The Ashes 2010-11 December 31, 2010

Anderson grows into a leader

21

"I don't know what it feels like," groaned James Anderson on the morning after the night before. The Ashes had been retained and the celebrations had, by all accounts, been a controlled explosion - sufficiently forceful to shake the foundations of the team hotel in South Yarra, but at the same time respectful to the circumstances of a series that remains to be wrapped up. It is a measure of an astonishingly well-thought-out campaign that even the moments of euphoria have been professional.

And so it was that, even through the fog of his hangover, it was possible to glimpse in Anderson the character that has carried him towards the pinnacle of his career. His softly spoken words were made softer still by the throbbing in his head, but if you listened carefully they had an unmistakable edge to them - emboldened, no doubt, by the triumph to which he had contributed only 24 hours previously.

"I always knew that I had a lot more ability and skill than I showed in my early career," said Anderson. "I knew I could improve a hell of a lot, and I also knew I could perform at this level because I did so to a certain extent when I started out. So I just thought if I could try and improve as much as I can, work hard at my game, I could perform for England.

"It's a great achievement, and it was an amazing place to do it at the MCG," he added. "It was a fantastic atmosphere from the English fans, and a great place to retain the Ashes. For me and the rest of the team, we've grown up watching some unsuccessful trips to Australia, and I've been involved in one in the past, so it was a dream come true, and brilliant to be part of such a fantastic performance."

Anderson deserves his moment more than most. Not only is he the leading wicket-taker in the series with 17 scalps at 29.29, he has also matured into his role as the true leader of the England pack - a process that might have looked inevitable when he made his international debut at the MCG back in 2002-03, an astonishing eight years ago this month, but which had seemed virtually inconceivable in the latter years of Duncan Fletcher's reign. On the last Ashes tour Anderson had seemed belittled and withdrawn, an ever-wobbly spare wheel whose five wickets at 82.60 were a precise reflection of his fragile state of mind.

Now, however, he is a character transformed, a player who has burrowed so deep into Australia's psyche that one of his worthier opponents of the series, Shane Watson, described an error that he made while batting as a nightwatchman on the third evening at Perth as "one of his favourite moments on a cricket field". Such hyperbole betrays the extent to which Anderson has rattled the opposition on this trip - the "pussy" who was derided by Justin Langer in his leaked dossier during the 2009 Ashes has grown a mane and learnt to roar.

In the opinion of David Saker, England's plaudit-strewn bowling coach, Anderson is close to becoming the best fast bowler in the world, with only South Africa's No. 1-ranked Dale Steyn challenging him in terms of current form, and on the evidence of 2010 it is hard to disagree. At Melbourne, he became the 13th England bowler to pass 200 Test wickets, but 49 - or nearly a quarter - of those have come in the past 12 months, including a career-best 11 for 71 in the first Test against Pakistan in July, and two critical first-innings four-fors in each of England's Ashes wins at Adelaide and Melbourne.

Anderson has been learning how to lead, and right now he is the kingpin in an England seam attack in which any three of six fast bowlers could be trusted to front up and perform their duties for England

While Anderson acknowledges Saker's role in tightening up his methods on pitches that do not offer natural swing, he puts the rest of his dramatic improvement down to the work ethic that comes from representing a team on the up in the world game, and an eye for detail that comes with experience of international cricket.

"It's just practice," he said. "I've learnt from watching a number of other international cricketers, and tried to develop different sorts of deliveries. Mohammad Asif hits the seam and wobbles it, and can swing it as well, so I learnt from that last summer, and last time we were in India, Zaheer Khan was hiding the ball went it was reversing so I picked that up from him and tried to develop it to suit me. Also you also listen to your own top-order batsmen, and what they find difficult facing."

Long consigned to the dustbin is the notion that Anderson would be an easy beat on the flat Australian pitches, when armed with the Kookaburra ball and its mechanically stitched, bowler-unfriendly seam. Like Matthew Hoggard on the 2006-07 tour, Anderson has developed his methods as a natural swinger of the ball, and armed himself with enough tricks to prove a handful regardless of the conditions.

