Saturday, 18 May 2013

England's bright young things

There are two years and sixteen test matches between them. One bats, one bowls. Both are seen to be the future of English cricket. But while Joe Root, after a grand total of five test matches, is being heralded as the boy who can do no wrong, question marks still hang over the head of Steven Finn.

Despite having only played five test matches, Root has never appeared to doubt his form, technique or his ability to compete at the highest level. Handing a twenty one year old their test debut in India is not the easiest start to international cricket, nor is coming in to bat for the first time when England are wobbling at 119/4 and looking to secure their first victory on the subcontinent for 27 years. The way he carried himself, forming stabilising partnerships with players who he admitted he grew up watching on TV, without getting overwhelmed was lauded by critics. It was impossible to speak about Root in terms that didn’t border on the Messianic. His march towards maturity has continued over the winter. A disappointing showing in the test series in New Zealand was counteracted by 646 early season runs for Yorkshire, before he picked up the mantle again at Lords.

Finn, by contrast, has yo-yoed in and out of the test squad. The first name on the team sheet for the limited overs formats, his test career has stuttered from a lack of consistency, an expensive over rate and the emergence of Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan. Even now, three years after his debut, problems find Finn at every turn. He was dropped during the 2010 Ashes for being too expensive, despite at the time being the leading wicket taker in the series. He went away, worked on his accuracy, before a new problem arose; this time, his leg disturbing the bails at the non-strikers end.

A quirk that could probably have been ironed out by a slight change in angle was exploited to perfection by Graeme Smith, ensuring a change in the laws of the game and an overhaul of Finn’s run-up. Running in off a shorter length worked wonders for Finn in the one day series in New Zealand, enabling him to get extra pace and bounce from pitches that appeared relatively placid. In the test matches where he was required to bowl longer spells he looked uncomfortable, unable to combine pace and an accurate line. So at the start of this international season, Finn reverted to his old run up. The knee knocking issue happened only once, but Finn’s lengths were all over the place, completely ignoring the sort of bowling the pitch demanded and instead adopting a short ball policy that did little but give the batsmen easy runs.

Whilst Root is assured in who he is, Finn isn’t. He wants to bowl fast, he wants to bowl aggressively, but he cannot seem to combine the two elements.  When the pitch is faster, then Finn’s pace rises. On a slow pitch such as the Lords one during the New Zealand test, it requires a more accurate style of bowling. James Anderson bowled a fuller length, swung the ball and got five wickets for his trouble. Finn bowled too short on the first day, a slightly better length on the second but still too wide, and his four wickets were, for lack of a better word, gifted to him. Consisting largely of tail-enders, they were as far away in terms of skill from Anderson’s as it was possible to be.

Finn could learn plenty from Anderson. A victim early in his career of over-coaching, Anderson has stuck to his natural bowling rhythm and has prospered. Finn doesn’t quite know what his natural rhythm is. He naturally bowls a ball that is back of a length, but when that doesn’t work, as it didn’t at Lords, he struggles. Stuart Broad was told, to horrible effect, that he was an ‘aggressor’. While he still bowls the odd short ball – how successful it is is debatable – he bowled a fuller length at Lords and troubled the batsman more in one morning than he had done for the entirety of the second day. It is possible to change your bowling plans without compromising who you are as a bowler. It’s fine if you see yourself as a bowler who excels in the short ball; it is a tactic that will undoubtedly come in handy on the bouncy pitches in Australia. But on days such as today, when wickets are being taken with a full ball, Finn needed to stop, evaluate and change. He didn’t, yet somehow, still managed to walk away with four wickets. Funny old game.