Tall guy sets alarm bells ringing in Australia
The bush telegraph will be humming by now and the video machines can prepare themselves for some serious overtime. Word of Steve Finn's exciting little burst at Lord's yesterday is sure to cause a stir in Australia, where the countdown for this winter's Ashes campaign began nine months ago and coincided with Andrew Strauss raising a funny little trophy above his head in front of a full house at The Oval.
In fact, Aussie cricket fans are just about as obsessed with the Ashes as their counterparts on this side of the world – or at least they are now they haven't got them. It was a different story a few years ago when a long sequence of one-sided series prompted talk, from Perth to Brisbane and all points in between, of limiting the poor old Poms to three Tests at a time. But that's by the by.
The fact of the matter is, that regardless of how much either country's cricket selectors play up the importance of taking one game at a time, the next few months are all about getting your best available team on to the park at The Gabba in November. And knowing as much about the opposition as possible.
When someone like Finn, then, sets pulses racing over here, it is safe to assume that alarm bells will ring 10,000 miles away. He is new, he is extremely tall, he threatens to bowl at 90mph and he could be a crucial member of England's attack this winter. Cue a bit of consternation Down Under.
As Strauss will no doubt warn – once Bangladesh have been dealt with in this First Test – these are early days for Master Finn. The captain will be absolutely right to strike a note of caution, of course. But another genuine Ashes candidate, especially one capable of posing problems similar to those which the almost as lanky Steve Harmison set when he was at his best, can only be a good thing for England.
In some ways, perhaps, it would be handy for Strauss to know now the names of the 10 men that he will lead into battle in Brisbane a few weeks before Christmas. But while he no doubt has a pretty good idea of the side that he would like to command, there are quite a few issues to be resolved – and that alone should ensure that everyone, from Alastair Cook at the top of the order to Jimmy Anderson near the bottom, will continue to bust a gut until the plane leaves Heathrow.
Come November, if not before, England will need to decide whether to start the Ashes series with five batsmen or six. But assuming they stick with the formula currently on show at Lord's, then the competition for three fast-bowling places will be fierce in the extreme once Stuart Broad, hopefully Graham Onions, maybe Ajmal Shahzad and possibly Ryan Sidebottom are added to a mix which Finn has just made more heady.
The decision to send Broad on a strength and conditioning course has allowed the selectors to give Finn a two-Test run against Bangladesh – and the way in which the 21-year-old has taken his chance, so far at least, should be enough to put an extra spring in Broad's step when he returns to frontline duty later this summer.
As for Onions, who bowled so well during last year's Ashes campaign, these are worrying times. The Durham paceman faces three months on the sidelines because of a back injury, but that still just about leaves him time to prove his fitness – if not his form – for the trip to Australia. And so far as Sidebottom is concerned, he has already proved many people wrong this year by resurrecting his one-day career with some terrific Twenty20 performances, which helped England to their first global tournament victory in the West Indies, so it would be wrong to discount the left-armer, at least completely, from Test contention.
Add Anderson and Tim Bresnan to the equation and the selectors have quite a fast-bowling cast – of which, yesterday at least, Finn was the star.
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