The question of Steven Finn’s involvement in the England side has surely become the most frustrating discussion around England’s selection policy in recent years.
His talent and potential has never been in doubt. Watching him bowl in good rhythm yesterday as England easily put away a depleted West Indies outfit in Barbados makes you wonder why he has been such a topic of debate throughout his career. His 2-35 off 10 overs, getting good bounce on a surface which didn’t always offer much, using all of his 6ft 7ins frame to good effect, hints at a return to his top form.
But we’ve been here so many times before.
Prior to Graeme Smith playing havoc with Finn’s bowling technique at Headingley in 2012 (not to mention the havoc he caused in his head), it was accepted that Finn had become the answer to England’s long term problem in replacing Steve Harmison as the tall, hit-the-deck-and-make-it-talk missing jigsaw piece in the England attack. In 2011 he became the youngest (at 22 years and 63 days) England bowler ever to take 50 test wickets, surpassing Ian Botham in doing so. He could regularly hit the sacred 90 mph mark and regularly made life visibly uncomfortable for some of the world’s leading batsmen, including Smith himself before he called foul over Finn’s maddening habit of kicking the stumps during his delivery stride. On that occasion, when Smith edged one to the slips after Finn had knocked the bails off at the other end, the umpires called it dead ball. By 2013 the ICC had to intervene and eventually ‘Finn’s Law’ was introduced, meaning any time the bowler now knocks the bails off in his delivery stride it’s called a no-ball.
If there has been a constant since that initial event and the subsequent tinkering of Finn’s run up and action, it is not just in the laws of the game, but the uncertainty over his Finn’s place in the England set up in all formats.
Anyone who has crossed paths with Finn in and around the game are all in complete agreement that he’s one of the friendliest, nicest chaps in the business. He always has time for interviews and autograph hunters, and presumably he’s a no brainer from a sponsorship point of view. However, unfortunately for him, all successful bowlers throughout history that were born with similar natural attributes to Finn have something else in common. Call it aggression, call it edge, call it niggle, call it whatever you like. Truman to Botham, Lille to Johnson, and all top wicket takers in between, all great quicks love nothing more than the fierce competition at the top level. Steven Finn made his test debut seven years ago this Sunday, and yet questions still remain over whether he really has that ability to steam in, snarl at the batsman at the other end and rip through an opposition with the sort of hostility required at this level. Simply bowling in the low-eighties and releasing the ball from a 10-foot frame doesn’t make bowling hostile. Not to top batsman anyway.
There was a time when people had total confidence in the fact that Finn would one day reach his full potential. The argument was always that Finny is already so good at the things that can’t be taught, and struggles with the things that can be, so surely just a matter of time before he’s producing the type of match-winning spells we’ve become so accustomed to seeing Stuart Broad parading out for us once a summer. That faith in his long-term potential surely must be waning somewhat now. And more worryingly, perhaps he’s not good at all those things that can’t be taught. Perhaps that certain determination and aggression that comes so naturally to many of the world’s top fast bowlers is just not present in Finn’s DNA. Being such a likeable and amiable fellow has so many advantages in life, but trying to remove the Indian middle order in a red-hot atmosphere in Mumbai, or the Australian top order in a white-hot Brisbane are not among them.
His rhythm looks like it is back to his pre-stump-kicking days best on occasion. His easy run up and release has always looked like the type of action most fast bowlers would die for in that it doesn’t seem likely to lead to any long-term injuries, therefore his fitness and longevity potential is surely excellent. However, he rarely touches the 90 mph mark these days. He’s still more than a handful when you consider his height, especially on wickets in England that will often offer assistance laterally. But when he does swing the ball, he lacks the control required at the top level, and he’s always been guilty of sending down too many four-balls. Of all England bowlers to play more than 20 tests since the war, his strike rate of 51.2 is second only to Freddie Trueman. However, his economy of 3.55 seems generous to many of his more wayward spells, meaning captains struggle to trust him as the go-to man when the game is in the balance.
It would seem that for Finn to actually realise his full potential, he needs to try to forget everything other than bowling as fast and hostile as he can – and for a while at least – try to ignore the consequences. If he could get back into a rhythm of touching the 90mph mark with any sort of regularity, and in doing so make sure each batsman’s life put before him is as miserable as possible, it might just mean he puts himself back into contention for the Ashes this winter. With Mark Wood’s ongoing injury concerns, England will be desperate to leave these shores with at least one ‘deck’ bowler that can ruffle up the Aussie top order on the flat bouncy surfaces of Perth and the like. If Finn gets back his searing pace and injects some hostility into his game, he could be the answer, and potentially have the sort of tour from which he never looks back. But if the doubts continue both in his own mind and in those of the selectors, Finn is in danger of losing his place for good.
Not for the first time, this is a big season for Seven Finn. England fans will hope it becomes the year he finally fulfils his unquestionably enormous potential.