Steven Finn’s recall by England represents a remarkable revival. When he returned from Australia last winter he might not have been a broken man but his bowling action was in pieces.
Simply, Finn had forgotten how to be a fast bowler. He was struggling to release the ball and when he managed that elementary part of the craft he had no real control over where it was going.
What followed, after a three-week break when he tried to forget about cricket and what it was doing to him, was a painstaking reconstruction of an international professional cricketer. The extent of what needed to be done was quite shocking.
“When I looked into his eyes I think I saw how deeply it went,” said Angus Fraser, the director of cricket at Middlesex who has seen Finn develop from a scrawny, promising teenager.
“We have been very attentive to him because we want him to realise fully his talents as a bowler and because he’s a bloody good man. Of course, you’d do it for anybody but it helps if they’re just a good man as well.”
In early February, Finn set to work with the Middlesex bowling coach, Richard Johnson, whose technical expertise is widely acknowledged. It was not as though Finn, with 90 Test wickets, was 12 again and learning the rudiments of bowling, but he still had to take baby steps.
He started by bowling from a run-up of three or four yards into the netting and then went into the indoor school, extending it a little further. It was a gradual process aimed at restoring Finn to what he had once been.
As a fast bowler, Finn had, maybe has, two remarkable quirks. He kept falling over to his left after he had delivered the ball and he knocked the bails off with a twitch of his right knee close to the moment of release.
Gradually, he seemed to iron out the former. The latter developed later and became such a contentious issue at international level that the laws were changed to cover it. Now if a bowler knocks off the bails, it is deemed to be a no ball.
Finn is still falling occasionally and his knee has come into contact with the bails now and then this season. But these may be little individual peculiarities which are worth accepting.
There was no single reason for the unravelling, which occurred over a long period. Finn, who in 23 Test matches has 90 wickets at a shade under 30 runs each, now seems to accept that bail dislodging was a factor, which was allied to the attempt to shorten his run.
“It can be little things and you alter one and then you find you might have to amend another,” Fraser said today. “It may be like taking a wrong left turn and then you take a right turn to try to get back to where you were and then before long you are lost.”
The way back was a delicate journey. Hours of work, a return to the long run which he had used for most of his career and which had taken him into the Test team, culminated in his first game back, a warm-up for Middlesex against Surrey ahead of the season. It was at Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood and the plan was for Finn to resume his career in front of a man and a dog if they were sufficiently hardy to turn up.
There were 300 people, a BBC crew and a smattering of reporters. Finn was big news. People wanted to see how he performed. This was a test of his mettle which he passed.
In the four months since, there have been others. Finn made sufficient progress to start in the county’s Championship side. He was molly-coddled. Nobody expected too much of him.
It was no doubt one of the reasons he was happy to sign a new three-year contract with the county today.
The length of the run-up was perhaps the root cause of everything. David Saker, the estimable England bowling coach who knows about bowlers’ temperaments the way a psychiatrist knows his patients’ minds, spent months persuading him to shorten it. There was talk of Finn hitting 100mph when England were in New Zealand in early 2013. He did not. He then played in the first Ashes Test of last summer but that was his most recent Test outing.
Finn is a natural athlete who hits his peak pace early in his run and sustains it to the crease. The plan was that if he hit his maximum pace early he did not need the rest of the run and could thereby preserve energy. At first it worked, soon it did not.
On the long run, Finn had time to gather his thoughts, to make sure everything would be right when he hit the business end. The shorter run rushed the process. Perhaps he was given too much advice from too many quarters.
“Nobody gave Steven advice with the intention of mucking him up,” said Fraser. “Everyone wanted to help and if Steven didn’t take the advice he would be accused of not wanting to learn. Everybody’s to blame, yet nobody’s to blame.”
Fraser, wearing both his selectorial and personal hats, which can sometimes be an uncomfortable fit, is certain Finn, who is only 25 years of age, is ready for the big time again.
The other day in a Twenty20 match at Lord’s, Middlesex were playing Surrey, who had Tillekeratne Dilshan, Kevin Pietersen and the man of the moment Jason Roy in their batting line-up. The house was full, the expectation high. Finn gave them all the hurry up. But only if and when he bowls his first over at Old Trafford can anybody, selectors most of all, be sure.