England's primacy may end, but Finn's star is on the rise
Finn has eradicated his problems and learnt to use the width of the crease
Monday 20 August 2012
How close Steven Finn came to not playing in this Test we will never know. But what is certain is that the selection of the 23-year-old seamer over Tim Bresnan was brave – and that the bravery has been repaid.
Unlike Bresnan, who has a Test top score of 91, the Middlesex man offers next to nothing with the bat, although a 32-run, ninth-wicket partnership with Graeme Swann in the first innings could yet prove vital.
The two Andrews, captain Strauss and coach Flower, risked weakening a batting line-up already bereft of Kevin Pietersen, but did so because something special was needed in order to beat South Africa. Yesterday, Finn did his utmost to provide it.
Steaming in on his home ground, Finn created the finest spell of his fledgling career, first in ripping up the stumps of centurion Hashim Amla. It was an archetypal beauty, swinging in and then nipping away to dislodge the off-stump.
Amla's dismissal was welcome but, at 259 for five, more was needed. Just 17 minutes later, Finn again came up with the goods with a clever piece of bowling.
During the last Test match, Finn had South Africa skipper Graeme Smith caught by Strauss at first slip, only for Australian umpire Steve Davis to call a dead ball, as the seamer had dislodged the bails in his follow through. Not only has Finn worked with bowling coach David Saker to eradicate this problem, but he also has learnt to use the width of the entire crease.
To dismiss AB De Villiers, Finn jumped out wide, thus creating an angle from where the ball straightened to catch the outside edge of the South African's bat and fly into the welcoming hands of the England skipper. It was the kind of intelligent bowling – allied with pace and vicious bounce – that helps to explain the hype that has surrounded Finn since he made his debut for the national team against Bangladesh in March 2010.
In the first innings, it could be argued that Finn was lucky to claim the wickets of Jacques Kallis and Alviro Petersen with strangles down the leg side, but there was no luck here; numerous jaffas proved that.
Finn has taken wickets consistently through his first 15 Tests but often serendipitously and without any seeming control. Now we had the game-changing spell we were waiting for, and just when England needed it most.
He was not quite finished, either. Jacques Rudolph was Finn's final victim, edging another virtually unplayable delivery to Matt Prior.
When Rudolph fell, the Proteas' lead was an achievable 276. Unfortunately, though Finn's team-mates did not disgrace themselves with the ball, none could match the youngster's impact.
Another couple of pesky tail-end partnerships propped up the South Africa innings – just as they had in the first dig – and England suddenly found themselves battling to save their No 1 Test ranking. However, in defeat they may well have found their next No 1 Test seamer.
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