The process, however, has not been an overnight one, no matter how suspicious the Aussies may have been of his credentials going into the Gabba Test. And in the same week in which Kevin Pietersen revisited old feuds with his reference to the demise of Peter Moores, Anderson provided another reminder that, regardless of how maligned the former coach may have been by hindsight, he did have his moments during his brief stint at the helm.

The start of Anderson's second coming as an international cricketer was at Wellington in March 2008, when Moores purged Hoggard and Steve Harmison from England's front line, and the thrusting young pairing of Anderson and Stuart Broad were handed the pace bowling duties alongside Ryan Sidebottom. Anderson's first act was to take five first-innings wickets in a series-levelling victory, and since that date he's taken 143 of his tally at 28.23.

"When Peter Moores was in charge, he wanted me to lead the attack and gave me a lot of responsibility in New Zealand," said Anderson. "Hoggard and Harmison got dropped, me and Broady came in - it really was a lot of faith in us, and it boosted my confidence. And we've also had the bowling coaches since then - Ottis [Gibson] was fantastic, Allan Donald I really enjoyed working with, and now Sakes has been brilliant. We've all been developing some good skills, because we've shown in the four games so far we can swing the ball, seam the ball and reverse-swing the ball."

More than that, however, Anderson has been learning how to lead, and right now he is the kingpin in an England seam attack in which any three of six fast bowlers could be trusted to front up and perform their duties for England. It's a far cry from the little boy lost who once used to take the field for England in venues as diverse as Johannesburg, Adelaide and Colombo, and find his methods dissected as quickly as his morale used to evaporate.

To his credit, Anderson recognises his flaws of yesteryear, and like his counterpart in the middle order, Ian Bell, has worked extra hard to eradicate them. Instead of shirking the confrontation, he's developed a willingness to square up to all opponents, not least Mitchell Johnson whose one glorious spell at Perth has been undermined by a raft of supine performances, in which he himself has looked a bit like the Anderson of old - toiling for swing, baffled by its absence and bereft of explanations for why.

"Body language is a huge thing, certainly as a bowler," said Anderson. "You don't want to be seen trudging back to your mark all the time, so I try to keep my shoulders back and be as positive as possible, because in the past I've been pretty average in that respect. There's a difference between various people telling me and me actually seeing it when we look at games back on TV. I could obviously see that it wasn't good enough."

And much like the excitement surrounding Australia's increased chirpiness in the field at Perth, Anderson has discovered that a well-placed comment is every bit as potent as a well-directed bouncer, especially when you are the side on top. "I think it's just part of my natural game," he said. "I don't always do it, but it gets me fired up when the time is right, and I try to pick my players as well as I possibly can.

"I don't really have a favourite, but there are players not to pick," he added. "Ponting, if you get under his skin, he's more likely to dig in and enjoy the contest, so we might stay away from him. I think in the past it was an emotional thing that just came out, but over the last couple of years I've learned to control it much better. Whatever goes on when I've bowled a ball, I know when I go back to my mark I'm 100% focused on what I'm about to do with the ball."

For all of the revelry of Melbourne, however, Anderson concedes that the job's not done yet. "We want to go out on a high, whether that's 2-1 or 3-1, because to go home 2-2 would take the gloss off," he said. "Four years ago was a completely different story and not worth remembering to be honest, but it will be a nicer feeling knowing that we can not just retain the Ashes but win the series. We celebrated [on Friday] and deservedly so, but we've put that behind us to focus on five days at Sydney. It's really important we go out on a high in the series."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Biggus on January 2, 2011, 7:31 GMT

    Anderson is indeed a much improved bowler but it's a little rich to bracket him with Steyn. 4 wickets a game at 31 against 5 a game at 23 is an appreciable difference. Having said that though, the 'chemistry' of a bowling attack is a strange thing, and Alan Davidson, for instance, didn't really start to shine as a bowler until Lindwall and Miller retired, and in my opinion the retirement of Flintoff and the relegation of Harmison seems to have done Anderson the world of good. At least he doesn't waste the new ball as Harmy so often did.

