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Saturday, 7 July 2012

How do you squeeze in Finn?

Steve Finn is a manboy transformed. After being the put upon newbie butt of a thousand Graeme Swann jokes, no opposition batsman is currently laughing anything but slightly nervously whenever the Middlesex paceman steals in with the rhythm of Morne Morkel and length of Glenn McGrath. For some time he's just looked a meaner, surlier, more bloodthirsty bowler and his 4-37 in Saturday's 4th ODI was wasted on this below par Australian line-up. He now looks a genuine, real deal, nasty speed vendor and, though it may seem an odd moment to pinpoint, has done ever since his displays in England's nightmare 5-0 drubbing in India in 2011. On that ill-fated tour, he took just eight wickets but his average of 31.6 and a strike rate of 36 were far superior to anyone's else's in that bedraggled England side and even on those unhelpful subcontinent pitches™ he began to look more feared if not quite yet fearsome. Today, albeit in conditions less conducive to batting than an overcast allotment, he looked bloody terrifying.

With South Africa soon to descend from the top of The Alps for a three match - count them - Test series in England, Andy Flower and co now face what is often termed a 'a nice problem' in terms of selection. In reality, it isn't a nice problem. It's a horrible one. It's like being in a happy marriage and then your teen sweetheart you haven't seen for ten years turning up, saying they still love you and that they've also taken 22 wickets at 15 in nine ODIs since the turn of the year. 

Peak performance: Feel free to add your own wry quips as to why South Africa need high altitude breathing training 

Finn is now the one batting his eyebrows irresistibly, but England's Test marriage of Anderson, Broad, Bresnan and Swann has reaped the world number one ranking and, given Flower's unquenchable lust for consistency in selection, it seems highly unlikely, bar injuries, that this quartet won't be lining up at The Oval for the First Test on July 19. Yet are there any scenarios in which Finn could conceivably play in the series? Well, maybe. England could get all in South Africa's face and just go with five batsmen, but that would be an extraordinarily punchy call against an attack of Steyn, Morkel, De Lange and Philander. However, after Bairstow looked about as comfortable against Kemar Roach as the Wimbledon crowd when Serena Williams thanked Jehovah in her acceptance speech, such a strategy may not be as ludicrous as it seems. To Flower it will seem ludicrous, though, so that's probably a no go, yet with the Yorkshire batsman in rotten county form, his second interesting dilemma might be whether to recall Mark Ramprakash's natural heir, Ravi Bopara, or even hand a debut to the exuberant James Taylor. 

The 5.5-4.5 option again seems highly unlikely, particularly as Samit Patel once more looks, to be generous, some way off optimum fitness, so if England start off with the six-four as they inevitably will, the only way I can see Finn coming in is if Swann bowls poorly at The Oval - though he has a superlative record in South London - and Flower's aversion to change could be swayed by the seam-friendly conditions at Headingley for the Second Test, where, incidentally, Swann has actually only played one match in the longest  form and then only bowled a single innings - the 2009 Ashes where he went wicketless and underwhelmed as England subsided. 

Personally, I would take the unfair and ill-deserved decision to drop Bresnan purely on the basis that if the South African top order had to swear on all the dubious gold in Switzerland who they would rather face at the moment, it almost certainly wouldn't be Finn. Flower is unlikely to give a cuckoo, however, so for the time being England's leading fast bowling scourge of ODI batsmen will likely remain just that come a week on Thursday.

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