Steven Finn, part of England’s successful ODI side in the series against New Zealand, has today been restored to the England Test squad. Finn’s career has followed the contours of an Alpine Tour de France stage. He is now perhaps, on the steep incline towards one of those mountain passes.
With Finn’s prospects again looking positive, I can, guilt-free, explain why I remain a sceptic.
The first thing most of us knew about Finn when he was initially identified as a potential England fast bowler was his height: 6 foot 7 inches. An England bowler on the scale of Joel Garner (6ft 8in) or Curtley Ambrose (6ft 7in) fostered thoughts of a loping stride and long, sweeping swing of his right arm, propelling balls into the pitch and rising past the batsman and being taken head high by the keeper.
When I did see footage of Finn on his international debut, something didn’t look right. The more I watched him the odder his action appeared – or further from my preconception about how a very tall man would bowl. Garner, Ambrose, Bruce Reid (6ft 8in) all seemed to move more slowly than other fast bowlers. The pace they attained came from getting maximum benefit from the rotation of their long levers. In particular, their bowling arms started low to their rear and were pulled through a lengthy arc, with the ball released at the apex of that curve.
Finn, on the other hand, had the rushed action of a shorter bowler, not the measured swing of a man delivering the ball from more than 10 feet above ground level. For a while, I convinced myself that Finn resembled, not Ambrose, but Robin Jackman, the five foot six inch tall Surrey bowler. But that was as much of an illusion as my expectation that he would bound to the crease like Garner. The batsman’s eye view of Finn confirms that he is an intimidating sight.
Years and many fluctuations in Finn’s career later and I have pinpointed what to my eye is so unsatisfying about his bowling action. Finn’s bowling arm straightens and begins its sweep towards the point of delivery with his arm close to perpendicular to his body. The actions of the tall bowlers that excited me all have the arm straightening much earlier with the arm pointing down to the ground.
I don’t believe this is an aesthetic matter. Finn, by straightening his arm later in the delivery action, loses the catapult force of pulling his arm and the ball through a full arc. In place of the long, strong pull, Finn pushes the ball at the batsman. An action that I suggest is both less efficient and reliable.
Finn may have the advantage of long limbs, but his bowling action doesn’t make full use of those natural attributes. I doubt that a cricketer who isn’t fully utilising his physical assets can achieve enduring international success.