With a 1-0 series lead in the bag, England can afford to mix their bowling line-up a bit. They will benefit more from Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn could very well get the chop. But to completely write off the lanky paceman would be foolish. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.
England named an unchanged 13-man squad for the second Ashes Test starting at Lord’s on Thursday, and Steven Finn is likely to be the only player under threat.
Promoted to take the new ball alongside James Anderson on the second day, Finn hardly set the world alight. He might have taken two wickets in that spell, but those were largely engineered by Australia’s nerves rather than Finn’s ability.
In a Test full of nightmares, Finn’s performance was strangled. So unconvincing was his first innings that he was relegated to his first spell coming in the 29th over in the second, with even Graeme Swann getting a bite of the cherry before him. Barring a fine five-over spell on Saturday, Finn’s first Test was marred with errors. Alastair Cook, perhaps desperate to boost his confidence, kept him bowling the morning of the final Test, despite being whacked for three consecutive fours in one over.
It must be so gut-wrenching to know that your captain is bowling you out of sympathy, rather than trusting in your ability to strike. Cook will never say a bad word about his bowlers, and many will say that England got lucky with their eventual 14-run win. Had the hosts lost, Finn’s performance would have stood out like a sore thumb. Not only was his bowling dodgy, he also dropped a catch. As fine an effort as his leaping attempt at deep backward square leg was, it would have gone down as “the moment when the match was dropped”.
Finn’s effectiveness, especially against rookies, needs to be questioned, too. Ashton Agar, the middle-order batsman masquerading as a number 11, took Finn on more than any of the other English bowlers. Of the 16 balls Finn bowled to him, he scored 23 runs at a strike rate of 143.75. Pseudo batsman or not, a player on his debut in an Ashes series shouldn’t be allowed that many runs off a strike bowler. Finn managed just eight dot balls to him. While 36 runs came off Graeme Swann (in 36 balls), the spinner managed to constrain him much more. Swann managed 25 dot balls to Agar, more than anyone else in the attack.
Finn is not short of talent. He is a caricature of a genuine fast bowler. Tall, lanky with the ability to generate pace and bounce, Finn could have the world at his feet. Instead, after three years and 23 Tests at the top level, he is yet to even get the world’s attention. A problem with him breaking the stumps during his run-up certainly hasn’t helped his progress. He went back to square one, changed his run-up, and then changed it back again. That kind of action-tweaking interference does nobody any good when they have spent their entire career bowling a certain way. The man himself has even admitted he hasn’t quite blossomed into the bowler he’d hoped to be.
His economy rate, an average of 3.65, is perhaps his biggest enemy. England’s latest, very blatant strategy, has been to “bowl dry”. Simply meaning, drying up the runs to create pressure. Finn has struggled to do that and finds himself in a quandary because of it. He is an attacking bowler, he likes to aim the ball at the stumps and he is constantly searching for wickets. As a tall and gangly bowler, there are more parts of Finn that need to be in constant, perfect motion, and an attacking length means getting it a touch wrong – which could go completely wayward. England has put up with that, but if their strategy is to bowl dry, Tim Bresnan will be far better suited to the team’s needs.
Lord’s might be Finn’s homeground, but Bresnan also offers something extra with the bat. There is no need to be overly harsh on Finn. He is just 24 and still has time to develop into the player he can be. It took James Anderson years to become the player he is now. In Anderson’s first six years, his economy rate was also in the threes and escalated to above four in 2005 and 2006. The two are completely different players, but to judge Finn on three years is perhaps overly harsh.
However, for the immediate future, England might want a reliable force – something which Bresnan offers far more than Finn. The Yorkshireman has played just two Ashes Tests, both in Australia, but that shouldn’t matter much. While the track at Lord’s is expected to offer more to the spinners, Bresnan’s ability to reverse the ball will also be something England take into consideration.
Many will say that it’s harsh to cut Finn off so mercilessly, since everyone has a bad day at the office. That might be true, but not everyone’s office is a cricket field. DM
Photo: England’s Tim Bresnan catches a ball before Wednesday’s first cricket test match against Australia at Trent Bridge cricket ground in Nottingham, England July 9, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown