Steven Finn beware – that ICC Emerging Player of the Year award that’s sitting on your mantelpiece this morning is not so much a guarantee of immortality as a dare for the fates to do their worst.
When you consider the troubles faced by the six previous winners of the award – Irfan Pathan(2004), Kevin Pietersen (2005), Ian Bell (2006), Shaun Tait (2007), Ajantha Mendis (2008) and Peter Siddle (2009) – it is clear that Mohammad Amir is not the only talented young cricketer who may never reach his full potential. The reasons have varied, yet in their struggles these men stand as statues for Finn to pass as Perseus did in his search for Medusa.
Some have failed to handle the demands of expectation (Bell and Tait), some have been frustrated by injury (Siddle and Tait again), while others perhaps were not quite as good as we thought they were (Pathan and Mendis). All are young enough to come again, but now know lows that match those initial highs.
As Finn’s action is informed by his exceptional height, each of those players had a defining characteristic as they swaggered through their first year in international cricket. There was Pathan’s swing, Pietersen’s flair, Bell’s technique, Tait’s pace, Mendis’s mystery and Siddle’s aggression. Yet that only Pietersen achieved consistently in the following years shows that success in Test cricket requires more than natural ability – an unquantifiable formula of mental fortitude, physical strength and luck. Between the statues the potholes are deep and varied for Finn, especially those outlined Australia and India in the coming year.
Finn goes to Australia as an apparent first-choice in England’s four-man attack. It is scarcely credible that a year ago he was thankful just to be part of Middlesex’s first XI, a big leap – the landing softened perhaps by the fragile batting line-ups of Bangladesh and Pakistan. Eight Tests have yielded 32 wickets and plenty more plaudits from a media and public always desperate to anoint the next saviour.
Australia will be a different test – mentally and physically. England’s concern that Finn’s body be prepared to cope with Test cricket was apparent with the strength and conditioning programme they sent him on earlier this summer. If he starts the Ashes as first choice he will need all that strength – England averaged 119 overs in the field on first innings on their last trip to Australia as opposed to the 72 Finn has experienced on average against Pakistan and Bangladesh. If that is the case this winter then the ability of England’s three seamers to cope with the workload will be crucial, especially given the constricted nature of a series that sees five Tests played in seven weeks. The back problems that have sidelined Graham Onions since he bowled 115 overs in three South African Tests are another warning.
Beyond his body, Finn has other statistics to consider. The figures in his fledgling Test career are striking. Of the seven seamers one might expect to be in contention for Brisbane (excluding Chris Tremlett) – Finn, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger – Finn possesses the best strike-rate, a freakish 36.7 (Dale Steyn’s is 39.2, Anderson’s 57.3 and Broad’s 64.6). He also, however, has the highest economy rate (3.77), with none of the others over 3.32. Finn must show he is more than a wicket-taking bowler who leaks runs, one thing against Bangladesh and Pakistan on home soil, another in Australia, where control and consistency in a four-man attack will be vital with wickets supposedly harder to come by. While Australia’s batsmen are unlikely to come after him in the style of Tamim Iqbal, they will be looking to expose any perceived weaknesses in a young man experiencing his first series of real pressure.
With a resurgent Chris Tremlett waiting, Finn has much to do to prove that his inexperienced body and action are capable of managing those twin burdens of achievement and expectation. If he comes through unscathed and reputation enhanced, then England really will have a potential world-beater, but if he’s not quite up to it yet, let’s not judge too harshly. Another of those emerging players, Ian Bell, is starting to show that success does not have to come immediately to be lasting.
Sam Collins is editor of thewisdencricketer.com
Follow him on twitter @wisdencric_sam