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Derek Pringle questions the call-up of Steven Finn by England for their Ashes squad and has similar concerns for an aging Stuart Broad…
The call-up of Steven Finn for Australia, as part or perhaps even temporary replacement for Ben Stokes, was an interesting move by England’s selectors, the bowler having endured a chequered history on his two previous Ashes tours.
Finn has height and pace, two physical attributes well suited to Aussie pitches, which tend to offer movement in the vertical plane only. Yet an Ashes tour Down Under is a harsh experience which requires a mental fortitude Finn has yet to show us he possesses.
Perhaps fault for that lies with his first tour of Australia in 2010/11, when he took 14 wickets in the first three Tests at 33 before he was dropped, ostensibly for being too expensive.
It was a brutal call but, as it transpired, the right one. Tim Bresnan came in, gave nowt away, which allowed James Anderson and Chris Tremlett to keep pressure on Australia’s batsmen enabling England to win their first Ashes away from home for 24 years.
For the young, 21-year-old Finn, who had come in to that series with an incredible 32 wickets in his first four Tests, the rejection would have been a hammer blow. But while most players would have gotten over it, eventually, Finn’s sensitivity has perhaps kept the memory fresh every time he has been recalled by England which, due to variations in form and fitness, has been five times in 36 Tests, six if he gets on the park this winter.
Something malign certainly affected him last time he toured Australia. Deemed un-selectable by Ashley Giles for the one-day series which followed England’s 5-0 drubbing in the Tests, Finn had become increasingly neurotic on that trip. Indeed, his performances in the State games revealed a bowler who had rapidly lost faith in both his abilities and action. Consequently, he was never really pushed for a Test place despite the team losing match after match.
It took a lot of TLC and time by Middlesex’s bowling coach, Richard Johnson, to rebuild him after that, physically and mentally. Both those things occurred, after a fashion, as he has since played 13 Tests with reasonable success, if not progress.
Now, though, comes a moment of reckoning, the Stokes farrago having presented him with an opportunity to be part of a third Ashes tour, a number not many bowlers manage. Like James Vince, another hunch pick over form, Finn is lucky to be on the trip. His 34 wickets at 30 for Middlesex was hardly exceptional and certainly not enough to stop the county being relegated.
His selection has a whiff of ‘last man standing’ about it, too, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) having removed him for their list of central contracts for the coming year. Yet, he should discard any thoughts that he is undeserving.
True competitors take their chances where and whenever they present themselves and Finn, now 28, could yet get another crack at showing us the bowler we all thought was there when he first came on the scene all those years ago.
If Finn has much to prove, Stuart Broad, with 388 Test wickets to his name, has little left to achieve save, perhaps, for a leading role in an Ashes series in Australia. He did take two wickets in England’s famous series win there in 2010/11 before returning home injured, but his 21 wickets there four years ago could not stave off a humiliating 5-0 whitewash, something the more gung-ho Australian commentators are predicting once more.
Broad is 31, and there is a suggestion he may be on the downward arc. Like Finn, he is a tall fast bowler so there is much to go wrong with both body and action. At the moment he seems to be struggling, physically, with his feet and ankles, while his action is suffering from an errant wrist that pushes the ball in to right-handers – a consequence, some reckon, from bowling to a slew of left-handers in India last winter.
His figures also reveal something of a slump and in the 16 Tests since May 2016 he has taken just one haul of four wickets or better in an innings, a modest showing for someone who takes the new ball. He is, though, a man who tends to respond to the big occasion so, hopefully, after being well rested, he is saving up a few five-fors for this winter’s Ashes.
England are going to need them.