Chris Stocks finds an England paceman at ease with his action and determined to make his mark again this season
England suffered a blow this week when it emerged that Mark Wood will miss the first Test series of the summer against Sri Lanka with the ankle injury that had troubled the Durham fast bowler all winter.
However, what was taken away with one hand was given back with the other as Steven Finn played his first competitive cricket since the Johannesburg Test against South Africa back in January.
Hours after news of Wood’s latest setback had filtered through on Monday, Finn, playing for Middlesex against Warwickshire at Lord’s, took a wicket with his very first ball of the season, producing a wonderful delivery that moved away from left-hander Ian Westwood to be edged to Nick Compton at fourth slip.
It was a sweet moment for Finn, whose own winter was curtailed by foot, side and calf injuries that had led to him missing the Test and limited-overs series against Pakistan in the UAE, the back end of the South Africa tour and then the World T20 in India.
Yet, with those troubles seemingly behind him now, the 27-year-old fast bowler is gearing up for a summer where he looks certain to be included alongside James Anderson and Stuart Broad in England’s frontline Test attack.
In the six Tests since Finn returned from a two-year exile following problems with his action and form on the 2013-14 Ashes tour, he has taken 23 wickets at 24.21. Those six Tests were arguably England’s most important of the past 12 months – the final three of last summer’s Ashes against Australia and the first three in South Africa.
It is no coincidence England won four of those to set up eye-catching series victories.
Now, with seven Tests coming up this summer against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Finn is hoping to make a big impact.
“It’s a nice start to the season,” he said. “It’s nice to be back playing and I felt in good rhythm, happy the way things are and, hopefully, that continues over the next few weeks. I’m where I want to be. My action is in a good place, my pace was good.
“I’m the sort of bowler who likes bowling a lot of overs. If I wasn’t bowling in a game, I’d be bowling in the nets and I’d always rather bowl in a game.
“There’s no guarantee I’ll be in that squad for the first Test so I have to bowl well in these next few weeks and if I can keep bowling with good rhythm and bowling well hopefully I’ll get there.”
Finn would probably have edged out Wood anyway for the first Test against Sri Lanka, which starts at Headingley on May 19.
Wood has been ruled out for eight weeks after learning he will need to have a second operation on his long-standing left ankle problem.
And having experienced so many of his own injury setbacks, Finn has sympathy for the plight of his England team-mate, who made such a positive start to life in Test cricket last year.
“It’s sad,” said Finn. “Woody’s been fantastic when he’s worn an England shirt over the last 12 months. He’s been a brilliant part of the team. I’ll text him and hope that he’s okay as it’s always frustrating being ruled out through injury. You feel like your body is letting you down a little bit when you’re so raring to go.
“But again as fast bowlers you have to accept the fact you are going to be ruled out through injury and it’s how you come through that means you come out the other side fine.
“Whenever that operation is done, hopefully it clears up the last of it because he’s a massive asset to English cricket and we need him.”
Finn also spoke this week of his frustration at missing out on England’s run to the World T20 final after feeling the selectors had made their call on his recovery from a calf injury too early.
“It was frustrating because the decision to rule me out was made 10 days before we left for India,” he said.
“The selectors had to listen to the medical people, but I don’t know who got it wrong. It hasn’t been explained to me.
“The day England had their first proper game in India I was playing a two-day match in South Africa for Middlesex bowling 10 or 15 overs in the day, so from that perspective I was fit to play.
“That decision was made and I had to just deal with it and move on. I’ve got no idea who made the decision. I just had a scan and was told it didn’t look fantastic. Then I got a call the following morning from [national selector] James Whitaker saying I wasn’t going to go to the World Cup.
“You tend to know your own body but sometimes scans show up things that look scarier than they are and maybe that’s what happened this time, I don’t know.
“What can you do? Moaning about it is not going to make time go back two months and get me picked for that World Cup team, is it? I’m not causing rucks or anything.
“I just want to have a good first four weeks of the season and get picked for that first Test.”
The Watford-born bowler is an unlikely troublemaker and his words will not count against him when it comes to picking that first England squad of the summer next month.
Indeed, the early signs in his first Championship match of the season are that Finn is on track to be in prime form for that opening Test at Headingley.
He may have competition from Yorkshire’s Liam Plunkett, who made standout contributions with both bat and ball against Hampshire this week.
Finn, though, is ahead of Plunkett in England’s pecking order and showed against Warwickshire he is getting back to somewhere close to his best.
Fitness may always be an issue with Finn, but if he can get through the next few weeks without any setbacks and keeps picking up wickets then he will surely be ready to be unleashed on Sri Lanka.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday April 22 2016