Ponting joins war of words but Finn may enjoy gift of the Gabba

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The Independent Online

Ricky Ponting yesterday issued what is usually described as a warning about the poverty of England's prospects in the first Test. It would have been more of a surprise had Australia's captain derided his own team's chances of success in Brisbane, where the series finally starts on 25 November, but then that is not the purpose of the phoney war.

There was, as it happens, some substance in Ponting's predictable assertion that the tourists may not find the surface at the Gabba to their liking. He said in The Australian: "With just a normal Brisbane wicket, visiting teams find it hard to come to terms with just how different it is up there. Our record there is unbelievably good and we want to make sure we continue that on.

"There has been a lot made of England's preparation, the fact that they're here early and they're playing lots of games, but they don't play at the Gabba before the first Test. They'll definitely find it hard to come to grips with what they're confronted with in Brisbane on day one."

So they will, but England expect no less, which is why they are thinking about dispatching their bowlers to Brisbane a week before the Test match starts – thus missing the final game at Hobart – simply to get a feel for the place.

Ponting was entirely correct about Australia's wonderful sequence at the Gabba, where they have remained unbeaten in 21 Test matches since 1988, 16 of which they have won. He may also recall that Australia had been undefeated at Lord's for 75 years from 1934 – but that came to an ignominious end last year. Runs are made to be broken.

The Gabba, in any case, if it is fast and bouncy (and this season's scores confirm that it is) may well prove an appropriate setting for Steve Finn, England's tyro fast bowler. Finn impressed all with the manner in which he progressed from first innings to second innings in the tour opener in Perth – not quite zero to hero, but several strides up a steep learning curve.

Four years ago, when England were being thumped 5-0 in the Ashes series here, Finn was studying for his A levels. "It did interfere a bit with my revision," he said yesterday. "I had January exams that winter; I didn't watch too much live, but I caught up with it on the highlights."

He eventually secured three B grades and a D, and was 24 hours away from embarking on a sports science degree at Loughborough University when he cancelled it to become a full-time cricketer. So far, there are no regrets. But even a year ago, Finn, 21, did not expect to be here spearheading the most significant campaign in English cricket.

"I had just come off the back of an OK season with Middlesex – 54 wickets at 30 is not setting the world alight, it was just steady," he said. "But I was picked for the England Performance Programme and was over the moon to do that.

"Even on that trip I was nowhere near it and Ajmal Shahzad bowled very well and got selected for the Test trip and the one-day trip. I never expected to be here lining up to play a game on Australian soil."

Finn leapfrogged everyone – and at 6ft 8in he obviously has the legs to do it – when he was called up to Bangladesh as a late replacement in February. He was immediately potent in the warm-up game and has played every England Test match since.

His record of 32 wickets at 23.22 may have been slightly distorted by taking cheap wickets against Bangladesh early in the English season. But Ponting will be very aware that Finn and the Gabba may be made for each other.

14 days to the Ashes

The number of Ashes half-centuries scored by Australian batsman Steve Waugh in 45 Tests against England between 1986 and 2003. He was the backbone of Australian sides that held the Ashes for 16 years until England's 2005 victory.