Party mood for all bar one as Steve Finn closes on Stuart Broad spot - Cricket - Sport - The Independent

Party mood for all bar one as Steve Finn closes on Stuart Broad spot

England's out-of-form vice-captain is set to be dropped as pace rival proves return to fitness

Mumbai

It was a peculiar way to mark one of England's greatest Test victories. Reflections on the extraordinary defeat of India were overshadowed yesterday by ruminations on the immediate future of the team's vice-captain.

Stuart Broad faces being dropped for the third Test, which starts in Kolkata next Wednesday after poor displays in the first two matches of the series. His likely replacement will be Steve Finn, the fastest bowler in the squad and possibly the world, who had a glorified but deadly earnest fitness test yesterday and appeared to emerge unscathed after taking 4 for 50 in 16 overs delivered in four separate spells.

What should have been a day for dwelling in the warm glow of an epic achievement became a cold-hearted inquiry into Broad's form and fitness. Perhaps it is the nature of modern sport that the next game is always the one that matters, but it seemed slightly hasty barely 24 hours on from the stunning deeds at Wankhede Stadium, where England won by 10 wickets to tie the series at 1-1.

Broad had a match to forget, taking no wickets, scoring six runs and hardly featuring in the field. That can happen in cricket but he is obviously well short of his best after also having an unrewarding first Test and it was inevitable that David Saker, the England fast-bowling coach, would be asked about it given his speciality.

"He's finding it tough, no doubt, and I don't think he's the first fast bowler to come here and find it tough," Saker said. "It's another great learning curve for him. Bowling fast over here isn't easy and you have to find a way to survive. The really great bowlers always have. He's learning it the hard way at the moment and it's probably not going the way he'd like it to go."

The additional conundrum for the tourists' selectors is Finn. They rightly believe that his sheer pace could make a difference on slow Indian pitches and now that the composition of the bowling attack has been settled at two fast men and two spinners it leaves little room for manoeuvre.

Put bluntly, Finn would be more effective than Broad at present and England can hardly expect their spinners, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, to take the 19 wickets they managed in the second Test every time they go out to bowl. Finn's appearance for the England Performance Programme XI against an Academy XI yesterday went some way to dispelling continuing concerns about his fitness.

It has taken him longer than expected to recover from the thigh strain he suffered while fielding in the second warm-up match of this tour but that has not lessened England's desire to find room for him in the Test side. Finn is now viewed as the present and not the future of England's attack.

"If he gets through with the Performance Programme there's a good chance he might play in Kolkata, without a doubt," said Saker. "He's a special talent and has the pace we probably need for this place. We'd like to get him in the team. With his height he might get some variable bounce on these wickets. We don't know what the wicket is going to be like in Kolkata but with his pace and the bounce over here he can bring the stumps into play often."

Saker revealed that doubts were intruding after the defeat in the first Test at Ahmedabad, England's seventh of the year. It looked like becoming eight in Mumbai, especially when the toss was lost on the first morning, but they achieved a remarkable turnaround.

"I can only talk from where I was coming from but I was questioning myself as to whether we were doing the right things," said Saker. "If I'm doing that, I think probably others in the camp were wondering if we were going in the right direction.

"The positive out of the first Test was the way we batted in that second innings. The batsmen got a lot of confidence out of that which they took into this game. Still, I wasn't sure what we'd get out of them and it turned out to be as good a win as I've ever experienced with this group."

Having finished the Test a day early, England will take the chance for a mid-series break in Mumbai. They leave for Kolkata on Friday, when serious practice begins again. There is all to play for now.

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