  • Smasher79 on January 2, 2011, 2:04 GMT

    Its quite funny to find out that whoever gives an ASHES winning performance, becomes an elite no matter how ordinary that player is on other venues ... :)

  • D.V.C. on January 2, 2011, 2:04 GMT

    Why isn't Anderson England's T20 Vice Captain at least? He knows how to set a field, he has the necessary experience, he could easily be captain, as we all know Collingwood doesn't really want the job. I can only assume that it is because he is a bowler that he isn't considered.

  • PontingForPM on January 2, 2011, 0:21 GMT

    Amir is so overrated. He is talented but he bowled in the best conditions seen in several years and we probably won't see them again for a long time. His record on less helpful wickets outside England is terrible. An average of 40 everywhere outside England. That includes Aus and NZ where the wickets are less helpful but aren't certainly roads. Put him on a batting track and he will get smashed out of sight by half decent batsmen.

  • on January 1, 2011, 21:43 GMT

    @Nampally What are you talking about, Hughes is no newcomer and has played poorly throughout the series playing extremely poor shots. Khwaja probably won't do anything as he has no test experience and is coming into a poor side. Finally Strauss, KP and Trott has saved England's batting what about Bell Cook who averages 115 in the series.

  • ashes61 on January 1, 2011, 20:03 GMT

    In the same interview, also reported in "The Times" this morning, Anderson was at pains to emphasise that he thought Steyn was right out in front and that his record proved it. And if you look at their respective Test careers, with matches, wickets & averages, you can see why. However, there is a devastating statistic in the report which tells us that since his 2008 "comeback" Anderson has taken 143 wickets at around 28. This is the form which has propelled him to the top, and puts into perspective his early, on & off, hit & miss Test career - a period which did a lot of damage to his overall career figures! If he stays fit, his tally & average will steadily improve, and he'll pick up wickets all over the world - including on the sub-continent. Which reminds me, why do the Indians here keep mentioning the W/Cup? When and where is this irrelevant, bloated, backwater of a sideshow going to interrupt the calendar just when our cricketers should be resting before the next Tests series?

  • Silloh on January 1, 2011, 19:40 GMT

    Let's face it Anderson is no exciting and brilliant Glen Mcgrath.But, he has been quite effective of late and particularly on this tour.He has contributed largely in the absence of Broad and works very hard at improving on techniques and getting batsmen out. When he walks back wearily to his bowling mark though, he looks so dis interested and at times severely constipated ! But may be this is working against the batsmen and they become a bit complacent.I will be surprised if he does not make a positive impact at Sydney - a ground where Brian lara left his mark.

  • Nampally on January 1, 2011, 16:51 GMT

    England will face a much stiffer opposition with 2 new comers - Khwaja & Hughes in the XI. Ponting was totally out of form and presented England with an easy wicket at #3 position. This mainly contributed to England bowlers getting the upper hand. His injury is a blessing in disguise to the team.Clarke - often referred to as "PuP" is not really a "Pup" at 29 years of age.But assuming the captaincy will make him play more responsibly and result in him returning to form. If Hussey, Clarke, Watson and the 2 new comers perform to their potential, England will have handful to handle. Also Anderson & Co will have to work much harder for their wickets. So the Sydney test will not be walk in the park for England. Also Trott, Strauss & KP have been the batting saviours for England. If the Aussies could break thru' these 3 by early dismissals, then the game is right back in the Aussies court.Johnson is the key bowler to lead .But honestly without Hauritz the Aussies are one short in bowling.

  • Beefy_B on January 1, 2011, 16:03 GMT

    @ jonnyb192-Totally agree with your comment. I think he's gained a lot of respect for his performances down under. Now if he can just bring his average down to under 30...

