It’s hard not to like Steve Finn. He’s got the body of a giant but the soul of a puppy dog. He’s probably too nice to be a mean, hard-as-nails, fast bowling nasty. But who needs verbal aggression, and a vicious snarl, when you can bowl with decent pace and good accuracy from 6ft 7 inches? Finn has always let his bowling do the talking. And talk it does.
Every time South Africa’s batsmen started to look a little more comfortable today, Finn duly delivered a devastating breakthrough. First he claimed Amla, who cut recklessly at a ball that bounced a little, then he cleaned up Elgar. Neither will be pleased with the shot they played, but it was Finn’s persistence that caused their mistakes.
The most valuable wicket, however, was his third one right at the end of the day. Finn produced a top nut that surprised Du Plessis for pace and bounce. It moved away, caught the edge, and was gobbled up by Cook at slip. It was a good catch but an even better ball – just the psychological blow South Africa didn’t need at the end of a hard day.
I’ve been critical of Finn’s action in the past. I still don’t think the coaches have done a good job remodelling his action. He’s still not fully rotating his arm 360 degrees, and I firmly believe he could and should be bowling even quicker. However, who cares if he’s feeling more confident and is picking up wickets?
It’s possible that Finn feels more comfortable, and more in control of his action, in its current state. Maybe that gives him a mental edge he’s never had before? What’s more, he’s still just about quick enough to trouble the best players around.
I also believe that Finn’s thriving in Bayliss’ dressing room. Andy Flower was very intense – just like Finn in some ways – so having someone more laid back in charge probably suits him. Steve just looks more comfortable in his skin these days. And when fast bowlers are relaxed, they feel in rhythm, bowl faster, and generally pick up more wickets.
It might seem extraordinary, but Finn now has the eight best strike rate in test history. Just think about that for a second. Considering all the technical and mental difficulties he’s endured, it’s one hell of an achievement. Good on him.
The other shining light for England today was Jonny Bairstow, who continues to look like a very useful number 7 indeed. Expectations are lower now that he’s playing as an all-rounder, rather than a specialist batsmen, and it seems to have liberated him.
Bairstow has talent so we should definitely persevere with him for now. He’s clearly a better first class batsman than Buttler (he averages 45 compared to Jos’ 32 in domestic cricket), I just hope he can improve his keeping. Unfortunately Jonny missed another stumping chance today. It was a difficult one as he would’ve been unsighted (the ball also bounced and turned sharply) but the very best keepers snaffle those up.
No doubt purists will argue that a keeper’s primary job is to take chances rather than score runs (and it’s a fair point). However, I have one question for them: who, exactly, is the best wicket-keeper in the country? James Foster is probably too long in the tooth to come back into the side, and Buttler is hardly the finished article either. Perhaps you have high hopes for Ben Foakes?
With the Cricket Boks now four down, they need a miracle tomorrow. We’ve bossed this game from day one, deserve to win it, and look the better side on current form. England might not be perfect but South Africa’s imperfections are greater.
I hate to say it but the Proteas have a number of very average international cricketers who wouldn’t get close to the excellent South African sides of the past. If Steyn and de Villiers do decide to call it a day (perish the thought) they’ll immediately become one of the worst sides in international cricket.
It’s hard to escape the feeling that England are a side on the up, whereas the Proteas are on their way down. Or perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself? It’s hard not to. English victories on South African soil are always a good reason to get excited.