Alastair Cook’s man-management skills will be tested at Edgbaston as England try to get the best out of returning seamer Steven Finn and their misfiring middle order.
Cook was awake into the small hours yesterday morning grappling with the “tough call” as to whether Finn or Jake Ball should play in the third Investec Test against Pakistan.
In the end, Finn’s 120 Test wickets sealed the deal and sent the captain back off to sleep.
Finn, however, has veered from the unplayable to the almost unwatchable in a career of significant highs and lows.
He is back in place of injured all-rounder Ben Stokes, after a clutch of his own minor physical ailments this season, as England seek to consolidate the fightback that has left the series level at 1-1 with two to play.
Finn must restate his case, having recorded his first wicketless Test for England on his home ground at Lord’s last month – with figures of 0-128.
The brief return of Stokes at Old Trafford and, England will hope, a longer one for James Anderson put both Finn and Ball on the periphery there.
In Manchester, as at Lord’s, there was still a worrying lack of productivity from Nos 4 and 5 James Vince and Gary Ballance.
Cook helped to make up for that shortfall, but still has plenty to ponder, not least the right advice to maximise Finn’s undoubted potential.
Asked what that should be, he said: “Not to worry too much about it.
“He sometimes can worry too much about it.
“He cares deeply about playing for England and doesn’t want to let anyone down.”
Finn is back at the venue where he produced his Test-best figures a year ago, with eight wickets in a memorable Ashes success.
“He’s a huge talent,” said Cook.
“On his day, he bowls spells which are incredible to be standing at first slip for, as he did against Australia here (last year).
“So (I’ll) try and tell him to relax and play.
“That doesn’t always happen. But sometimes, when you’re dropped, it’s a bit of a moment for you as a player.”
Cook senses that will be true of Finn, on the landmark occasion of England’s 500th home Test – dating back to 1880.
“He obviously missed out on the last Test, and that will have hurt him.
“Telling him he wasn’t playing, you saw that disappointment and hunger almost straightaway.
“Telling him he was playing (yesterday), you saw that glint in his eye.”
Cook thought long and hard before choosing Finn ahead of Ball, whose only cap to date came in England’s defeat at Lord’s.
“It was a tough call, as I found at two o’clock (Tuesday morning) when I was wide awake thinking about it.
“But we’ve gone for a guy with a proven Test record, who has a knack of picking up wickets and good memories from last year.
“He hasn’t quite been at his best this year, and there are a few factors in that, but physically that’s now better.”
England need improvements too from Vince and Yorkshire’s Ballance, respectively in their maiden and comeback Test summers.
“Yes, there are points to prove ... until the guys get good scores consistently that will be the case,” said the captain, who even as England’s record runscorer knows the spectre of increased pressure.
“That’s one difference at this level, the extra scrutiny from when you’re playing county cricket.
“When you don’t get a score early in your international career people are quick to talk about it.
“But we’ve picked guys and given them a run, and that’s the way to do it.”
He will tailor his words to the individual, but added: “From my situation, sometimes lots of people telling you you’re a good player and that it’s only a matter of time before things turn is the last thing you want to hear.
“You maybe want to hear a guy with a bit of advice about what he could do, or something.
“It’s not all doom and gloom, it’s just one of those things that at the moment ... it’s an easy talking point.
“The guys have got to put that to bed ... you have to forget about the external stuff and be very clear about your game.”
England must get by here without Stokes, who continues to make progress from his torn calf muscle.
He has yet to finish a Test this summer, having needed surgery after limping out of the action against Sri Lanka at Headingley in May.
An update is expected soon from England, but the indication from Cook is that they will be wary of rushing Stokes back for next week’s final Test at The Oval.
“I think the injury was in some way related to his previous one, which can happen with fast bowlers,” he said.
“So we’ve got to treat him with care – let’s get him back 100 per cent before we start talking of him playing again.”