  • Percy_Fender on January 1, 2011, 15:47 GMT

    I do not think you can compare Dale Steyn with any fast bowler in the world today. That is because he has pace,swing and a pretty sharp cricketing mind even if one has to ignore his apparent lack of it. His statistics even when he has at least another 6 years of top class fitness is very impressive to say the least.After just 45 test matches, he has 232 wickets at an average of about 23. This is over 5 wickets per match. Now that does'nt come easy particularly when you you consider that he has been just as successful in the subcontinent. Though Anderson is a good swing bowler in helpful conditions, a measure of his skills can be had in how he did in India. Though the England team has been well served by their fast bowlers in the current Ashes series, the fact is that in the Chennai Test in 2008 they had Harmison,Flintoff and Anderson, apart from Swann and Panesar. They no doubt lost that epic because of Tendulkar but their bowlers were not up to it.I though Swann was the best of them.

  • Biggus on January 2, 2011, 7:31 GMT

    Anderson is indeed a much improved bowler but it's a little rich to bracket him with Steyn. 4 wickets a game at 31 against 5 a game at 23 is an appreciable difference. Having said that though, the 'chemistry' of a bowling attack is a strange thing, and Alan Davidson, for instance, didn't really start to shine as a bowler until Lindwall and Miller retired, and in my opinion the retirement of Flintoff and the relegation of Harmison seems to have done Anderson the world of good. At least he doesn't waste the new ball as Harmy so often did.

  • Smasher79 on January 2, 2011, 2:04 GMT

    Its quite funny to find out that whoever gives an ASHES winning performance, becomes an elite no matter how ordinary that player is on other venues ... :)

  • D.V.C. on January 2, 2011, 2:04 GMT

    Why isn't Anderson England's T20 Vice Captain at least? He knows how to set a field, he has the necessary experience, he could easily be captain, as we all know Collingwood doesn't really want the job. I can only assume that it is because he is a bowler that he isn't considered.

  • PontingForPM on January 2, 2011, 0:21 GMT

    Amir is so overrated. He is talented but he bowled in the best conditions seen in several years and we probably won't see them again for a long time. His record on less helpful wickets outside England is terrible. An average of 40 everywhere outside England. That includes Aus and NZ where the wickets are less helpful but aren't certainly roads. Put him on a batting track and he will get smashed out of sight by half decent batsmen.

  • on January 1, 2011, 21:43 GMT

    @Nampally What are you talking about, Hughes is no newcomer and has played poorly throughout the series playing extremely poor shots. Khwaja probably won't do anything as he has no test experience and is coming into a poor side. Finally Strauss, KP and Trott has saved England's batting what about Bell Cook who averages 115 in the series.

  • ashes61 on January 1, 2011, 20:03 GMT

    In the same interview, also reported in "The Times" this morning, Anderson was at pains to emphasise that he thought Steyn was right out in front and that his record proved it. And if you look at their respective Test careers, with matches, wickets & averages, you can see why. However, there is a devastating statistic in the report which tells us that since his 2008 "comeback" Anderson has taken 143 wickets at around 28. This is the form which has propelled him to the top, and puts into perspective his early, on & off, hit & miss Test career - a period which did a lot of damage to his overall career figures! If he stays fit, his tally & average will steadily improve, and he'll pick up wickets all over the world - including on the sub-continent. Which reminds me, why do the Indians here keep mentioning the W/Cup? When and where is this irrelevant, bloated, backwater of a sideshow going to interrupt the calendar just when our cricketers should be resting before the next Tests series?

  • Silloh on January 1, 2011, 19:40 GMT

    Let's face it Anderson is no exciting and brilliant Glen Mcgrath.But, he has been quite effective of late and particularly on this tour.He has contributed largely in the absence of Broad and works very hard at improving on techniques and getting batsmen out. When he walks back wearily to his bowling mark though, he looks so dis interested and at times severely constipated ! But may be this is working against the batsmen and they become a bit complacent.I will be surprised if he does not make a positive impact at Sydney - a ground where Brian lara left his mark.

