Aged 20, Steven Finn looked like the next all-time great pace bowler. Height, pace, bounce; regularly hitting the mid-90mph region and with a useful knack of picking up wickets off the cuff, he was the Chosen One of English cricket, a six foot seven Anakin Skywalker on Anabolic Steroids, only with a faster arm. The White Curtley Ambrose, as no-one but myself nicknamed him.
Aged 24, Finn has evolved into a bowler whose run-up is about as settled as his place in the team; his bail-disturbing right knee a useful metaphor for the frustrations felt since being harshly dropped mid-Ashes when he was then leading wicket taker in the series.
Quite what has gone wrong since being dropped after that 3rd Test in Perth is difficult to pinpoint. He’d picked up 5 wickets in the match, including Watson, Hughes and Ponting, and at the time had a pride-swelling ball-propelling average of 26 from his 11 Tests up to that point. In his 8 Tests since he has had a toe-curling leather hurling average of almost 36.
This evident dip hasn’t seemed to affect his ODI form where he has all but cemented his place in the England limited overs side – capable of bowling fast and accurate spells with the white ball and retaining an overall average of 26 from his 33 matches, and an impressive modern-day economy rate of 4.6 runs an over. He even looked good in the Indian series last year when England were utterly panned 5-0. Although, so did Samit Patel…
The run-up issue cannot have helped. To sum up, *takes deep breath*: Finn used to bowl from wider on the crease, he got sent away for ‘conditioning’ purposes, someone told him that he’d be better off bowling stump to stump, on his return he did this but began clipping the stump at the non-strikers end in his delivery stride with his right knee about once every two overs or so, it wasn’t really ‘a problem’ until Graeme Smith complained about it, Smith spanked a couple of fine boundaries when this first occurred and these were allowed to stand and it still wasn’t really considered ‘a problem’ at this point, but when he nicked to slip on the 3rd or 4th time it got called a deadball, Smith probably made a hundred (I am not going to look that up but I seem to remember feeling bitterly resentful throughout), much woe was made of the whole issue, the ICC/MCC immediately proceeded to discombobulate their sweaty jockstraps over the issue, and Finn has now been persuaded by David Saker to shorten his run up to stop the issue. Just before a Test series. Which probably isn’t wise, but am I an expert? *breathe out”
Whether or not this ‘problem’ would have materialised in the first place had Finn been given more extensive runs in the side is something that we’ll never quite know. James Anderson was kept in the side despite bowling filth as a result of some jumped up coach trying to amend his action a few years ago, so maybe it would have. What is certain either way is that very shortly after tinkering with the run-up (again), the England selectors have proceeded to pick Finn for three Test matches in a row for the first time since Perth 2010, and he has done a very fine job in looking completely ineffective to date. Surprising?
Finn has still been bowling at decent pace, and being stood at 6″7 will always get significant amounts of bounce to trouble batsmen too. He just hasn’t evolved beyond that, yet. He doesn’t seem to get much movement either off the pitch, he doesn’t seem to consistently swing the ball, and he doesn’t really stick to a probing line and length (at which point it is obligatory to pointlessly mention his Middlesex mentor Gus Fraser). He doesn’t even seem to pick up those random wickets either, although as I type that he has just taken the edge of Rutherford’s lazily wafted willow and the ball has screamed into the hands of Alastair Cook. As I was saying, he’s amazing, Stevie Finn.