*My favourite player series is where we ask you to tell us who your favourite player is, why they're your favourite player and your best memory. This is a brand new series that is open to anyone and everyone, so if you're interested, get in touch on Twitter. Without further ado here is Josh with his favourite player. Make sure you follow him on Twitter @JoshSalter5
"Steeeve Finn, Steeeeve Finn, Steeeeve Finn"
It was embarrassing. I was drunk, chanting "Steeeve Finn" across a busy bar. The man himself looked bemused, hastily finished his drink, and moved away. This was a talented sportsman who'd made a huge impact in his first international summer. He was also from my hometown of Watford. He was two years my senior and had played for my local club, Langleybury.
An hour earlier I had approached Finn, and told him how much I admired his bowling, and wished him good luck for the upcoming Ashes tour, a momentous challenge in any cricketer’s career. My subsequent chanting may have been boorish, but I was in no way mocking the 6ft 7, beanpole fast bowler who had previously been enjoying a quiet drink with a friend. I admired Finn, and his rapid rise to the England test team that summer had been thrilling.
That was 2010. Fast forward to this winter, and Finn has been commentating on England's tour to New Zealand. On several occasions, Finn was referred to by a fellow pundit as "former England bowler" or "ex-England paceman Steve Finn". I cringed on every occasion, and I could see a slight squirm from the man himself.
Finn is only 30 years old. That is somewhat hard to believe, given his regular presence in the England team during the past decade. 36 Tests, 69 ODI's and 21 T20I's would register as an impressive international career in most people’s eyes. But not with Finn. Something feels unresolved. A talent feels unfulfilled.
So perhaps you may feel Finn is a strange choice for a "my favourite player" article. As a gangly, 6ft 4 man myself, I am the first to admit my delight in seeing a lanky sportsman achieving big things on the international stage. My local bias too, towards a man from my hometown, may have contributed to an extra interest towards his career. I like to think it is something more than that. Within Steve Finn, a startling juxtaposition can be seen. Rapid pace and impressive physical attributes clashed with a mind prone to self-doubt, a mind prone to over analysing an increasingly unnatural bowling technique.
The seed of these doubts was sewn on Finn's first Ashes tour. With the series locked at 1-1 after three Tests, Finn was dropped from the XI with Tim Bresnan taking his position. This was despite Finn being England's highest wicket-taker at that point. So why was he dropped? The answer is simple. Control. Finn's line could be wayward. During the Perth test, he leaked precious runs while England were attempting to subdue Australia, in a desperate effort to claw themselves back into the game. At that time, England's style of play was an attritional one. The opposition run-rate was meticulously kept in check by the Anderson-Broad axis. A release in this pressure from the change bowlers would damage England's game plan. As it was, the decision to replace Finn with Bresnan was vindicated. The last two tests were emphatically won by England, and a famous Ashes triumph was secured.
Lords, April 2011 and it was my first-time seeing Finn bowl in the flesh. What I witnessed was not a man reigning in his pace and attempting to bowl with more accuracy. What I saw was a man racing in, bowling at 90mph and re-awakening a sleepy early season encounter on a docile pitch with steepling bounce and searing aggression. Middlesex's opponents, Surrey, did not know what had hit them. Somehow, Finn only registered four wickets during the match, but his hostile spells had softened up the opposition for his fellow bowlers to reap the rewards.
Finn found himself behind the reliable Bresnan and intimidating Chris Tremlett in the pecking order that international summer, as England despatched both Sri Lanka and India with ruthless efficiency. I sympathised with Finn. Despite being a part of a supremely successful side, I felt as if Finn's talents were being moulded in a direction that did not suit him. A bowler who could create Steve Harmison levels of destruction was being unduly concerned with the control of line and length by the England hierarchy. This uniformity of England’s bowling attack of right armed, medium-fast bowlers would prove to be there undoing away from home when conditions demanded the raw pace and attacking
instincts of a bowler such as Finn.
