It is much too soon to ask where it all went wrong for Steve Finn. But something is amiss with a fast bowler, perhaps England’s fastest, who should have played an integral part in this Ashes series yet so far has played none.
There can have been no more forlorn member of the touring party than Finn these past few weeks. One of three gigantic fast bowlers picked for Australian pitches along with Boyd Rankin and Chris Tremlett, it begins to look an increasingly misguided policy. At least the other two and the rest of the party have been selected, been close to being selected or been genuinely available. England have not dared to let Finn close enough to be part of losing the Ashes.
His bowling has been in trouble for months. It was evident against Australia in the first Test at Trent Bridge last July that all was not well. Finn took the first two wickets of the series, in successive balls, and then nothing else since. There were times in that match, excruciatingly won by England by 14 runs, when Alastair Cook could not afford to bowl Finn. He was dropped and has yet to be selected to play another Test.
From the start of this tour, it was clear something was amiss. Accuracy, length, pace were all awry in the warm-up matches he played. There were glimpses, no more, of the bowler he was, or should have been by now. Is it finis for Finn at 24?
“Everyone goes through ups and downs in their career and I hadn’t really been on a down yet,” he said yesterday. “I’ve had a few iffy patches but I’ve always felt as though I’d been bowling OK and the turning point wasn’t far away. The turning point at times has felt further away over the last eight months than it has in the past but I feel I’m nearing that turning point now.”
If it was dauntless of Finn to put the Jaguar F-type through its paces on behalf of a team sponsor at Sandown, it was braver of him to discuss the difficulties that have enveloped his bowling. From the moment Finn pitched up belatedly to join an England squad for the first time in Bangladesh it was clear he had something. By now, it was plain, he would be an essential part of England’s attack, 6ft 8in tall, fast, bouncy, hitting the pitch and able to exert reverse swing. Except that he is not. Indeed, the displays of this tour have made him impossible to select.
Poor Finn has been beset by irritating quirks. Early in his international career he kept falling over after releasing the ball in the delivery stride. Having apparently eradicated that, he started regularly dislodging the bail with a bent right knee as he got too close to the stumps. It was so unusual that an amendment to the laws was introduced decreeing that it should be a no-ball. Known as Finn’s Law in his honour, it is an unwanted legacy.
“It wasn’t ideal but even though I was knocking the stumps I was still bowling well and still bowling quick,” he said. “Straightening my run-up and going through the crease as I do now will benefit me long-term. Having to work through that problem was good but the other bits of timing in my action may have been thrown out. It’s difficult for me to say.”
On the tour of New Zealand last year, Finn shortened his run-up, a change the England bowling coach, David Saker, had been urging him to make for months. At first it seemed to work and his pace remained undiminished. When the first Test at Dunedin came round, Finn was talking quite seriously to a rapt audience about bowling at 100mph. It has never been the same since and a superb nightwatchman’s half-century in that match has been scant consolation.
“The shortening of the run-up may not have helped but it was my decision to do that,” he said. “I tried it but now I’ve gone back to my old run-up and it feels as though I’m getting closer to being a better bowler than I was before, or at least as good a bowler as I was.”
There has been a feeling, oft expressed, that Finn, far from having too little advice, has had too much, that many different voices may have confused him. His mentor is Angus Fraser, who has offered sage advice since he joined Middlesex. Then there is the county bowling coach, Richard Johnson, Saker and the ECB’s fast bowling coach, Kevin Shine.
Finn said: “Me and Sakes are doing a lot of work closely together and I always speak to Gus because he’s my mentor and has had me under his wing for about five years now. I’m grateful for people who can offer me different bits of bowling coaching because everybody has their own strength.
“It’s good to have these people giving me information and ultimately it’s up to me to filter that. Maybe I haven’t filtered it as well as I could over the last 12 months.”
Finn’s knack of taking wickets is unarguable. When playing at Sydney against an invitation XI in the last warm-up match before the Ashes he bowled like a drain for most of it but still took eight wickets. In the 2010-11 Ashes, from which he was dropped, he took 14 wickets in two matches. He recognises that his best bet may simply be to run up and bowl fast.
“I average 29 in Tests, 26 in one-dayers and early twenties in T20, so the numbers suggest I can do it,” he said. “I’m not doubting my ability because I’ve done it in the past. Maybe over the last eight months I haven’t been ready enough but I’m at the point where I’m close to being an international cricketer.” The truth is that if England are to regain the Ashes in 2015 they need Finn.