x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

'Little' boys Aamer and Finn making a big difference

The Pakistan left-armer and the England right-arm seamer are future stars of Test cricket provided they can remain physically and mentally strong, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

When Mohammad Aamer and Steven Finn last lined up against each other in two Under 19 Test matches at Scarbrough and Derby, two outposts on the English county circuit, few experts would have predicted that their ascension would be so rapid that they would find themselves leading the bowling attack for their countries at senior level three years later.

But that will be the case at Nottingham, England this afternoon when Aamer, 18, and Finn, who is three years older, provide a fascinating subplot in the first Test match of the series between England and Pakistan. Their careers are very much in their infancy - they have played 16 Tests between them - but they are the two hottest bowling prospects in world cricket. Their promise sets the pulse racing. Finn already has two five-wicket hauls to his name, albeit against Bangladesh, and has been compared to his idol Glenn McGrath, the Australian fast bowler, and Curtly Ambrose, the West Indian, for his uncomplicated run-up, unerring accuracy and, of course, his 6ft 7in height. Aamer has been billed as a natural successor to Wasim Akram, the great Pakistan swing bowler. "I think he's not only got good pace up his sleeve and an ability to swing the ball, but I think he actually thinks about the game really smartly as well," Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain renowned for being measured in his praise of opponents, said of Aamer after the recent series against Pakistan in England. "He seems a lot more mature than what his age would probably suggest as far as bowling is concerned." Sir Geoffrey Boycott, the former England opener, added: "I think he is very talented and I think Pakistan has always had very talented youngsters. He's exceptionally good. He's got pace, he's got spirit and obviously has got a big heart. It seems he's always up for the challenge." A ringing endorsement was also provided by Michael Holding, the graceful former West Indian pace bowler. "The impressive thing about Aamer is the fact that at 18, he has the ability to move the ball in both directions without any noticeable change in action or delivery, yet has the control to adjust so easily to left- and right-handed batsmen," Holding said in an interview with Cricinfo. "The pace that he generates is good and consistent." Those innate skills and mature attitude led some to question his age during a tour of Australia last year, particularly after he took five wickets in the Boxing Day Test. "I'm 17. Any doubt?" Aamer said unflustered. "Look at my shoulders and wrist - [I'm a] little boy." The little boy has taken giant strides since that match and he helped Pakistan end their 15-year wait for a Test win over Australia last week. His frail frame, however, remains a subject of concern, given his past injuries. Aamer was only 15 when he toured England with the U19 squad and had to return home midway through the tour with two stress fractures. Mudassar Nazar, a former Pakistan Test cricketer, was the director of the National Cricket Academy then and he remembers those troubled times. "When we analysed Aamer at the National Cricket Academy upon his return to Pakistan, it came to light that he was suffering from three stress fractures to his back," Nazar said told Pakpassion.net. "Two of the fractures had been present since the age of 11 or 12, and the third was suffered in England on the U19 tour. "The earlier fractures were probably as a result of playing cricket at a young age, perhaps street cricket or tape ball cricket and Aamer was probably not even aware of the fact that he was suffering from the fractures. The third fracture was as a result of being over bowled on the U19 tour of England." Nazar's care and support, which Aamer often talks about, helped the bowler return to the spotlight after a nine-month layoff, only for a bout of dengue to scupper his chances of playing in the 2008 U19 World Cup. However, he returned to win the World Twenty20 in 2009 with the national team. As Aamer went through his highs and lows, Finn was progressing gradually at Middlesex under the watchful gaze of Angus Fraser, the director of cricket at the county. The youngster made his first-class debut at 16 in 2005, the youngest to do so since Fred Titmus, the former England spin bowler, in 1949, and had been on the selectors' radar for some time before he was picked for the series in Bangladesh in January. He has not looked back. In only his third Test, Finn claimed a nine-wicket match-haul against Bangladesh, getting his name on the Lord's honours board at the very first attempt - just like McGrath. He also earned an increment contract from the English cricket board and was whisked off for strength and conditioning work in preparation for this series and the Ashes tour later this year. "He's going to have a long successful career ahead of him, because as you saw in the Bangladesh game, he's a very capable young man," Fraser said in an interview. "One of his strengths is his self-analysis. He sets himself high standards, and he wants to be better than he is each day. He can walk off having taken nine for 37, but still thinking about a couple of poor balls he bowled, rather than the nine wickets he took." Both Finn and Aamer share this cerebral trait. They think batsmen out and yet can bamboozle them with pace and bounce - a formidable combination that should make the duo compelling viewing as England and Pakistan slug it out over the next five days. arizvi@thenational.ae

Finn Aamer 21 Age 18 4 Tests 10 19 Wickets 32 708 Balls 2069 445 Runs 1135 2/0 5WI/10WM 1/0 23.42 Average 35.46 5-42 Best figures in innings 5-79 9-187 Best figures in match 7-106 37.2 S/R 64.6 3.77 Econ 3.29 Mar 2010 Debut Jul 2009

Jimmy Anderson England The swing bowler has suffered a crisis of confidence since he was left out of the World Twenty20-winning team and needs to reestablish himself as the leader of England's attack. Umar Amin Pakistan England will have been studying video footage to find out more about the unknown left-hander but observers in Pakistan have been well aware of the Punjab-born batsman for some time. The 20-year-old has been given the onerous task of filling the void left by Younus Khan and Mohammed Yousuf. Eoin Morgan England Injury to Ian Bell has provided the left-hander, who has previously been seen as a one-day specialist, the chance to book his seat on the Ashes plane as England's reserve batsman. Mohammad Asif Pakistan Mohammad Aamer may be getting all the headlines but Asif provides the perfect foil with the new ball. In swinging conditions he could pose all sorts of problems for Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook. Salman Butt Pakistan Was his debut win as captain against Australia just beginner's luck or have Pakistan unearthed a shrewd leader? We will find out over the next five days. Matt Prior England He will be smarting from his omission as England limited-overs wicketkeeper and keen to prove he is the better gloveman and batsman that Craig Kieswetter.