Tuesday 26 November 2013

Finn: England's missing paceman

Cricket doesn't often offer much for adrenaline junkies, but when fast bowlers find fast pitches, it's intoxicating. Pace is the most visceral and unforgiving part of the game. Weakness against spin can be tolerated as a technical failing; falling to pace is invariably a moral problem.

It was Mitchell Johnson's pace that made the first Test the most pulsating Ashes match since 2005. Until Jonathan Trott's departure from the tour, the post-match talk was all about the unique challenges real quick bowling presents. Curious then, that England's fastest bowler – Steven Finn – was entirely absent at the Gabba.

Finn is not quite as explosive as Johnson - his orthodox action means he'll never feel quite as raw - but he's equally volatile and just as potent. Like Johnson he was spotted early, promised much but never seemed settled. And like Johnson his reputation belies his record.

From 23 Tests Finn's strike rate is 48.3, better than James Anderson and Stuart Broad by 10. His average (29.40) also shades England's senior bowlers. He was England's highest wicket taker in the tour matches leading into the first Test but also their most profligate. And therein lies the problem for the selectors. England deem Finn too pricey for their parsimonious preferences.

Yet it is interesting to contrast Finn's development with England's Gabba standout, Broad. Finn made his debut an equally willowly quick in Bangladesh three-and-a-half years ago. Since then he has added bulk to his body and speed to his bowling but has been dropped six times. Some of these were horse-for-course changes where England preferred a second spinner. But many were not and they speak of enormous instability.

It took Broad less than two years to play the same number of Tests and by his own acknowledgement he had to learn on the job. Unlike Finn, he was allowed to. Broad has been dropped for poor form only twice in his Test career. At the equivalent stage to Finn he had 23 less wickets at an average – 36.14 – that was much worse.

Part of the reason Broad was allowed to develop in the team was the presence of a fourth seamer. Andrew Flintoff played in 10 of Broad's early Tests which meant if Broad had a shaky day his overs could be found elsewhere. After repeated batting malfunctions it is unfair to focus on the bowlers, but England miss a fourth seamer. Not just to free Broad and Anderson up, but maybe most significantly to allow Finn to develop.

England's obsessively detailed management has been well documented and their devotion to professionalism has undoubtedly lifted standards. But while they focus on the marginals, Finn is quickly becoming their biggest failure.

He has all the attributes of an outstanding fast bowler. His second-innings spell at Lord's against South Africa last year was every bit as devastating as Johnson at the Gabba and before his difficult Ashes outing at Trent Bridge in July he troubled New Zealand's batsmen.

It's unlikely Finn will be recalled at Adelaide. England are desperate for the steadier Tim Bresnan to return. But genuine pace is a rare commodity. Finn might soon prove more expensive out of the team than he would in it. 


Anonymous said...

He can be a potent force, although nowhere near the average speed clocked up by Johnson just at present. The problem is that the statistics are only half the story. Seeing Finn taken apart by Brad Haddin at the death of the first Test last summer made the case that he can lose you a match quite rapidly; he was brought on with 60 needed and went for 25 in two overs. It is that, rather than a quibble about his average economy rate, which makes him feel rather a luxury.

Sahil said...

Cheers for the comment. Statistics do forever reveal much and hide more. With Finn I think he's capable of clocking up around 90mph which is not really too different to Johnson. Yup, he had a fragile and poor game at Trent Bridge but young bowlers do. The price of leaving him out is that he has not developed in the way a young Broad, for example, did. That's depriving England of a potentially very useful bowler.

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