Cricket: England v West Indies

View from the City End: Finn v Onions

Finn and Onions faced a fight for next place in the pecking order of fast bowlers

View from the City End: Finn v Onions

Once Steven Finn and Graham Onions were both picked for the third Test at Edgbaston, it was inevitably billed as a showdown between England’s two nearly men. But the winner of the shoot-out was arguably the man already in possession of the third seamer slot, Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan, who took 3-74 in 26 probing, disciplined overs.

Onions bagged three wickets (3-56 in 24 overs), and Finn took two (2-65 in 22 overs). But neither did enough to overhaul Bresnan ahead of the South Africa series.

All three bowlers were under pressure coming in to the game. Bresnan was looking over his shoulder at the other two, while both Finn and Onions faced comparisons, not only with each other, but also with the two men not playing – James Anderson, and Stuart Broad, two bowlers at the peak of their powers and hard acts to follow.

And, well, as Onions and Finn bowled, the absence of England’s most gifted swing bowlers meant the attack lacked a certain flair.  

The absence was also felt in the slip cordon, where Ian Bell took the place of James Anderson at third slip, and spilled regulation catches off both Onions - when Barath had made 4 - and Finn - with Barath  on 40. The marvellous Anderson would have snaffled either catch with ease.

Onions bowled a tight line all day, attacking the stumps, and nipping the ball both ways off the seam. He has not played for England since January 2010 and has battled back from a career-threatening back injury, but showed few signs of nerves. The most enjoyable cricket of the day was his duel with Marlon Samuels, who batted sublimely.

Samuels managed to wind up Onions to the extent that he began to chunter at the batsman and indulged in staring battles, something a bowler rarely wins because he must eventually turn his back. This type of banter is counter-productive against Samuels as it merely stirs his competitive juices. A better policy would be to ignore him altogether.

When he reached his fifty, Samuels celebrated by pointing his bat straight at Onions as though to acknowledge his motivational powers. It was provocative, but also clownlike and funny.

Onions’ three wickets all came as a result of his superb tight line. Barath (41) was lbw to one that nipped back, the left-handed Deonarine (7) nicked a ball angled across him into Five commentator Geoffrey Boycott’s famous corridor of uncertainty, and Narine was bowled by a ball arrowed in at his off stump.

Finn was the quickest of the three seamers, his fastest ball being the first delivery he bowled to Samuels, which was timed at 91.5mph. His average speeds were in the high eighties, a good yard quicker than Onions. He extracted more bounce than his rival, but he bowled several half volleys which cost boundaries.

Finn tried so hard to get close to the stumps that his right knee knocked the bails off at least 15 times. His first wicket of Bravo (7) was a gift, poked lamely back to the bowler, but his second wicket, Sammy (16) was well-earned. Strauss had dropped Sammy off the Middlesex paceman the previous ball, but Finn produced another fast, rising ball to find the edge again and this time Strauss caught it. The captain was so relieved that he nearly decapitated Swann, at 2nd slip, by hurling the ball aside wildly.

But, despite the efforts of Finn and Onions, Bresnan was quietly going about his business and cementing his status. His fastest ball was a good two yards slower than Finn’s, but he still managed to pick up the wicket of Fudadin with the most vicious, well-directed bouncer of the day, rearing up at the batsman’s throat and fended off to Bell at slip. He may be a tad slower than Finn, or Onions, but there’s a lot of beef behind the Bresnan short ball.

Bresnan also picked up the wickets of Powell, the first breakthrough of the day, to an edge, and most significantly, Samuels, who had not looked like getting out. Bresnan dismissed him lbw with one that he slanted in from wide of the crease. It was a fractional decision as the ball was only just on the line of off stump.

Bresnan’s dismissal of the West Indies’ best batsman meant he had done more than enough to see off his rivals’ challenges.