How I helped mould Finn into danger man of England's attack
The 6ft 7in paceman's Middlesex mentor, Angus Fraser, explains why the England fast bowler is ready to star Down Under
Tuesday 23 November 2010
"Get your bloody feet off the table," barked Terry Finn to his son, Steven, as we sat enjoying a pint at West Herts Cricket Club in Watford. To be fair to Steven, the exciting young fast bowler whom England hope will rough up Australia's finest during the course of the next two months in the Ashes, he had taken his shoes off before delicately plonking his size 12 feet on the edge of the coffee table that stood before us. Steven, being the well-mannered and respectful young man that he is, did as his father asked without fuss.
Finn and I had arranged to meet Terry and David Williams, a close family friend, at West Herts CC for a cleansing ale after a pleasant lunch at Langan's Brasserie in Central London. I had taken Steven out to congratulate him on having a wonderful summer, during which he took 28 Bangladesh and Pakistan Test wickets at an average of 20.2.
On the back of such performances Finn was recently named as the outstanding young cricketer in the world by the International Cricket Council, the game's governing body. It is an award that means he is currently one of the most exciting and envied sportsmen on the planet. As a fast bowler Finn has it all. He is tall, athletic, fit and bloody good at what he does. He has the potential to be exceptional. Away from cricket he is gifted, too, being eloquent, modest and smart. Unsurprisingly, the trappings of success are fast coming his way. He now drives a spanking new 6-litre Jaguar car, wears a handsome Breitling watch, owns a pleasant flat in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, and in Lucy he has a gorgeous girlfriend. For a 21-year-old he is doing pretty well.
It is a trifle early to say that Finn's career has reached a crossroads, but sport is littered with young men who have raced to the position he finds himself in yet failed to go on to achieve what many believe they should – greatness. Like all young men Finn enjoys the privileges and perks that come his way but I feel he has a better chance than most of achieving his goals by maintaining a perspective on life and where he is.
He is surrounded by a good family and friends. Terry, who was an aggressive and grumpy left-arm seamer in his day, doesn't mince his words. If Finn has bowled poorly he tells him so. Terry couldn't give a damn about all the flash stuff that has come his son's way – all he cares about is Steven bowling and behaving well, and making the most of the wonderful opportunity he has. If ever Finn needs a kick up the backside or someone to tell him his fortune his father will do it. Whether Finn continues to listen to the old man is largely down to him, but as the incident at West Herts CC showed, the omens are good.
The immediate concern for England's cricket fans, however, is not where Finn will be in five years time, it is how he will cope with the pressure and spotlight of performing on the biggest stage in cricket – the Ashes. The signs so far, from both Finn and Andrew Strauss's team, are once again good but, as those of us who have toured Down Under before know, things can change very quickly in Australia.
As Stephen Harmison showed four years ago, when his first ball went straight to Andrew Flintoff at second slip, playing in an Ashes series in Australia can get to you. The history of bygone battles and the images of Mike Gatting's side smashing the Aussies in 1986-87 make it the tour every player wants to go on, but it can be a nerve-racking experience. At times it was for me. On my first Ashes tour in 1990-91 there were many occasions when I simply could not watch England bat. I used to go and hide in the physio's room or find a quiet corner of the dressing room, turn on my discman and close my eyes to try to get away from the pressure for a while. But the noises from the crowd made even that impossible. Every cheer was louder than the music I was listening too and when a roar went up I spent five horrible seconds working out whether it was a boundary or a wicket.
Downtime Down Under is great but it can be dangerous because you want for nothing down there. At times, as several players have found out, it can be too accommodating. The sun, beaches, hotels, restaurants and general social lifestyle has distracted many players, some to the extent that they have forgotten the principal reason why they are there.
The thrill of travelling around this exotic country is new to Finn and several other members of the England squad but the current England management, unlike those in the past, are stricter and will not allow this to happen. Modern tours are far more serious than those of 25 years ago.
Finn continues to be very complimentary about my involvement in his development but I feel it has been minimal. We talk a bit about technique but I have had very little to do with him technically. Much of that work was done with Toby Radford, the former Middlesex coach, before I returned to the club. All I have done is allow him to bowl and have encouraged him to learn from his mistakes.
The trend for a lot of young bowlers is to over-analyse things and to try to be too precise. Before Middlesex's first game of the 2010 season at Worcester Finn was upset with the way he was bowling. He left a session kicking his water bottle to the boundary. In the winter he had been working with England and was stressing himself out because when bowling he was not pitching the ball on its seam as much as he wanted.
Richard Johnson, Middlesex's bowling coach, and I told him to "stop being so bloody soft" and just to "concentrate on hitting a good length hard and by doing the basics right you'll increase the chances of being consistently competitive." I told him a story about his hero Glenn McGrath, who regularly missed the seam but still took 563 wickets in Test cricket at an average of around 21. It took some time but we finally got a smile out of him.
In the game against Worcestershire he bowled magnificently taking 14 wickets in the match. In Worcestershire's second innings he took 9 for 37, the best figures of the summer. Not a bad effort for someone who wasn't hitting the seam as regularly as he wanted. Hopefully a lesson was learnt, namely hitting the seam is important but it is not as important as pitching the ball consistently on a good length.
One of the many good things about Finn is he loves talking bowling and that is where I have probably been of greatest assistance. Quite often when Middlesex are batting we will sit in the Long Room at Lord's for an hour or so and just chat about bowling. We work together in the nets where I try to get him to keep things as simple as possible.
My role is more in a mentoring capacity. We bounce ideas around, talk things through. He uses me as a sounding board when looking for advice on what he should do with the many off-field opportunities that are coming his way. He enjoys having someone he can turn to for honest, independent advice.
As the most inexperienced member of England's probable attack, Australia's batsmen will look to get after Finn. Ricky Ponting and Co will know that he will be nervous and looking to find his way in Brisbane. With this in mind they will attempt to undermine his confidence as soon as they can.
It is a tactic that many teams adopt but it does come with risks because if the bowler bowls well the chances of him taking wickets heightens significantly. For Finn, how he comes through the early exchanges will have a major influence on how effective he is in the series.
Finn's start in international cricket has been sensational but he knows the figures representing what happened last summer are slightly flattering. There were times when his bowling deserved the rewards it received but there were also occasions when he, and England, were helped by some extremely ordinary Bangladesh and Pakistan batting.
His performances have raised expectations and in many people's eyes he is already the new Glenn McGrath. Such comparisons are unfair because Finn is still some way from being the finished article. He is aware of this, as are the people who work with and know him. Comparisons with McGrath are dangerous because Finn will have off days, days where people will question whether he is as good as he has been built up to be. Patience needs to be shown and it will be rewarded.
It is not only the media and England supporters who need to show patience, though; Finn needs to show it, too. In his Test career to date wickets have come quite easily but there will be days in the coming months when he will be left wondering where his next wicket will come from. In times like this he must keep his discipline and not go chasing wickets. His aim each day should be simple – to bowl well. If he achieves this and trusts his game wickets will come.
I spoke to Finn last week and he felt his bowling was getting better with each match and was enjoying the experience. He said that he had been given a bit of verbal abuse by the locals and that he found it quite funny. Overall though, the Australian public had been appreciative and respectful of him and the rest of the squad.
That will change when 40,000 vocal and half-pissed Aussies turn up at The Gabba, Brisbane on Thursday morning. How Finn and England cope with the occasion will have a huge impact on the series for both parties. It will be new ground for Finn and it will test him to the limit. But so far he has coped admirably with every examination that has come his way and there is no reason why the trend should halt now.
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