When Steven Finn made his England debut in 2010, he immediately impressed and looked a hugely exciting prospect. He had that rarest of qualities in a seam bowler – real pace that could hurry up international class batsmen. His 6’7″ frame made England think he could be a replacement for Steve Harmison who played his last Test in 2009.
His debut came against Bangladesh at Chittagong when he took just two wickets in the match, but he did enough in unhelpful conditions to make you think he could make it at the Test level. It was at Lord’s against the same opponents two months later that he claimed his first five-wicket haul and finished with nine wickets in the match as he blasted the Bangladesh top order apart.
He was a first-choice player after that Test and claimed 13 wickets at 22 against Pakistan in the second Test series of the summer of 2010, bowling the occasional poor delivery but also sending down balls that took wickets. Finn has the knack of combining both poor balls and wicket-taking ones, and often the batsmen end up carving long hops into the hands of gully.
Finn was an integral part of the team that beat Australia in Australia for the first time in 24 years in the winter of 2010-’11, playing three of the five Tests. He was left out of the team as England looked to manage their fast bowling options on that most intense of tours, but also because of his bad balls leaking runs.
He was in the squad for the start of the 2011 summer against Sri Lanka, but only played because James Anderson was injured. He did not play a Test for England against India that summer, and then just one in India that winter. He had gone from first choice bowler to a squad player with alarming celerity.
Then the summer of 2012 happened. Graeme Smith’s South Africans arrived for a series that could have been overshadowed by the London Olympics, but was full of drama. While the headlines were justifiably about Hashim Amla’s triple hundred at the Oval, Kevin Pietersen’s “it’s tough being me” press conference and the retirement of Andrew Strauss, for Finn there was a significant subplot.
Finn had a habit of knocking over the stumps at the non-strikers end with his knee in his follow through. Smith, South Africa’s captain and opening batsman, complained that it was a distraction when he was batting. The umpires began calling “dead ball” when Finn hit the stumps, even costing him Smith’s wicket at one point. This eventually led to a change in the laws that said if the bowler disturbed the stumps at the non-strikers end it was a no-ball.
Something needed to change, and Finn began tinkering with his action to try and eliminate this habit of crashing into the stumps and also to get himself a bit more consistency. It was far from smooth sailing and while England picked Finn for the disastrous Ashes tour of 2013-’14, he didn’t play a game and was deemed “unselectable” by England’s one-day coach Ashley Giles.
Finn, however, is not a quitter and fought very hard throughout 2014 to put his bowling action back together, eventually making it back into England’s ODI team at the tail end of that summer. When Mark Wood was injured, Finn was brought back into the Test team, two years after his last Test appearance, and he has missed just three Tests since.
Finn is not the bowler that England hoped he would be when he burst into the team six years ago, but he is still a serious threat in international cricket. He does not have the pace he once had but he is more consistent and his height means he gets bounce that other bowlers can only dream of. Since he came back into the Test team in July 2015 he has taken 35 wickets at 32, including a career best six for 79 against Australia. He has also improved his economy rate in that period, going at a shade above three an over.
Quite how much he plays in the India series will depend on how many spinners England pick and if they rotate their quicker men across the five Tests that will come thick and fast. If they go with the same team make-up that they had in Bangladesh they will play two frontline seamers and Ben Stokes. If that is the case, you would expect that Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes will play ahead of him. But with the matches being so close to each other, it is almost inevitable that England will need to rest their quicker men, and Finn will be the third choice seamer.
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