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Gentle giant or England's enforcer?

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Oliver Brett | 06:01 UK time, Friday, 29 October 2010

Only one man in England's 16-strong Ashes squad has never faced Australia in international cricket. If it is not too great a leap of faith, consider this: that same man could hold the key to the hopes of thousands of travelling supporters this winter.

Steven Finn was fast-tracked into England's Test side in March. If not unusually rapid, he is unusually tall, and allied to his natural pace and bounce he is more consistent than most young pace bowlers.

That consistency - an attribute he believes he can improve - is important. When determined Australian batsmen are well set on flat Aussie decks, Andrew Strauss needs to know that Finn is a genuine wicket-taking option who can also stem the flow of runs.

Steven Finn

Finn's action has been compared to both Glenn McGrath and Angus Fraser (Getty)

The uncertainty surrounding James Anderson's fitness following a blow to the ribs while boxing - yes, quite - means England need the other seamers to deliver strong performances in the warm-up games as a prelude to Test success.

It will be interesting to see what Finn produces. In eight Tests, he has only bowled at the flaky batsmen of Bangladesh and Pakistan, mostly in helpful English conditions. Even before the players reach Brisbane for the first Test, taking on toughened Australian state batsmen on their own tracks will be a challenge on its own merit.

Born in Watford where he first picked up the game - "even back then I tried to bowl at people's throats" - and a proud Hornets fan to this day, he has spent October keeping fit and focusing on his Australian assignment.

And yet there have been distractions. He has been on a fleeting trip to Bangalore, where he picked up the ICC emerging player of the year award, pulled over by the police in his brand new Jaguar - they thought he had stolen it - and headhunted by the preppy American clothes retailer Abercrombie and Fitch. Perhaps it was the sensible haircut that he occasionally gets ribbed about by his team-mates.

Some of those details are provided via a perusal of the Middlesex fast bowler's witty and at times self-deprecating Twitter feed.

Meeting Finn, 21 and 6ft 6½in tall, at a StreetChance coaching session in Brixton,
I explore with him the oddity that he will almost certainly find himself bowling to Ricky Ponting, 14 years his senior, at some point during the first two days in Brisbane.

Did he ever imagine he would one day play in a Test against someone who he has only previously encountered from the comforts of a television sofa?

"To be honest, no. But I've always wanted to challenge myself as hard as I can and to be playing against the best players in the world, especially Ricky Ponting who averages 56, I think, in Test match cricket. He's a fantastic player and to have the opportunity to pit my wits against the best in the world is fantastic."

Finn's attention to detail about Ponting's average is interesting. "I love my stats. I'm always looking at my stats to see where I am and have always got a very good idea about what's happening. I can usually get it down to a couple of decimal places, which is pretty sad but is a good way of me focusing on my job and something that I love looking at."

So what benchmark does he want to reach at the end of the Ashes? "I don't want to chase something. When you let things happen they happen much quicker," he adds enigmatically.

Steven Finn pictured during England's boot camp in Gemany

Finn during the pre-Ashes boot camp in which James Anderson broke a rib (Photo: Getty)

Studious in demeanour, thoughtful about his words... but what will the cauldron-like intensity of the Gabba, not to mention the other four big Australian stadiums, feel like for someone more used to the friendly chatter of Lord's?

Briefly, Finn retracts himself from the spotlight, insisting he must first wait to be selected. "I'm more thinking about getting myself ready to go out there and do a good job for my country. If I'm not selected, obviously I'll be disappointed but I'm not going to waste too much energy worrying whether or not I'm good enough."

But the answer to a separate question suggests someone who is not bashful about playing a big role: "I love the attention. I love having the opportunity to play in front of a lot of people and influence them and potentially put in a great performance for people. I think it's great to be out there in the limelight."

If there is a drawback to Finn's bowling it's the lack of lateral movement he generates. Even his England team-mate Paul Collingwood admitted to me: "He doesn't swing it a lot."

Otherwise, there are plenty of positive signals, such as similarities with Aussie greatGlenn McGrath and England Test bowler Angus Fraser. For the record he does not model himself on either, though he concedes "my natural attributes are similar to those guys".

