By now, Steven Finn was supposed to be a key part of England’s bowling attack. Fast, tall, menacing, a taker of wickets; he has it all as a speed merchant.
When he was summoned today to the cause for the fourth Test at Old Trafford, which starts on Thursday, it was the first but highly significant step in his rehabilitation as an international cricketer. If he really is back, in a sense greater than merely being recalled to the squad, it will be immensely good news for England.
He will replace Liam Plunkett in the cadre of 13 for the match, with the Investec series standing at 1-1. Plunkett, himself making rapid progress on the comeback trail this season, has been forced to withdraw with an injury to his left ankle. Finn’s place in the England Lions squad for their upcoming matches against Sri Lanka A and New Zealand A goes to Boyd Rankin of Warwickshire.
Although Plunkett was omitted for the match at Southampton, which England won by 266 runs, it was confirmed yesterday that he first felt a twitch in his ankle after the Lord’s match so was probably not fit for selection.
There were heavy hints that Plunkett’s speed would see him earn a recall at Old Trafford on what is expected to be the quickest Test pitch of the summer. Given Finn’s pace allied to height that allows him to extract bounce, that suggests he may not simply be along for the ride.
For Finn, it all started to go wrong last year and there were warning signs before he took his place in the team for the first Test of last summer’s Ashes. He secured England’s first two wickets of the series but in the second innings lost his sense of direction completely.
He has not played a Test since, though he was part of the giant fast-bowler strategy for the winter Ashes tour which never remotely took off. Out of sorts for the entire trip, he reached a stage where it was impossible to pick him for any form of cricket, let alone a Test XI, because he could hardly let go of the ball.
England’s fast-bowling coach, David Saker, said: “We’ve tried different things, he has worked extremely hard in the nets, he always does. Some weeks we moved a long way forward and some weeks we moved a long way backwards. That was pretty much the whole story of the whole trip.”
It took England until the start of the one-day series Down Under to admit that they dare not select Finn and that he needed a break. Those who saw him operating in the Melbourne nets before the fourth Test (as it happens, on the day Graeme Swann announced his retirement) were astonished to see a bowler faltering in his run-up who was struggling to propel the ball down to the batsman’s end.
Finn began the season with Middlesex by taking 6 for 80 against Sussex at Hove and followed it immediately with 5 for 91 against Nottinghamshire at Lord’s. He has always had the happy knack of taking wickets but observers insisted that something was still lacking.
Since then he has had steady if unspectacular returns with five four-wicket hauls which have given him 44 Championship wickets. He has recently started taking the new ball again, though oddly enough his worst first-class figures of the season were the 0 for 88 in 20 overs he had in his most recent match for Middlesex, a 220-run defeat at Scarborough a fortnight ago.
The England selectors, among whose number is Angus Fraser, the Middlesex director of cricket, will have pondered long and hard before making this call. If Finn’s powers are restored India’s ribs will be tickled in a way not entirely to their liking.Reuse content