In The Grubber this week, Phil Walker’s at Lord’s and he can’t get enough of Steven Finn.
About two minutes before Steven Finn got one to climb on Alviro Petersen and take his glove on the first morning at Lord’s, leaving the visitors tottering at 49-2, one of our most esteemed journalists tweeted something along the lines of it not being Finn’s conditions, and that Graham Onions should have been playing.
At that stage Finn had seen two big lbw shouts turned down, the second of which went to referral, beaten the bat twice and had nought for 15. Meanwhile Petersen had inched to 22, with a pair of leg side fours taken from off stump deliveries embellishing the sequence of dots and prods.
The wicket ball was fast and hostile, arcing horribly down the slope and into the ribcage. A gloved fend to Prior – with more than a hint that the hand was off the bat – and the Headingley centurion was gone. He could have hung around and called for the referral, which may (you would think) have exonerated him, but instead he walked, demonstrating the ‘fair cop, guv’ approach to justice: the final blow may have been waived on a technicality, but Petersen knew Finn had won this one and quietly accepted his fate.
In fighting so hard for the wicket, gutsing it out to seize control at a critical stage, Finn gave notice of the inner mongrel behind the easy manner that underlines his ongoing search for acceptance as a top-rank bowler. Strange to think, considering we’re talking about the youngest Englishman to 50 Test wickets and the established spearhead of England’s 50-over attack, that Finn has had to strain so hard and for so long for recognition as a frontline talent; it is almost as if he has been held back on purpose, for fear of exposing the world too soon to the enormity of his talent and spoiling the surprise when they do.
The standard line is that he doesn’t, as yet, offer the requisite control required of a third seamer, that he goes for too many runs, that he bowls too many four-balls. It relates back to his three Tests in Australia in 2010/11, when he emerged from those matches with more wickets than anyone else but at a bloated economy rate, and was replaced for the fourth Test by Tim Bresnan, specialist miser.
That was two years ago. In the meantime he has bulked up, bucked up, added a yard and turned himself into, amongst other things, England’s most incisive one-day bowler. Last October, unproven in pyjamas, he turned the hospital pass of a new-ball assignment for a five-match ODI series in India into a cast-iron case for selection; since then, in 10 matches he has taken four wickets on three occasions and gone at more than five-an-over just once to become the fifth best bowler in the ICC’s ODI rankings. Still too loose?
Today at Lord’s, in the biggest home Test he has played, we saw what Steven Finn has become. Three balls after the Petersen strangle, a pearler of a breakback careered through Hashim Amla’s usually impregnable forward-block. From the Pavilion End, down the slope again, it reminded The Grubber of Glenn McGrath’s unplayable brand of genius from the same end that clean-bowled Ian Bell during that ridiculous 5-2 spell in 2005. McGrath, it barely needs to be said, is Finn’s hero.
Seven deliveries later Kallis would fall too, in a carbon copy of Petersen’s dismissal as again Finn extracted ugly bounce to terrify the right-hander’s ribcage. The only difference here, and it’s a significant one, is that this one did go to review; how the third umpire Rod Tucker saw fit to raise the finger is still being ‘analysed’ in the South African dressing room as we speak. It was a shocker.
South Africa lunched at 65-4. With two snorting short ones and one vicious inducker, Finn had taken 3-3 in seven balls to turn the series on its head. After lunch it was a different story. AB de Villiers, among the best counter-attacking batsmen around, took him for six fours as Finn became strained and peculiarly ragged. With triumphalism checked (no bad thing), Finn made way for the boss.
When Jimmy Anderson was Finn’s age, the then 23-year-old was getting carted all over Johannesburg in the toughest part of his career. Seven years on he is as near to the finished article as a fast bowler can be, and today he was just majestic. Shaping it both ways from the first over of the day, he got Graeme Smith initially (to a wide, swinging half-volley) and, after replacing the young man at the Pavilion End, bowled 13 dot balls to the rampant de Villiers before inducing the final edge.
Ever since The Grubber first saw Finny bowl, the sense that we were in the presence of something special has been pointless to resist, and this latest wild, mercury spell here at Lord’s just feeds the belief. But for now Anderson’s still evolving story is the one to recount, for it’s not so much where Steven Finn is right this minute that should be getting us so excited, as the path down which he’s headed.