  • Nampally on January 1, 2011, 16:51 GMT

    England will face a much stiffer opposition with 2 new comers - Khwaja & Hughes in the XI. Ponting was totally out of form and presented England with an easy wicket at #3 position. This mainly contributed to England bowlers getting the upper hand. His injury is a blessing in disguise to the team.Clarke - often referred to as "PuP" is not really a "Pup" at 29 years of age.But assuming the captaincy will make him play more responsibly and result in him returning to form. If Hussey, Clarke, Watson and the 2 new comers perform to their potential, England will have handful to handle. Also Anderson & Co will have to work much harder for their wickets. So the Sydney test will not be walk in the park for England. Also Trott, Strauss & KP have been the batting saviours for England. If the Aussies could break thru' these 3 by early dismissals, then the game is right back in the Aussies court.Johnson is the key bowler to lead .But honestly without Hauritz the Aussies are one short in bowling.

  • Beefy_B on January 1, 2011, 16:03 GMT

    @ jonnyb192-Totally agree with your comment. I think he's gained a lot of respect for his performances down under. Now if he can just bring his average down to under 30...

  • Percy_Fender on January 1, 2011, 15:47 GMT

    I do not think you can compare Dale Steyn with any fast bowler in the world today. That is because he has pace,swing and a pretty sharp cricketing mind even if one has to ignore his apparent lack of it. His statistics even when he has at least another 6 years of top class fitness is very impressive to say the least.After just 45 test matches, he has 232 wickets at an average of about 23. This is over 5 wickets per match. Now that does'nt come easy particularly when you you consider that he has been just as successful in the subcontinent. Though Anderson is a good swing bowler in helpful conditions, a measure of his skills can be had in how he did in India. Though the England team has been well served by their fast bowlers in the current Ashes series, the fact is that in the Chennai Test in 2008 they had Harmison,Flintoff and Anderson, apart from Swann and Panesar. They no doubt lost that epic because of Tendulkar but their bowlers were not up to it.I though Swann was the best of them.

  • on January 1, 2011, 13:27 GMT

    @Marathudelft. England have played against Steyn and SA twice in the last 3 years. He took half his series wickets in one match last year and looked pretty ordinary the rest of the time. In England the year before he averaged well over 35 per wicket - and again took the majority of his wickets in one match on one helpful pitch, the rest of the time he looked good - but not earth shattering. Maybe South Africans have seen something more - but to me Steyn is very good - but not a world beater. Neither is Anderson for that matter. But there is not much between Steyn/Morkal and Anderson/Tremlett (or Broad or even Finn for that matter) Also - we have a world class spinner - possibly 2. Outside the subcontinent only Vetorri and Swann are worth mentioning in the spin dept.

  • pathan1 on January 1, 2011, 12:48 GMT

    Andersonnnn is a good bowler i have to say. but one should also not destind it. He is not comparable with Aamir, Asif and STeyn. Aamir is the best one among these guys in my point of view.

  • MaruthuDelft on January 1, 2011, 10:06 GMT

    Don't bring Anderson near Steyn. Steyn will end up closer or even better than McGrath. It is the mind. Anderson has of course improved but it is impossible to bring his mind to a level to match Lillee, Marshal, Akram, McGrath and Warne. They all are born tough. Within any given day and against all odds they would determinedly find a way to produce results. About Anderson you can say within 2 to 3 test matches he will produce something telling.

  • on January 1, 2011, 8:36 GMT

    Zaheer Khan has 47@21 odd too. While Steyn is a mile in front, Zak has performed more consistently than Anderson on wider variety of pitches against more oppositions.

  • on January 1, 2011, 5:46 GMT

    He reminds me of Zaheer Khan. Both exceptionally skilled and not express pace. Great performer. Wonderful to see him improving with every series and picking up new skills!

  • on January 1, 2011, 4:58 GMT

    anderson is d best england bowler and probably d best in d world

    ive been and anerson fan forever

  • samkayani on January 1, 2011, 4:06 GMT

    The way England bowlers are performing right now i think it will be interesting to see them in sub-continent where pitches are slow. still England are fav to win wc 2011.