Nevertheless, those attributes - steady line and length, steep bounce, enough nip to occasionally rush the batsman - are good ones to have in Australia, are they not?

"It's good to hear people saying that about me because until you hear it you don't know. I just run up and bowl and things look totally different to me compared to what people see on the outside. But it's a great privilege to be talked about in that way and it's a great privilege to be going over to Australia."

The list of seam bowlers who have helped win Ashes series for England in Australia is a select one. In the past 50 years, only Bob Willis and Ian Botham stand out, aside from an odd flash of brilliance from the likes of John Snow, Graham Dilley and Gladstone Small.

Although the attack this time looks better than many of those assembled for recent Australian campaigns, there are question marks over Anderson's potency with Kookaburra balls and Stuart Broad's temperament. Graeme Swann is in terrific form but will need high-quality support.

And that is precisely where Finn comes in. The fascination is this: we don't yet know whether he will be the gentle giant he appears to be or the hard-nosed enforcer England want him to be.


  • Comment number 1.

    I like his attitude - he seems confident enough but not arrogant. He's got a look about him at the crease that batsmen won't like. Lets hope its not too much too soon - but its probably not from what I've seen.

  • Comment number 2.

    "the cauldron-like intensity of the Gabba"!? Come on! This is Brisbane, South East Queensland, known as a laid-back big country town. There was a very relaxed atmosphere for the Queensland v Sri Lanka one-dayer last Friday, everyone there to enjoy themselves, during the SL innings their stars were wandering around the perimeter signing autographs, getting photographed with fans, etc. Murali carrying drinks, new bats etc.

    Even in Ashes games, the basic good nature and enjoyment are dominant. Of course, Australia is generally well on top. That may well not be the case this year, but people will enjoy the contest (except, perhaps, if Australia get really badly thrashed, which seems unlikely).

    I remember years ago (1982-83?) watching Tavare crawl along at a boring snail's pace. My yell of "Come back Boycott, all is forgiven!" was very well received.

  • Comment number 3.

    My memory of seeing him wilting in the heat of Bangladesh makes me wonder if he will suffer the same in Oz. The strengthening program he was put through may have helped but I'm unsure.
    I remember as a 6'3" lanky kid that I found coping on hot days difficult and my ability to cope improved as I got older.

  • Comment number 4.

    Steve Finn has a good attitude and has been pretty well handled so far. He was the ultimate left-field pick in Bangladesh, based on a net session when he was not even in the Lions XI and, while not an outstanding success, did far better than many of the habitual doom-merchants expected. Australia is different, by Steve Finn is very different to the callow kid who went to Bangladesh. He'll also have plenty of time to acclimatise to the conditions and the weather, which he did not have in Bangladesh. He'll do okay. He seized his chance this summer and made an instant impact in a way few bowlers have done in recent years. He's part of an attack that is comfortable with each other. Good luck to him out there.

  • Comment number 5.

    I am old enough to remember John Snow taking 30 odd wickets in 6 tests in 1970-1 against an Australian side containing Stackpole, the Chappell brothers, Redpath, Walters etc and 20 odd in 5 tests in England later. Hardly an odd flash of genius. Ask the Chappell brothers, who they would rather face at their peak out of Botham, Willis and Snow.

  • Comment number 6.

    Interesting piece, but your comment near the end re Willis, Botham and Snow is way off the mark. The only England fast bowler of the last 50 years who has won a series in Australia is the great John Snow, rated by Ian Chappell as the best bowler he ever played against and one who would have been close to the of all-time England wicket takers if the selectors had possessed any man-management skills

  • Comment number 7.

    #6, didn't Willis and Botham win the Ashes in Australia in 1977/78?? I seem to remember that Ian Botham did pretty well in that series, as did Bob Willis, albeit against a weakened opposition (that still had players like Kim Hughes, Allan Border and Rodney Hogg).

  • Comment number 8.

    I think S. Finn will be the next G. McGrath for England in coming future....I am Indian and i have lots of hope in him.

  • Comment number 9.

