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  • England in India 2012-13

Fit-again Finn expected to replace Broad

George Dobell
December 3, 2012 « Vaughan Lee plays down Faber fight | Chartbeat test »
Steven Finn could make his first Test appearance of the India tour at Kolkata © PA Photos
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Steven Finn has declared himself fit for selection for the third Test and looks set to displace Stuart Broad in England's team.

Finn, who suffered a thigh strain in the first warm-up game of the tour, bowled two spells in the nets at training at Eden Gardens on Monday without discomfort and then stated: "If I'm needed on Wednesday, then I'll be ready to go. I feel in good rhythm. I'm in a good place."

Finn could face a tough return at Eden Gardens. For all the talk of the pitch - and the Eden Park curator, Prabir Mukherjee, has certainly talked a good game over recent days - it seems that the India captain, MS Dhoni, is going to receive exactly what he requested.

Recently used - the last Ranji Trophy match on it ended on November 20 - it will offer, on the evidence of the practice pitches on the same square, far more to spinners than seamers. The England seamers struggled to get the ball to bounce above hip height in the nets which, according to Mukherjee, are much like the Test pitch. Finn may have extra pace but, on such surfaces, his control and skill will be even more important.

"If I'm picked as part of a two-man seam attack, I might be used in a strike-bowling capacity," Finn said. "There is a little bit of pressure, but you don't change your plans or the way that you bowl. Just because you're being used as a strike bowler doesn't mean you start bowling bumpers and yorkers all the time searching for wickets. You still have to have a degree of patience and use your skills wisely."

Broad can console himself with the knowledge that, when England revert to an attack containing three seamers, he is likely to return. The experience of being dropped is new to him, however, and will smart. Plucked out of county cricket when he was 20 - his seventh List A game was an ODI - he was tipped for greatness early and, having been appointed England's T20 captain before he was 25, was promoted to vice-captain at the start of this tour. His career is now at something of a crossroads.

Perhaps he can consider himself unfortunate. Vernon Philander is the only seamer in the world to have taken more Test wickets than Broad this year - Philander has 43, Broad 40 - and he has finished as England's highest wicket-taker in two of the three full series in which he has played this year (against West Indies and South Africa). In the series against Pakistan, Monty Panesar claimed one more wicket than Broad.

Although he took eight wickets in the Headingley Test, Broad was disappointingly impotent against South Africa, like his colleagues, and has yet to take a wicket in the series against India. Not only has he lost some pace - a fact that is obvious to all but the man himself and, it seems, England's bowling coach, David Saker - his control has deteriorated, culminating in him conceding five runs an over in Mumbai.

It may be relevant that he and Tim Bresnan, who has also lost his nip, are the only two seamers in the England party to have regularly played all three formats of the game for any length of time at international level. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that England's schedule is diluting the performance of their best players and coaches. There is a clear warning here to England over the long-term future of Finn.

There is a sense, too, that the wake-up call of being dropped may do Broad no harm. While there is little evidence that he has become consciously complacent, it is often the case that a man who has known hunger will work harder than one who never has. Life has come pretty easy to Broad so far and this new challenge may yet be the making of him. Aged just 26, his best years should be ahead of him.

He does not lack for support from his colleagues. Saker, who is the latest member of the touring party to fall ill, and James Anderson have already spoken of the need to throw a consoling arm around his shoulder and, on Monday, it was Finn's turn to offer his support.

"He is an exceptional bowler," Finn said. "He's had tough times in his career before with injuries but he's played 50 Tests. He's a world-class player and we know he'll be back. He is not a million miles away."

It is likely that England will make two changes to the side that won so convincingly in Mumbai. As well as Finn for Broad, Ian Bell is expected to return. While it is probable that he will replace Jonny Bairstow, it is possible that both Bell and Bairstow will play and that Samit Patel, who averages 12.66 with the bat and 62 with the ball in his four Tests, will make way.

Broad's likely absence, and the continuing omission of Bresnan, means that England may have a longer tail than normal. Graeme Swann, who started the series at No.10 (he actually batted at No.11 in the first innings at Ahmedabad), will bat at eight, meaning a final three of Anderson, Finn and Panesar. It is not ideal, but the onus should really be on the batsmen to make the bulk of the runs. Despite the excellence of Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook, England could do with more of a contribution from Jonathan Trott, Bell and whoever bats at No. 6.

This could well prove to be an attritional encounter. While the pitch will effectively be nine days old by the scheduled end, it looks as if any turn available to the spinners may be slow and with little bounce. Panesar, who, with 96 victims is the highest first-class wicket-taker anywhere in the world in 2012, may struggle to replicate his Mumbai heroics.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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