Horses for courses bowlers are such a 1990s concept that it came as some surprise when Alastair Cook admitted that Steven Finn had been selected for the third Test against Pakistan at Edgbaston, because of his pedigree at the ground.
Trouble is, while certain landscapes do inspire some people, Finn has been in the doldrums with his bowling for so long that even a famous “green mamba” pitch in Durban would be unlikely to spark him into life.
Cook’s faith in Finn was based largely on the eight wickets he took here last year in the Ashes, when he mustered the holy trinity of fast bowling on English pitches - a probing line, a full length and a speed that never wavered below the high 80s mph.
It was cracking stuff that saw England to an easy win, but if Cook thought Finn might reprise that brilliance for this pivotal Test, he is a worse reader of his players than was first thought. Here, against a watchful Pakistan batting line-up that dominated the day, Finn reached 88 mph occasionally but mostly he managed 85 mph or below, which is James Anderson’s pace.
Being tall and gangly (he is 6ft 8in), Finn has long had problems with his action, specifically the rhythm and attack of his run-up. His arm action also has a lot of moving parts, which makes timing an issue, especially when confidence is low as his has been of late.
When a fast bowler is among the wickets and feeling good, he wants to bowl. Indeed, when Finn has been left out in the past he has complained, often vehemently, at the injustice. That tends not to happen when fast bowlers are labouring or in need of a rest and when Finn was left out at Old Trafford two weeks ago, he seemed almost relieved to be driving 300 miles to play for Middlesex.
Finn seems to have an identity crisis, unsure whether he wants to bowl pace, seam or swing. According to James Anderson, he is a perfectionist who wants to have perfect rhythm, swing the ball round corners and hit a good line and length at will. That ideal probably occurs about ten times during a career, with bowlers having to make do with some lesser paragon the rest of the time.
As a fast bowler, Finn should simply aim to bowl as quickly as possible, like he did at the start of his career when he reached speeds of 93mph. That way the inconsistencies of line and length that blighted him here, when he was wayward, would prove more testing to batsman.
So far, he hasn’t been expensive against Pakistan at Edgbaston but neither has he looked like taking many wickets. Not that he was the only one to look anaemic on a pitch playing truer than it did on the first day, but still his performance must have been a crushing disappointment for a bowler chosen as a horses for courses performer.
His problem, or at least the one that we can see from the sidelines (i.e. not in his head), stems from the crazy footwork he employs when he gets about 15 feet from the crease, just as he is about to gather his action in order to release the ball.
A reasonable athlete for such a tall man, his initial run-up is reasonably smooth but as he gets to the business part, he criss-crosses his feet. Apart from breaking the rhythm he has built to that point, it destabilises him at just the crucial moment, making it impossible for him to harness all the energy he has built-up to that point in an efficient way.
A smooth repeatable action is what produces consistency and consistency is what professional sport rewards most. You can be inconsistent like Finn and succeed as a bowler, but you need to bowl at greater speeds than the 84-86 mph he has mostly managed here.
It is difficult to deconstruct a bowling action that he's been in use for 10 plus years and rebuild it but Finn, with his lanky demeanour, just does not suit the kind of action he has with its pitter-patter run-up and whirly arm action. He looks more like a bounder and as such should emulate Jason Gillespie, a fine pace bowler for Australia and now Yorkshire coach, with his springy almost bouncing approach to the sweat and tears of bowling quick.
Certainly he needs to do something radical to remain in favour. Other fast bowlers, like Chris Woods, are back among the wickets and while height is a prized asset among the bowling brethren it is not the only one, as Finn could soon discover to his cost.
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