    As I support Watford and Middlesex, he is obviously my favourite player but even if I didn't think that, he still has a lot of potential and I think he could be crucial for England this year. However, I am concerned about how many runs he concedes while taking his wickets as he usually has a high economy rate. Do you think this will be a factor?

  • Comment number 10.

    Seems only yesterday that Hedley Verity was poking his finger into what used to be known as a "Brisbane sticky" and coming up with the words, "Poor Don!" I seriously hope Ponting & co won't be chuckling, "Poor Swann" in these times of covered wickets. So yes, let's hope for a few mickey finns in lethal doses.

  • Comment number 11.

    2. Having spent 10 days in Brisbane four years ago (including being in the Gabba all five days of the Test) I accept that Brisbane folk are perhaps a more laidback bunch than the cricketgoing public in Melbourne and Sydney, but to use the recent Queensland v Sri Lanka match as a guide to what we can expect on Nov. 25 is perhaps not ideal.

    5 & 6. In terms of actual matches won for England by Snow, there was one outstanding haul of 7-40 at Sydney, otherwise pretty slim pickings. I accept he was up against a very strong team in the 70-71 series and genuinely terrorised them, but to belittle what Willis and Botham did compared to Snow (they each have 28 wickets in overseas Ashes wins compared to Snow's 10 and featured in two series wins apiece) is not quite fair...

    8. Always a good sign when an impartial observer sees a big future in a young England player!

    9. Australian wickets are fast-scoring in Tests and Finn does need to cut down on the "four" balls, especially with England using a four-man attack.

    10. If Australia have any sense they'll prepare wickets that are as unfriendly to spin bowlers as possible...

  • Comment number 12.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 13.

    Oliver, in response to your comment above (re: the fast bowler situation) I'm backing the John Snow cause. In Ashes series 1970-71 Snow picked up 31 wickets at 22 apiece on Australian soil, in a winning England side, surpassing the feats of Botham and Willis that you have mentioned above.

    Two years later he took 24 wickets from the 1972 home series at 23.23 and ended his test career with 83 wickets at 25.61 versus Australia. Not bad going for 'slim pickings'.

    Let's get back on topic and hope Steven Finn can recreate these kind of numbers - he'll certainly have to be on top of his game to disable the likes of Ponting, Clarke, Hussey and the very in-form Shane Watson on Australian territory.

  • Comment number 14.

    the calibre of Englands bowling is often the major factor in an Ashes series. Unfortunately, this year all they have is Swann. In 2005 the England seamers were like a pack of wolves, working together, sniffing out wickets. Last time out, Swann and Flintoff were superb and England had home advantage. Finn? nah mate. Broad? won't trouble em too much. There is no nasty in the England attack, no Freddie, no Harmie, no Beefy, no Jonesie - its like back in the 1990's

    3-0 Australia

  • Comment number 15.

    I agree with those who (like me) are old enough to remember John Snow in the 1970-71 series. The 7-40 was clearly his best performance during that series but altogether he took 31 wickets at 22 apiece. The boot is on the other foot: it is Botham and Willis who (in Australia) can't match that. And it wasn't an "odd flash of brilliance" either - he was a thorn in the side of the Aussies before and after that series. I think because he didn't become a media pundit, he is comparatively forgotten - which is unjust. Interview him one lunch-time on TMS next summer!

  • Comment number 16.

    My 2nd post on John Snow, who I admired when I was growing up. No English bowler got an lbw decision in 6 tests in Australia in 1970-1 and Snow had no other great bowler at the other end like Lillee had Thomson. Although not relevant to the Ashes, he got 27 wickets in 4 Tests in the West Indies in 1967/8 against a side containing Sobers, Kanhai and Clive Lloyd. Saying John Snow is better than Willis and Botham is not belittling Botham and Willis,but he was simply a level or two above them.

  • Comment number 17.

    13. Your final par raises the significant question - who IS Australia's "gun" batsman? Weirdly enough, it's probably Shane Watson based on his form whatever he looks like at the crease!

    14. I have to say that is an astonishingly negative summary of England's bowlers. I think most people are relieved we have no Harmison in the side (poor record against decent sides like Aus, especially away from home), not sad that we are missing him.

