Finn curbs his instincts to deliver one of the great nightwatchman innings in Dunedin
07:01 GMT, 10 March 2013
09:55 GMT, 10 March 2013
As Steven Finn made his way to the University Oval this morning, he discussed the day ahead with a member of England's support staff.
The conversation went something like this: 'How are you feeling'
'Good,' said the fast bowler. 'I know I need to bat a long time but there's this little devil on my shoulder telling me to play some shots.'
Assured: Steven Finn put in a mature performance at the crease and hit 56 runs in Dunedin
'Don't listen to it,' came the sensible reply.
Finn did just that, curbing his inner devil to help save this first Test and put New Zealand's bowlers through hell in Dunedin as he produced one of the great nightwatchman innings in the history of English cricket.
Before he took guard on the fourth evening following the dismissal of his captain Alastair Cook, Finn had batted a combined total of 291 minutes across 20 previous Test innings. By the time he was out in the second over after tea today, he had batted for 286.
In one knock he'd managed to cram in almost his entire Test batting career to date.
It was the second longest innings by an England nightwatchman, bettered only by the 306 minutes Jack Russell spent at the crease in a losing cause against the West Indies in Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1990. Russell, who batted at seven and finished his career with two Test centuries, is lucky to be classed as a nightwatchman given his pedigree with the bat.
Finn had little before this match, making his achievement even greater. His score, 56, was his highest in first-class cricket, beating the 32 he made against Essex at Lord's in 2011. His previous Test best was the 20 he managed in the first innings here.
Not since Alex Tudor's 99 against New Zealand at Edgbaston in 1999 has an England nightwatchman made more.
While much has been made of Finn's express pace – it is thought he could develop into England's first 100mph bowler – it is his presence in the dressing-room which has made a big impression on director of cricket Andy Flower in recent months.
And we're off: Finn substituted risky shots for sensible batting to help England draw the Test
At just 23 years of age, he is said by insiders within the camp to be an increasingly influential voice, keen to take on more responsibility.
Given his age, some have tipped him to one day take over the Test captaincy from Cook, five years his senior.
It was that willingness to take on responsibility which came to the fore on day five in Dunedin. When he started his epic knock yesterday, England were 231 for one, still 62 runs behind New Zealand's first innings total.
When he was eventually out early in the evening session today, trapped lbw by spinner Bruce Martin, his side were 93 runs ahead.
He had batted for 33 overs, more than an entire session, and it's fair to say that without Finn's dogged contribution, England would have not saved this match.
Graham Onions, Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar have gone down in folklore for their tailend defiance, the former saving two Test matches in South Africa in 2009/10 and the latter pair famously denying the Australians victory in the opening Test of the 2009 Ashes in Cardiff.
Gotcha: Finn was eventually bowled out lbw shortly after securing his half century
Happy: Both Finn (pictured) and Jonathan Trott made strides to help England avoid defeat
But Finn showed even more grit, at one point on the final afternoon digging in for 49 balls without scoring. In total he went 72 minutes without a run during a session in which he accumulated just 14.
He may have made Nick Compton look like Chris Gayle but the self-control and discipline he showed in curbing the devil inside his head shows what strong stuff mentally Finn is made of.
After the match, Cook confirmed Finn will now take nightwatchman duties away from the previous incumbent James Anderson permanently.
Following a display like this, it appears a wise choice.