Steve Finn hopes 100mph ball will speed England to Test victory
Shorter run-up should enable fast bowler to smash barrier against New Zealand tonight
There is a sense of excitement in the air. This is not entirely down to the fact that the Test series is almost upon us at last after all the thrills, spills and general mundanity of the limited-overs circus.
It is also connected to the growing suspicion that the England fast bowler Steve Finn is on the cusp of breaking the speed merchant's sound barrier by delivering a ball at 100mph. This is up there with the four-minute mile, the 10-second 100 metres and possibly putting a man on Mars, if not world peace.
Finn could not resist a wry smile when the proposition was put to him yesterday after England practised in a cold and windy Dunedin, itself an indication that the New Zealand summer has finished and that this city was really made for rugby union. He has not particularly sought this seminal breakthrough but he seems aware that it has suddenly become possible.
By shortening his run up, Finn, who was already regularly clocking above 90mph, appears to have increased his stock speed. If he bowls with the breeze at the University Oval when the first Test of three starts tonight anything may be possible.
"I don't know but it felt good and felt quick and bouncy in the two one-dayers I used it in but we'll see what the speed gun says," said Finn. "When I did it for the first few overs in Napier it excited me because it felt like I was getting more bounce and was getting more purchase from the wicket.
"I am excited about it and Test cricket will be the ultimate test of it, fielding out there for 90 overs a day and still trying to maintain my pace and the bounce but I'm really looking forward to getting going."
It has taken the England bowling coach, David Saker, almost three years to persuade Finn that abbreviating his approach to the crease might not only increase his speed but also improve his control and enhance his durability. Finn's run up has now come down to 19m 90cm from 25m 70cm: it is that precise, though Finn could not say how many fewer strides he takes.
He revealed: "It's taken me three years to agree to do it but it's something I think will help me be more consistent, help me get more bounce and help me bowl for longer. It's something I've toyed with doing for a little while, I've used it in nets and I haven't had the confidence to use it in a game.
"But the day before the Napier one-day game I was in the nets and I said to Sakes I'm going to do it tomorrow and he was a bit taken aback. Thankfully it worked. I still mark both run-ups, just in case but the short run up seems to be working OK at the moment."
Finn would join a small club if the speed gun takes him into three figures for mph, though it is more likely to show 160.8kph, which is the converted figure. Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan, and the Australians Brett Lee and Shaun Tait, perhaps the quickest of them all, have surpassed 100mph in recent years.
But Jeff Thomson of 1974-75 vintage was horrendously quick and some old warriors still consider that nobody has ever been faster than Frank Tyson for England in the 1954-55 Ashes. Last summer, Kevin Shine, the lead fast bowling coach at the National Performance Centre in Loughborough outlined a plan to have a legion of 100mph fast bowlers.
Working in tandem with sports scientists he is breaking down the fast bowlers's action into its component parts so optimum levels of performance can be reached. "I want 90mph to be the old 80mph," Shine said.
Despite all the natural advances in fitness and athleticism, no one has yet bowled at a sustained 100mph. As it happens Finn's new run up is also designed to stop him knocking off the bails with his knee as he reaches his delivery stride.
His propensity for this has led to a change in the laws of the game. From October onwards, such an action will be called a no ball, although bowlers have been doing it with their trailing arm for as long as round-arm bowling has existed.
Finn is at once slightly miffed and proud of the change. Miffed because he cannot see how it affects batsmen, proud because it will henceforth be known unofficially as "Finn's Law". "It seems a bit silly to me. It's up to me to adhere to that and stay away from the stumps," he said.
Finn will share the ball with Jimmy Anderson with Stuart Broad as the third seamer in a four-man attack completed by Graeme Swann.
First test: Dunedin details
Venue University Oval, Dunedin.
TV Sky Sports 1 HD, Tonight, 8pm, start of play 9.30pm.
Pitch Although it has been an extremely dry summer, there is a tinge of green about the pitch and there may be some pace and movement.
New Zealand B B McCullum (capt), P G Fulton, H D Rutherford, K S Williamson, L R P L Taylor, D G Brownlie, B-J Watling (wk), N Wagner, T G Southee, T A Boult, B Martin.
England A N Cook (capt), N R D Compton, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, J E Root, M J Prior (wk), S C J Broad, G P Swann, S T Finn, J M Anderson.
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