    15. I agree we don't hear enough from John Snow these days. His memories would make him a terrific TMS guest, I might suggest him one day.

  • Comment number 18.

    One thing that I find astonishing about this series is that with Australia just having lost 3 Tests on the bounce and having lost the Ashes in 2009, all the focus is on England's frailties. The Australian attack in 2009 looked a shadow of the 2005 or 2006/07 side and has suffered further erosion since, but the focus seems to be on the weakness of England's attack. Similarly, the Australian batting has scored just 253, 334, 88, 349, 428, 192, 478, and 223. The two occasions when they passed 400 a massive second innings collapse turned a certain draw into defeat; just once in those 4 Tests have they passed 250 in both innings and then only by a fraction. It's hardly the mark of a side that should be confident that its batting can lord itself over rivals.

    Perhaps the current Australian bravado is more an attempt to convince themselves that England are vulnerable than a true belief that they are?

  • Comment number 19.

    I agree that Snow (and we all know statistics don't tell the whole truth), was a class above Willis, though if Willis had paid as much attention to his fitness in his early years as he did from 1977 onwards, it might have been a different story. As he himself admits, his poor fitness in years when he should have been at his peak in terms of pace cost him a regular test place; and when he did play, he could never sustain his pace for very long. Apart from Michael Holding, I think that Snow's action was the best that I've ever seen for a fast bowler, although not as the purists would have liked it. I could have watched Snowy run in for hours on end.
    Getting back to this series, I think that this is the first time for a couple of decades that England have had anything like a reasonable preparation itinerary to work with. Hopefully they should be functioning well by the time they get to the first test. I think that the bowling does lack firepower, so it will be a question of the taller seam bowlers finding the right length early on, as opposed to trying to bounce the Aussies out and getting murdered. Remember, Glenn McGrath was not the fastest, but he achieved his results through accuracy and consistency. If Broad, Finn and Tremlett can do that, then there's no reason why they can't do well.

  • Comment number 20.

    Gravy, in 1974 we took Bob Willis to the West Indies instead of John Snow to be the main counterpoint to the West Indian attack. If I recall rightly, Bob Willis took just 5, very expensive wickets through that tour. John Snow's response though was to be moody and essentially give up. When he was selected for the trial match in the shadow team, rather than try to put one over his rivals, he just cruised through the match until one of his teammates asked him to show them just one, quick over before the close: Dennis Amiss, who had been looking world-class until then, suddenly had to start ducking a weaving like a tail-ender. Of course, that was the only quick over that John Snow bowler in the whole match.

    Later in his career Bob Willis re-invented himself as a hard-working, accurate quick who would bowl as long as required. The Bob Willis of Headingley 1981 was a genuinely frightening prospect who sustained his pace for a long time. Later, as captain, no one in the attack worked longer or harder, even one IT Botham, when overs needed bowling as he tried to inspire a poor side by example. Perhaps, had he had the same work ethic a couple of years earlier we would remember him as one of the greatest of all England quicks instead of just a very good one.

  • Comment number 21.

    Glenn McGrath: the new yardstick for pointless comparisons following on from 'the new Botham', 'the new Warne', and 'the new Paras Mhambrey'.

    Time after time, articles on Steven Finn either claim directly or hint indirectly that he's some kind of metronomic machine in the McGrath and Fraser mould. I find this puzzling as he's not demonstrated to me that he has supreme accuracy. He's impressive for his age but compare his stats to Kemar Roach, a guy who is younger than Finn, who has played against better Test batting sides (Australia and South Africa) than Finn, and who currently has a lower Test and first class economy rate. I don't hear people mentioning Roach as a metronomic bowler whilst invoking images of McGrathian parsimony. It wasn't long ago that Steve Waugh was comparing Ishant Sharma to McGrath, despite Ishant being out of form then and continuing that trend. Despite the massive drop in form, Ishant is still more economical at Test level than Finn and only a year older.