  • simon_w on January 1, 2011, 3:40 GMT

    I have to admit there was a long while when I wasn't at all confident that Jimmy would ever really make it at the top level, so I'm delighted that he has established himself as a properly world-class bowler. Still has the potential to be expensive from time to time, but if he can minimize that, and have another year or two like 2010, he can go on to become a real great for England.

  • on January 1, 2011, 2:16 GMT

    @ landl47 : I think hilf has been a tad unlucky in this series, his figures dont really show how well he has bowled

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on January 1, 2011, 1:02 GMT

    It's quite a rare sight to see a cricketer so completely silence his critics as Anderson has. No one now can accuse him of being good only when conditions suit him, and the intelligence and variety he has and has shown to have in his bowling deliveries coupled with his outstanding bowling in England makes him the player that he is now.

  • landl47 on December 31, 2010, 23:40 GMT

    Anderson has become a very good bowler in all conditions. His only drawback now is that he tends to have occasional uninspired spells when he doesn't seem to have a lot of life. Luckily he has good bowlers around him to pick up the slack and a captain who uses him in the way most likely to help him succeed. Before the series started I thought he and Hilfenhaus would do well in the same conditions, but it has become apparent that Anderson has much more variety and skill than Hilf and is able to do a job when Hilf can't. 17 wickets at 29 against 4 wickets at 73 tells the story.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • landl47 on December 31, 2010, 23:40 GMT

    Anderson has become a very good bowler in all conditions. His only drawback now is that he tends to have occasional uninspired spells when he doesn't seem to have a lot of life. Luckily he has good bowlers around him to pick up the slack and a captain who uses him in the way most likely to help him succeed. Before the series started I thought he and Hilfenhaus would do well in the same conditions, but it has become apparent that Anderson has much more variety and skill than Hilf and is able to do a job when Hilf can't. 17 wickets at 29 against 4 wickets at 73 tells the story.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on January 1, 2011, 1:02 GMT

    It's quite a rare sight to see a cricketer so completely silence his critics as Anderson has. No one now can accuse him of being good only when conditions suit him, and the intelligence and variety he has and has shown to have in his bowling deliveries coupled with his outstanding bowling in England makes him the player that he is now.

  • on January 1, 2011, 2:16 GMT

    @ landl47 : I think hilf has been a tad unlucky in this series, his figures dont really show how well he has bowled

  • simon_w on January 1, 2011, 3:40 GMT

    I have to admit there was a long while when I wasn't at all confident that Jimmy would ever really make it at the top level, so I'm delighted that he has established himself as a properly world-class bowler. Still has the potential to be expensive from time to time, but if he can minimize that, and have another year or two like 2010, he can go on to become a real great for England.

  • samkayani on January 1, 2011, 4:06 GMT

    The way England bowlers are performing right now i think it will be interesting to see them in sub-continent where pitches are slow. still England are fav to win wc 2011.

  • on January 1, 2011, 4:58 GMT

    anderson is d best england bowler and probably d best in d world

    ive been and anerson fan forever

  • on January 1, 2011, 5:46 GMT

    He reminds me of Zaheer Khan. Both exceptionally skilled and not express pace. Great performer. Wonderful to see him improving with every series and picking up new skills!

  • on January 1, 2011, 8:36 GMT

    Zaheer Khan has 47@21 odd too. While Steyn is a mile in front, Zak has performed more consistently than Anderson on wider variety of pitches against more oppositions.

  • MaruthuDelft on January 1, 2011, 10:06 GMT

    Don't bring Anderson near Steyn. Steyn will end up closer or even better than McGrath. It is the mind. Anderson has of course improved but it is impossible to bring his mind to a level to match Lillee, Marshal, Akram, McGrath and Warne. They all are born tough. Within any given day and against all odds they would determinedly find a way to produce results. About Anderson you can say within 2 to 3 test matches he will produce something telling.

  • pathan1 on January 1, 2011, 12:48 GMT

    Andersonnnn is a good bowler i have to say. but one should also not destind it. He is not comparable with Aamir, Asif and STeyn. Aamir is the best one among these guys in my point of view.