Mike Holmans September 14, 2008

Inside Mr. Inconsistent

It was Trent Bridge that convinced me that Anderson had supplanted Hoggard in the pecking order

How much does having a memory hinder us when watching cricket? How hard is it to change your mind?

Or, to put it another way, how accurate is it to describe Jimmy Anderson as inconsistent, as some people did replying to my piece about Matthew Hoggard?

Imagine, if you will, an Andy Jameson. Without a past to live down, Jameson comes into the England team at Wellington and gets a five-fer on debut. Then he has a horrible match at Napier where he goes for plenty. A decent match at Lord’s is followed by a truly dismal performance in the first innings at Old Trafford, and then a devastating 7-43 at Trent Bridge shoots New Zealand out for 123. In the series against South Africa which follows, he has match returns of 3-114, 3-136, 4-132 and 5-127.

After nine matches this year, he has 42 wickets at just under 28 apiece. He has had a spectacular peak and a couple of nasty troughs, but generally he seems to be doing pretty decently and getting better.

If those were the only facts in evidence, would not the discovery of Jameson be lauded as one of the finds of the year, and would anyone be going on about his inconsistency?

Back here in the real world, though, Jimmy Anderson came into the England side trailing a wagonload of baggage. For four years he had been making occasional appearances when other people were injured, collecting 62 wickets in 20 matches at the depressing cost of 39. Sure, there was the odd good spell, but all too often he was off target or lacking in pace and batsmen just helped themselves to boundary after boundary from the all-you-can-eat buffet.

To me - and to most England fans, I’d guess Anderson’s bowling at Napier and the first innings at Old Trafford were not unfortunate wobbles but reversion to type. I still assumed that Hoggard would soon reclaim his spot.

It was Trent Bridge that convinced me that Anderson had supplanted Hoggard in the pecking order. Even with a favourable wind, atmosphere and pitch I could not conceive of the Hoggster delivering a spell that deadly.

As the South Africa series progressed, I was won over. By The Oval, I was no longer nervous as he prepared to bowl. In fact I had become pretty confident that the South Africans would not be getting off to a flier, and had even begun to watch the first over of a spell of his with mild optimism that it might be a very good one. Though I was usually disappointed, it showed the balance of my expectation had changed.

If I only had this year to go on, I am fairly sure that I would be a lot more enthusiastic about Anderson, but as it is I wonder whether Ryan Sidebottom should not replace him once he is fit again. At least until Trent Bridge, Sidebottom had been obviously superior as a bowler. Afterwards, though, is it attaching residual blame for his previous transgressions to doubt that he has also surpassed Sidebottom given that he basically outbowled him all summer?

The question becomes critical as soon as the next Test in Ahmedabad. Captain Pietersen is clearly keen on Harmison, Panesar and Flintoff will certainly play, and there will be an all-rounder from Nottinghamshire, though whether Broad, Swann or Patel remains unknown. That only leaves one place for Sidebottom and Anderson to fight over.

My heart tells me to pick Anderson. My head says that Sidebottom has the proven record.

I am so glad I am not a selector.