    So what is Finn? At the minute, I'm not sure how he can be judged. Eight Tests, six of which came at home in a wet summer on pitches offering a lot of seam assistance against two sides who batted poorly, have shown some good mental ability and real potential with the ball. Whether he's ready for Australia is another matter and the selection of Tremlett, essentially an eight years more experienced version of Finn, suggests that the selectors want that backup option.

    Stargazer's point about English frailties being the focus is well made. Australia have tremendous problems. Clarke is out of touch and Hussey and North are possible candidates for the drop. That puts a lot of pressure on the top order. Both bowling attacks are pretty workmanlike. Johnson is the loose cannon for Australia and it's clear that the selectors have been considering having their own counter to Finn over the last few months, with tall guys like Josh Hazelwood, Clint McKay, and Peter George playing at some point internationally over the last year. Hilfenhaus and Johnson are certainties, one has to wonder how Hauritz feels mentally after India, Bollinger has repetitive wig syndrome, and Peter Siddle seems to not be quite up to speed after injuries and action changes. Very strange times in the green and gold camp.

  • Comment number 22.

    21. "Hussey and North are potential candidates for the drop..."

    And today Hussey went for a first baller and North for 10 in WA's Shield match, both dismissed by a slow left-armer called Aaron O'Brien.

    For what it's worth I personally don't see much of McGrath in Finn, but I do see a lot of Fraser. And I wasn't saying he was the new anything, just drawing some comparisons to aid people who might now have seen much of him.

  • Comment number 23.


    I wasn't complaining about you, just an observation on how 'the new McGrath' has been dished out as the fabled comparison over the last couple of years to anyone with a bit of height and a lanky frame.

    Good point on the Hussey and North failures. Usman Khawaja did score runs after his epic 214 in the last game ( and I like his style. If he did make an Ashes debut, it'd also be interesting to see the reaction in the Aussie media to him playing as Australia's first Muslim and as someone not born in Australia. Would it stop the 'English Saffers' jibes? Probably not. Australia need some new energy in the batting department.

  • Comment number 24.

    Sorry Oliver but your comments on John Snow are just way off the mark. I suspect you were not there to watch that series. I was , and can assure you that Snow's performance was outstanding, and statistics alone don't convey the degree to which he dominated the Australian batting.
    I would certainly not belittle the efforts of Bob Willis and Ian Botham -and Willis himself in fact played an important part in the final match of Snow's 1970/71 series - but neither had the single handed impact of Snow on the Illingworth tour. You cite Snow's small number of wickets in WINS in Australia but this is Gross Misuse of Statistics : England only won two matches (to nil) on Snow's only tour, and you have failed to note that he injured his hand in the final innings of the latter match and hardly bowled.
    Plus the the other 20 wickets in drawn games are hardly something to be ignored!

    If Finn (or anyone else) puts his name up with Willis, Botham, (and Tyson and Statham a little earlier) as Ashes winning fast bowlers in Australia , I will be delighted, but anyone who doesn't also include John Snow in that pantheon is talking through his hat.

  • Comment number 25.

    Im flaberghasted this guy has bene picked off the back of bowling over a feeble Bangladesh side. Richard Johnson and Ed Giggings did the same and what ever happned to their England career? I think he is the weak link and he and Andersen will struggle with the Kookabura ball and go to the roped. i watched Finn bowl at Northampton and wasnt impressed at all.

  • Comment number 26.

    Tall bowlers like Finn and Tremlett in Australia have a tendancy to over-stride when striving for extra pace, and thus bowl lots of no balls.

    If anyone can let me know EXACTLY when these no balls will be bowled, that information will be put to good use!!!!!

  • Comment number 27.

    In response to AndyPlowright (#23), Usman Khawaja will not be the first man to represent Australia born outside the country. Moises Henriques has played two ODIs and one T20I despite having been born in Funchal, Portugal.

    Also, I think phillip (#25) may actually mean Ed GIDDINS. Giddins was quite a bowler when on form (albeit, only when the ball was swinging) and his test bowling average of 20.00 (from only four matches, mind) backs up this notion. I think his England career went downhill with the cocaine addiction, bowling ban and match fixing allegations rather than any lack of talent.

  • Comment number 28.

