Steven Finn, the England fast bowler whose tour of Australia was cut short by a knee injury, believes that the off-field antics of the current England team are nothing compared to those of the victorious 2010-11 Ashes squad, and fears that the sport will risk a further alienation from its fan base if the controversies of the current tour discourage players from being seen in public in the future.
Finn, who was a junior member of the squad that won the Ashes under the leadership of Andrew Strauss seven years ago, said that some of the abiding memories of his career centred around the Barmy Army parties that the players attended throughout the tour, in particular at Sydney in the wake of their innings victory in the fifth Test.
But now, following Ben Stokes’ arrest in Bristol in September, Finn recognises that the mood has shifted when it comes to players letting their hair down at the end of a day’s play. The furores surrounding Jonny Bairstow’s and Ben Duckett’s antics in Perth have further heightened the scrutiny even if, as Finn insists, the current squad are far better behaved than their reputation would imply.
“I toured away in Australia in 2010-11 when I was a young man and there was a lot of alcohol drunk on that tour,” Finn said during a Chance to Shine and NatWest event. “There was lots of going out, way, way more than what happens under this current regime.
“I remember being in the middle of that 2010-11 tour with the fans,” he added. “The guys there were in a four-storey building in Sydney after we won that series and you’re enjoying making memories with the fans – the people there supporting you, who’ve paid money to be there. It’d be a real shame if we lost that approachableness in light of what’s happened, but it’s a very fine line.
“I think the beauty of cricket has meant this group of guys have been approachable to the public, to the press. What makes cricket awesome is the fact that you’re able to have those human interactions with people where it doesn’t feel like they’re behind a concrete wall the whole time and you can interact with people.”
Finn was not involved in the current tour for long enough to form any definitive opinions of the players’ behaviour – he suffered his knee injury during England’s first nets session in Perth in October and flew home a week later. However, as a regular part of the set-up since Trevor Bayliss was named as coach in 2015, he was adamant that the issues were being exaggerated.
“For the last two years there’s certainly no underlying culture issue in my opinion,” Finn said. “Because I have been a part of three eras of English cricket now. When Strauss and [Andy] Flower first started, a genuine way of building team rapport and trust was to spend time together like that. But as we’ve moved through time, it becomes a more sensitive line as to what is acceptable behaviour and what’s not.
“In the past these things wouldn’t have caused any offence or outrage. It’s only in light of what’s happened that they do”
“If anything, it’s the awareness of where that line is, that is more important now than what it has been before. Certainly, from having been involved in both eras, I’d say in 10-11 one of my fondest memories of the trip is going out a lot and enjoying yourself, embracing the culture. But obviously, what’s happened has changed that.
“I think that it’s very hard because I only know what’s been reported in the press. I make a point when I speak to people I don’t ask about that stuff. It’s none of my business, I’m not there.
“I don’t think anyone who’s not there has a true hold of what’s actually going on. It’s bad publicity for cricket, which is bad for us as a sport in general not just this Ashes tour. I think that we have a responsibility to be aware of the situation that we’re in. But there is a very fine line between acceptable behaviour and just overstepping that mark.
“Maybe in a couple of situations we’ve not been quite as aware as we could’ve done, but in the past these things wouldn’t have caused any offence or outrage. It’s only in light of what’s happened that they do. The guys will be a lot more aware now.
“They’re not an irresponsible bunch of guys and the way that they’re being painted sometimes is really unfair on them, because they’re not bad people or troublemakers. Through performances on the pitch, rebuilding that trust is really important.
“If they can turn this series around, they will paint themselves in a really good light, because I know they’re good people and I know there’s no malice in anything they’re doing.”
Chance to Shine has developed free digital cricket resources for primary schools available from chancetoshine.org The charity has partnered with NatWest to give all young people the opportunity to play and learn through cricket #NoBoundaries