Big shadow cast over England comeback attempts

Steven Finn will remember a “great man” on the day of Phillip Hughes’s funeral before England take the field against Sri Lanka.

STORM WARNING: Clouds hover over Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium as ground crew cover the field ahead of the third one-day international.. Pictures: AP.

Finn spoke for so many colleagues and supporters and himself more than most as he prepared for a uniquely difficult day.

It will begin in southern Sri Lanka with television coverage on screens at the England team hotel of Hughes’s funeral service in his home town of Macksville, New South Wales.

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Then, weather permitting after a violent thunderstorm on the eve of the third one-day international, England will try to arrest a slide which has left them 2-0 down in the seven-match series.

The fast bowler was just beginning to push for an England place as a 20-year-old hopeful at Middlesex when he met and played alongside Hughes shortly before the 2009 Ashes.

Five years on, the cricket world is still coming to terms with what happened to the Australia Test batsman last week, hit on the neck by a bouncer in a Sheffield Shield match and then, two days later and shortly before what would have been his 26th birthday, dying of his injuries.

As Hughes’s friends, family and team-mates gather thousands of miles away, England must balance their emotions with the need to make sure they are at their best on the field.

“I’d imagine anyone who is playing cricket anywhere around the world who had come across Hughesy in any shape or form is still trying to come to terms with it,” said Finn. “It still feels very surreal. Everyone will step aside and think about him and pay their respects in their own way.

“I know everyone in the England dressing room will do – and it is important we do that, because we’ve lost a great man.”

It is asking much, of course, of both England and Sri Lanka to be able to play to their optimum.

Yet England in particular cannot afford to be off their game again, as they were in Colombo on Saturday when – by captain Alastair Cook’s own admission – they “never got going” on the way to an eight-wicket defeat.

World Cup aspirations are increasingly on the line, with little more than two months to go before England begin their campaign against Australia in Melbourne.

Yet it appears almost impossible to train thoughts simply on the next match, after the tragedy of Hughes’s death.

“It is very, very sad – and I don’t think there is a cricketer in the world who hasn’t shed a tear for Phillip over the last week,” added Finn. “I only played with him for six weeks to two months at Middlesex, and played against him a fair amount against Australia, but he was an amazing guy.

“He is going to be sorely missed by lots of people, because he touched so many, and I know he did so, too, with everyone at Middlesex.

“Everyone is really sad about it. Everyone has been devastated by it. I will pay my respects to Phillip at some stage (on Wednesday), and everyone will be sad about it. But we have a game, and we will be playing it.”

Universal sadness apart, there has been a divergent reaction to the circumstances of Hughes’s death and whether cricket needs to change. Finn, however, will not be altering the way he bowls.

“When you bowl a bouncer, you want to keep the batsman on his toes – you don’t want to severely hurt a batsman at all,” he said. “I don’t think the game needs to change.

“I think we have to accept that it was a tragedy, and an accident.

“You bowl a bouncer to keep a batsman on his toes; you don’t bowl it for any other reason. It is a way to get a batsman out, and that is how I look at it.”

England, as before their last defeat, were unable to practice because of the rain. Finn, however, remains optimistic they can begin a much-needed fightback.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has updated its warm-up schedule in Australia following the death of Hughes.

England will begin their tour against an Australian Capital Territory XI at Canberra’s Manuka Oval on January 12, and then face a PM’s XI at the same venue on January 14, before moving on to Sydney.