2012 was a hugely successful one for the Middlesex man. The year began with impressive
performances in the ODI series in the UAE and ended with him playing a key role in England's superb triumph on their Test tour of India. However, it was a moment during England's home summer, against South Africa, that I believe led to a gradual sapping of Finn's confidence. In the second test at Headingley, Finn had the obdurate Graeme Smith caught behind during an accurate and menacing spell. The wicket would be chalked off, due to Finn knocking the bails off at the bowler's end during his delivery stride. This was an infuriating habit of Finn's and this time it would cost him dearly. The delivery was deemed a no-ball, and a precious scalp had been lost.
From that point on, confidence would drain away from Finn when things would not go his way. The following summer, England's new captain Alastair Cook shied away from throwing Finn the ball during Australia's tense run chase at Trent Bridge in the first Ashes Test. It fell to Anderson to bowl a lengthy spell and ultimately seal the victory, while Finn was targeted by Brad Haddin in a calculated counterattack. Having been dropped from the XI after one test, Finn had his chance to prove himself once again as England returned to Australia that winter for the second leg of an Ashes marathon.
The 5-0 drubbing England received was incredibly painful and humiliating. England would lose a core of players that had brought them so many victories in previous years. The only member of the touring squad to not feature in a game was Finn. Battling a crumbling technique and losing confidence in his own ability, he was sent home early. Coach Ashley Giles admitted Finn was unselectable, while Jonathan Agnew on TMS declared Finn needed to be "put out of his misery". It was as if a thoroughbred had run his last race.
But that was not the case. Redemption came during the third Ashes Test of the 2015 series. Finn had been recalled to the team in the place of the injured Mark Wood, and the series was on a knife-edge at 1-1. Batting on what appeared to be a good track for batting, Australia were quickly in trouble. At 18-1, Finn, on as first change, prompted Steve Smith to edge behind to first slip. Edgbaston exploded. Smith had appeared unremovable the previous test at Lords but had been sent back by Finn for only 7. The ecstasy from Finn and joy from his teammates was only heightened when Australia's captain, Michael Clarke was comprehensively bowled by Finn for 10. Anderson polished off the rest of Australia's shell-shocked batting line up for a measly 136.
England had secured a lead of 145 after their innings, a good lead, but not yet a match-winning situation. With Anderson off the field through injury, Warner attacking Stuart Broad and Ali failing to gain any spin, the situation demanded a performance from Finn. Would the self-doubts return and cost his team a vital test match? No. He rose to the occasion magnificently. Perfectly straddling the line between pace and accuracy, coupled with his steepling bounce, the heart of the Australian batting line-up was ripped out. Smith was once again removed, before Clarke and then Voges were dismissed in successive balls, edging behind fast, rising deliveries from a pumped-up Finn. Marsh had his stumps re-arranged before the defiant Mitchell Johnson was caught at gully. Finn ended with figures of 6-79, and the game was all but won. Edgbaston rose to him. It had been a riotous, visceral experience, and a perfect illustration of a tall fast bowler unsettling a batting line-up. So caught up in
the moment, Finn had simply charged in and bowled. Doubts over his follow-through or his front foot were put to one side. It was a joy to watch. At last, Finn had emerged from the shadows of his teammates and was the centre of attention.
At his best, Finn walked the narrow tightrope between metronomic accuracy and hostile pace. He admits to admiring Glenn McGrath, and there is surely no better role model for a tall pace bowler. But perhaps the tall pace bowlers of the great West Indian teams would have been more suitable idols for him. Or indeed, watching Anderson and Broad lead an attack should be an example to Finn to step up and be the main man for his team, not a bit-part player who occasionally goes missing.
When Finn struggled his pace would drop and his accuracy suffered. But that is not the Steve Finn I want to remember. There is a still a large part of me that believes and an excellent season for Middlesex will see him once again back amongst England's growing batch of fast bowlers. If it does not happen, Finn can still be proud of what he has achieved. The fastest England bowler to a hundred wickets, an Ashes winner, and perhaps most importantly, the best sportsman to have ignored me at a pub.