knocking off the bails in his delivery stride became a focus of South Africa’s then captain Graeme Smith and led to a change in the law. Such incidents are now called a no-ball rather than a dead ball. It cost him two Test wickets, but more seriously it threatened to derail his career.

“We had to get that run-up back,” says Johnson. “We showed him old footage of when he was at his best. It was very smooth and bouncy and it has taken a lot of work to get that right. Deep down he still knew he could do it, he just had to find it. It’s very difficult running in and bowling and not getting wickets or even getting selected. There’s a lot of soul-searching that goes on.”

With Jimmy Anderson definitely missing at Trent Bridge for the Fourth Test which starts on Thursday, Finn will now assume joint responsibility for leading the England attack with Stuart Broad.

According to Bob Willis, who took 325 wickets in 90 Tests for England, it’s a burden that he can carry. Willis believes that Finn need only look at Australian quick Mitchell Johnson’s career to convince himself that his best days are still ahead of him.

“There are definite parallels,” says Willis. “Mitchell Johnson has had some dark times in his career, getting injured, having a long spell out of the side and then coming back with a bang after a couple of humiliating experiences out in the middle of the cricket field.

“A lot of people forget that he was left out of the side in Australia on the tour before the whitewash. He was leading wicket-taker at the time but he was going for a lot of runs. That goes with the territory, though. You have attacking fields and you concede runs. The object of winning Test matches is getting 20 wickets and Steve has that happy knack.”

That tendency to leak runs has played a huge part in Finn’s stop-start Test career, with previous England regimes favouring bowlers capable of building pressure rather than tearing batting line-ups apart. “The plan was to really stop the opposition from scoring and getting wickets through pressure,” says Tremlett. “I guess Steve is never going to be that kind of bowler but what he has  always done is take wickets.”

His eight wickets at Edgbaston showed that, at 26, he is back to best, and no-one was more delighted than Johnson. “It was hugely satisfying to see him do that in an Ashes Test,” he says. “I was delighted because he’s a guy who has never stopped working to get to where he wants to go.”

With the Ashes in sight and after one of cricket’s most circuitous journeys, Finn, like England, might now be on the final straight.

Sky Sports is showing every ball of the Ashes summer live and exclusive

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