England vs Sri Lanka: Home team desperately need Steven Finn to rediscover his mojo
There is nothing so dispiriting as when a pitch goes flat and the bowling all looks much of a muchness, as England’s did for long periods at Lord’s on Friday.
Blame the groundsman, blame county cricket, or blame a dead rubber match for not stirring the bowlers ire? All probably play a part but actually I lay most of the blame with Steven Finn for becoming the strike bowler turned trundler.
Finn has struggled for rhythm since injuring his side in South Africa last January. But his travails this season have turned into longeurs now, with any sympathy over his predicament having worn thin.
Like batsmen who score ugly runs, bowlers must find ways to take wickets when they are not feeling full of vim. For Finn, the best way to do that is bowl fast – 90mph plus fast. It is, after all, what he has been picked to do. Yet the best we have got so far here is a range between 82-86 mph, a velocity already being plied by England’s other pace bowlers, Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes.
Day 3 at Lords
England are winning so the pressure on Finn to raise his game has not been acute. Not that he is coasting, exactly. More that his mind has not been focused as intently as it might have been had his team been struggling with him bowling barely above powder puff pace.
At this point we must consider that Finn, more than most bowlers of his ilk, has endured a lot of advice incorporating such things as the ideal length of his run-up and how he should bowl. A friendly and polite man, he has listened to all of it and tried most of it. But he is now 27 and must make decisions for himself. Mind you if bowling medium-fast is one of them, he must be dissuaded from it immediately.
Since the start of his England career six years ago, Finn has seen himself as fast bowler, swing bowler and a Glenn McGrath-like prober of a batsman’s patience. Only the first should be countenanced, his action has too many working parts, and therefore too much to go wrong, for the other two to be viable.
Run in, fix the opposition batsmen in your sights, and hit the pitch hard is what he should be doing, at as quick a pace as he can muster. Instead of England’s surgeon he should be their battering ram, a bowler who can intimidate by physical threat alone.
That he finds the role elusive, certainly at present, could be down to character. Instead of being brash and larger than life (unlike his frame), Finn is sensitive and and possibly too emotional to fit the classic fast bowler’s temperament.
He did take the only Sri Lankan wicket to fall yesterday, but he was fortunate. Getting batsmen strangled down the leg-side is never planned and Dimuth Karunaratne can count himself desperately unlucky that a harmless looking delivery, which should have been tucked away for one off his hips, just caught the corner of his bat instead.
There have been others who could bowl quick but could not do it regularly, frustrating both their captain and team mates. Chris Lewis used to get Graham Gooch, his England captain at the time, wound up like no other bar David Gower, slipping himself occasionally to reach 92mph but mostly ploughing a furrow between 82 and 85mph. As Gooch always said, it was not knowing which bowler would turn up that annoyed him most, captain’s liking uncertainty even less than insolence.
So far England have been encouraging to Finn, but he needs, in the word’s of Duncan Fletcher, one of England’s former coaches, to “come to the party” or they will have no choice to wield the stick rather than the carrot.
If he was to be dropped and told to work at finding some extra pace in county cricket, England are not over-blessed with 90mph plus bowlers to call upon. Mark Wood from Durham can do it but he is returning from injury himself and needs to get into the habit of taking wickets again.
Chris Jordan bowls a heavy ball, but cannot regularly exceed 90mph. Tymal Mills was the fastest around but he has a congenital back condition that has restricted him to T20 appearances only, four overs being a more manageable daily workload than 14.
Then there are bowlers like Jake Ball, in the current England squad and Liam Plunkett and Jack Brooks of Yorkshire. Plunkett can bowl fast and he would improve the batting of England’s tail, but the selectors overlooked him for the tour of South Africa, a place that normally encourages the quicks.
Ideally, England could do with Finn rediscovering his mojo. It is just the best way of achieving it in the quickest time possible which remains unclear.