Steven Finn says that he would tell his younger self to bowl flat-out and hang the consequences, as the inquest begins into the state of the country’s fast-bowling resources during a chastening Ashes campaign in Australia.
However Finn, who flew home in the first week of the tour after suffering a knee injury, also believes that county cricket is a poor breeding ground for genuine fast bowlers, with its combination of heavy workloads and “pancake” wickets tending to encourage talented quicks to bowl within themselves for the sake of self-preservation.
With his 6’6″ frame and natural ability to bowl at 90mph, Finn’s career epitomises the arrested development of England’s current generation of fast bowlers. In 2011, at the age of 22 years and 63 days, he broke Ian Botham’s record to become the youngest England bowler to 50 Test wickets – a tally that included 14 wickets in the first three Tests of England’s triumphant Ashes tour in 2010-11, more than any other bowler on either side up to that point.
But Finn was dropped for the final two Tests of that series, at a time when England’s tactics were built more around economy rates than strike rates, and his career never entirely recovered. By the time of the next Ashes tour in 2013-14, he had been deemed “unselectable” by Ashley Giles, England’s one-day coach, after struggling with his action through a torrid winter.
“I came on the scene as a bit of a tearaway who could bowl pace but leak runs,” Finn said during a Chance to Shine and NatWest event. “If I could change anything, I’d have tried to stay true to that person I was when I was younger rather than become, in the era that I played in, someone who could go at less than three an over.
“That wasn’t in my armoury, however much I wanted it to be. I went away and worked on that, but I had problems along the way. If I was going tell myself anything if I was younger again, it would be keep bowling as fast as you can, because if you take wickets that’ll look after itself.”
Sure enough, those attributes that England were able to take for granted seven years ago have been sorely lacking on the current tour. None of England’s available quicks have been capable of matching the consistent speeds that Australia’s trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins have attained in the first three Tests. And there are few reliable alternatives on the horizon.
Finn believes that the rigours of life on the county circuit are detrimental to his craft, especially at a time when the ECB’s focus has been to address the dearth of Test-quality spinners that have undermined recent Test series, particularly in the subcontinent. New toss regulations were introduced in 2015 to discourage counties from producing seam-orientated pitches, but Finn believes that that policy has had knock-on effects.
“I think the conditions play a big part in it,” he said. “We are trying to develop spinners in this country with the toss rules and not making pitches biased towards fast bowlers, but I do think the slowness of the wickets discourages people from bowling fast. Whether it’s a seaming wicket or a spinning wicket in this country, we struggle to produce quick wickets, which is a shame.
“The quickest wicket I’ve played on in the last few years is Scarborough and it’s an outground, it gets one or two games there a year,” he said. “Everywhere else has the feeling of being a bit of a pancake because people are scared of losing games of cricket. If we don’t address that issue at some stage it’s going to get worse.
“And there’s the amount of cricket we play,” he added. “I know personally I can bowl 90mph, I’ve done it in international cricket, especially when I was younger, but when you play 12 months a year, if you’re not selective and careful about the way you go about things, it can suck the pace out of you. And that’s when you get knee problems and other degenerative conditions that stop you bowling fast.”
The ECB’s National Performance Centre bears much of the brunt of the criticism for the current state of England’s fast bowling, with its reputation for putting injury prevention over the attainment of excellence. However, Finn defended the efforts of the board’s coaches.
“Loughborough gets slagged off a bit but you should see how excited they get when they find someone who can bowl quick,” he said. “They want to make that talent fulfil the potential that they show. They do a good job of trying to do that but, physically, it’s a difficult thing to do.”
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