Investec Ashes watch: Should England gamble with a cortisoned Broad?

A cortisone injected Broad declared himself fit for the first Test recently, but will Coach Andy Flower go with Finn?

Stuart Broad gleefully declared himself pain free and ready for the first Ashes test yesterday amidst recent fitness concerns. The England seamer injured his shoulder landing awkwardly in the ICC Champions trophy final defeat, missing England's warm up game against Essex. Whilst he painted a rosy picture of his fitness, England's pragmatic coach, Andy Flower might take a more cautious approach when it comes to selection for the opening Ashes Test next week.

Flower is likely to be weary of the busy schedule ahead and hesitant in selecting Broad, if he isn't 100% fit. This offcourse invokes memories of the Ashes in 2009 when Flower remained adamant that no player including Freddie would take part in a Test match unless fully fit whilst he was in charge. On this occasion Broad's shoulder concerns leaves the door open for Steven Finn's possible inclusion.

Unlike Broad, Finn is fully fit and did take part in the warm up game against Essex. As important as Stuart Broad is to the England set up, featuring him in the Ashes opener without a warm up game and on the back of an ordinary ICC Champions trophy showing might be welcomed by the Aussies.

What they may not welcome is Steven Finn stepping in and taking the new ball, and Flower opting to give Broad a rest for the opening Test match.The Middlesex fast bowler has had a brilliant start to his Test career and has recently cemented his place in the England set up. As a matter of fact he's done a lot better than people may expect and a little bit of investigation reveals much more, when he's compared with Broad.

Steven Finn's Test career stats thus far with the ball are much better than Broad's. Added to the fact he's getting better and better with each Test match means we could see him soon take over Broad in the bowlers pecking order. Especially given Broad's all rounder tag has now been all but forgotten. His last 22 innings have yielded no half centuries and a poultry 258 runs at an average of 12.9. (Ironically Finn's average in his last 22 innings is 12, and he actually HAS scored a half century!)

Finn vs Broad

Soon after Stuart Broad made his test debut against Sri Lanka in December 2007, he was being hailed as the next big bowling sensation. (some even over-excitedly and in hindsight prematurely suggesting him as "next Botham") Yet looking at Steven Finn's return in his 22 Test matches for England thus far, it's perhaps the Middlesex paceman that is more deserving of such optimism.

Steven Finn

22 Matches / 132 Maidens / 88 Wickets / Average 28.73 / Economy 3.61 / Strike rate 47.7 / Best Figures 6-125

Stuart Broad

First 22 matches / 147 Maidens / 67 Wickets / Average 36.14 / Economy 3.25 / Strike rate 66.76 / Best figures 5-38

The figures clearly show Finn start his career as a much more potent bowler than Broad, taking more wickets, with a much better strike rate. Broad has a better economy rate but it's difficult to argue against Finn's 21 wicket advantage. Furthermore, hidden in the numbers is another interesting statistic. Broad has less wickets, despite being given the new ball on no less than 13 occasions, compared to Finn's 8. Having the new ball in hand can be an expensive double edged sword for an opening bowler, if he lacks accuracy with line and length. However the chances of taking wickets is also much higher with the probability of swing and seam being much higher. Despite being given 5 more opportunities than Finn, Broad's wicket tally doesn't match the, perhaps misplaced confidence in his abilities.

The above figures are put further into context in Finn's favour, if you look at Broad's statistics after his first 17 matches. Why the first 17 matches? Well, that was the number of matches he'd played heading into the home Ashes series of 2009.

Stuart Broad Stats prior to Ashes Series 2009

17 matches / 109 Maidens / 46 Wickets / Average 37.96 / Economy 3.21 / Strike rate 70.88 / Best figures 5-85

The England selectors were very brave in picking Broad for the Ashes on the back of above figures. As it was, the gamble paid off as Broad took a 6-fer in Leeds and a 5-fer at the Oval as England regained the Ashes.

Regardless of Finn's superior start to Test career or his merit on playing next week, the reality is, that Broad has since then shown glimpses of brilliance which warrant his inclusion. His 6 wicket haul against India in 2011, a 7-fer against a West Indies and 5-fer against South Africa in 2012 all come to mind.

Regardless of whether Broad plays in the first Ashes test match or not, his experience is extremely important going into the rest of the summer. Astute England fans will however just be hoping that the air of false indispensability of Broad will subside and Flower will spare anymore cortisone expenses to let Finn have a go next week.

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