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over 3 years ago | Interviews

Wallet, keys, phone – and mask. Part of your daily routine now? For cricketers easing there way back into the rhythm of things, there are other considerations too.

“You have to fill out an app every morning with your temperature and whether you’ve got any symptoms of Covid-19, and then when you’re at the ground you have your own set of balls that only you’re allowed to touch,” explains Steven Finn, speaking a little over two weeks into his return to training. “You’re responsible for those all the way through until when we start playing games again. And then there’s the very basic social distancing that you see in society everyday, which we’re observing at training as well.”

When we start playing games again. Yes, it’s nearly here. After a lay-off like no other, county cricket is nearly back. Days after this interview, the England quick returns to action alongside his teammates in an intra-squad match at Radlett, and on Sunday, July 26, Middlesex will cross the river to take on Surrey in a two-day friendly match at The Oval – a fixture that will involve a limited amount of spectators as part of a government pilot programme. Preparations are ongoing for August, when the 2020 county season is set to finally begin, four months late. Still, better late then never.

The rush to get back into fitness is evident, and while Finn’s lockdown involved plenty of running, not every box could be ticked.

“Like a lot of people, I used my one bit of outdoor exercise a day to do a 5K run, or a bit longer, and some sort of interval training. You actually do build up a good bank of fitness if you’re doing that four or five times a week. The hardest thing for all sportsmen has been to retain the strength aspect because you don’t have access to weights. Unless you live in a mansion and have your own squat rack and weights and stuff, it’s not actually that possible to keep your strength. So one of the things we’ve been trying to build up in the last two-and-a-half weeks since being back in at the ground has been that strength.

“We’ve had to accelerate everything so it was only three sessions of bowling through to the back of a net and picking your own balls up and bringing them back, and then we’ve progressed in the last week to bowling at batsmen to just try and get some of that competitive edge back. When you’ve been sat around for three-and-a-half months, it’s important that you remember how to get into the contest, and that’s where we’re at now.”

Such has been the nature of training, at the time of this interview, Finn has yet to see some of his colleagues. “It’s funny actually because we’ve been split into two groups to make it more Covid-secure, so there’s actually a few of my good mates that I’ve not seen yet. I don’t think I’ve seen James Harris, Toby Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh because we’ve been split into two groups. It’s been nice seeing the guys that I’ve trained with, but also it’s strange knowing there’s a whole other group of boys that I haven’t seen.”

The strangeness of these turbulent times will linger when the matches resume, with plenty of empty seats to be present, although Finn admits that the feeling won’t be completely alien.

“I think it’s obviously very different for the international guys because they’re used to playing even Test matches in front of full houses, whereas for a county game you’re probably getting a few thousand people at the ground.

“If we’re playing at an out-ground, as we probably will be at Radlett, you’ll only get a couple of thousand people there, max. So in terms of the aesthetics of the ground, for us playing at out-grounds it won’t be that much different, but I think the whole scenario of not being able to put your fingers in your mouth to shine the ball and stuff like that, I think it is going to take some getting used to. But because we’re in a position where for a lot of us guys who just play county cricket, we’ve not played cricket for at least 10 months now, everyone is just raring to go. I don’t think anyone really cares what it looks like; people just want to get out there in the middle now.”

The last time Finn ventured out to the middle for Middlesex in a competitive fixture was back in the heady days of September 2019, when he returned match figures of 7-90 in a defeat to Durham. That was one of the few standout displays in a mixed bag of a season, following on from a 2018 in which a troublesome knee caused plenty of distress. All in all, Finn featured on seven occasions in the County Championship last year, returning 17 wickets at 32.23. In the T20 Blast, however, life was more fruitful, with a five-for against Surrey the cherry on top of a 19-wicket haul in the Seaxes' run to the quarter-finals of the competition.

“I had knee surgery at the end of the 2018 season, my second one in about 10 or 11 months. Physically I was unsure about whether I would get through the summer, so I think that there was some apprehension with that. I don’t think technically I was in the best place I could possibly be because I was focusing on being fit enough to play as opposed to the actual outcome of what was coming out of my hand.

“But there were patches in there that were encouraging, taking a few decent wicket-hauls and some decent performances in the T20 stuff and in a couple of the four-day games. But on the whole, for the standard that I set myself, I was pretty disappointed. But knowing I got through the summer without getting injured again, my knee flaring up again, and feeling confident in that, meant that in the winter I could go away and really work on the technical aspects of my bowling and get myself in a good place, so that when this season came around I was in a position just to be able to compete with the batsmen at the other end, rather than with my body, and I think that’s a positive thing.”

The winter also involved some time behind the mic, with Finn part of the BBC Test Match Special team on England’s tour of New Zealand.

“I’ve done a lot of tours with England where you’re inside the bubble and you’re always concentrating on performing at your absolute best in order to try and get into the team and then perform well out there in the middle. It was the first time I’ve actually been away on a cricket tour like that and not had the pressures of playing. I really enjoyed it, I really enjoyed the company of the guys in the TMS box – they were great – and then just being relaxed and being able to watch cricket in New Zealand. To travel around the country and get to see some of it was great too. So, most definitely, when I finish or decide to hang up my boots – or if they’re hung up for me, who knows? – it is something that I’d love to pursue.”

For now, however, the boots are on. County cricket is nearly here.

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