    Was Kepler Wessels born in Australia? He was a real thorn in our flesh in the 1982/83 Ashes. I think that Australians born outside Australia started long before Henriques. Incidentally, Dirk Nannes only played for Australia having represented The Netherlands (although he WAS born in Australia).

    There were also plenty of Australian players not born in Australia in the 19th Century.

  • Comment number 29.

    It's always difficult to predict before an Ashes series as form and temprament are such major factors. However, this will be very close. I want to say an England win but I'm sticking with my 2-2 draw and us to retain. People suggesting either side will run away with it will be way off the mark. There will be ups and downs as there always are and I'm sure a couple of controversial moments and each side will have the upper hand as it swings both ways.

    However, this England side is lead very well from the top and Flower and Strauss will leave nothing unturned in their pursuit for glory. I believe Pietersen will star as he's a big game player and Swann will be too much to handle again. As long as the support comes from the rest of the batting and bowling we will do well. It may come down to Broad and Finn's wickets or Collingwood and Bell's runs rather than an Anderson or Strauss, the usual key figures.

    Australia will be a tough nut to crack. You can be sure Ponting won't want to lose a 3rd Ashes but if it goes against him early on that may spell the end quickly. They have players out of form but those are the same players that score big when they really need it. I think both sides will be on top batting but we will have more in terms of bowling than they will. Each side isn't the complete article and that will maybe make it even more interesting. Mistakes could hold the key.

    On the actual topic, Finn will do well. I can't see him slicing through their top order but he will have a big part to play and could prove to be a key figure. His bounce and pace will cause problems and if he stays disciplined he could create opportunities for others. His attitude is first class and he's always willing to learn. If he's as mentally and physically strong as people are suggesting he will succeed.

  • Comment number 30.

    @23 Usman Khawaja moved to Australia when he was 2. Pieterson and Trott moved for purely cricketing reasons. Can you spot the difference? Without cricket, Khawaja would be living in Australia regardless, I doubt that is the case for the above mentioned Saffers. Hughes and Callum Ferguson are in front of Khawaja anyway

    @17 Watson's recent record is good, but Australia's 'gun' is still, without doubt, the man who is at No.3 and the second highest runscorer of all time. The recent series in India confirmed this. It is worriesome that he has no significant challengers for this position however (looking at you Clarke).

    @22 And North got a ton in the second dig against SA. Following Ferguson's 100 in the same game. For all the talk about Australia's weak batting, we have plenty of contenders and they will all be playing cricket and available for selection, unlike when we tour England.

    Roll on the first morning of the Gabba...

  • Comment number 31.

    Andy (#21)

    Interesting comments as always. One problem that I had with Steve Finn prior to this season was that he had never been a big wicket-taker for Middlesex even in CC2. This season he really put that behind him and showed that he could run through a side. What's more, he was doing it in a losing cause and with desperately little support. That gives me some feeling that he really has come on leaps and bounds since Bangladesh.

    Steve Finn is not a metronome and he is not Glenn McGrath. In fact, he has also put on a few mph and has been showing above 90mph with his fastest deliveries, something that Glenn McGrath never did, nor needed to. He will deliver the odd four-ball and leave us all cursing him for relaxing the pressure after 3 maidens, but this season something has definitely clicked for him. Of course, taking wickets against Bangladesh and Pakistan is not the same as taking wickets at the Gabba, but he has done all that could reasonably be asked of him against the opposition that was provided.

  • Comment number 32.

    Without Warne, Mcgrath and Hayden we have seen Australia lose three straight test series. But Finn, Andersen, Broad and Swann is only slightly better than what Aussie have today.

  • Comment number 33.

    No, Phillip. Australia have lost 3 straight Tests, not series. Before losing to India 2-0 they shared the series against Pakistan 1-1 and, before that, whitewashed New Zealand 2-0 and had beaten the West Indies 2-0. So, in the last 12 months, their record is 2-1-1 in series and W5 D1 L3 in Tests.

  • Comment number 34.

    Sorry, I missed a series. They also whitewashed Pakistan 3-0 in Australia last winter. So, in the last 12 months the series are W3 D1 L1 and the Test record is W8 D1 L3.


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