England v India, 3rd Test, Edgbaston, 4th day August 14, 2011

Anderson rises along with England

At the age of 29, James Anderson is finally achieving the status that seemed pre-ordained when he was plucked from league cricket in Burnley as a 20-year-old

In the course of his seven years as England coach, there was no single bowler who caused Duncan Fletcher more head-scratching than James Anderson. Steve Harmison had his frailties and Matthew Hoggard never received the full endorsement of his boss, but both men nevertheless grew to become integral cogs in the last England team to challenge for world domination.

Anderson, by contrast, remained a stranger within the bosom of Fletcher's squad - a muted personality with a muddled mindset, whose precocious arrival on the scene in December 2002 soon gave way to over-coaching and under-use, as a succession of England management staff tried in vain to work out what exactly made him tick. It was fitting, therefore, that on the day England finally attained the status that Fletcher had yearned for throughout his tenure, it was Anderson's irresistible morning spell that provided the final leg-up to the top.

In an extraordinarily one-sided session on the fourth morning, India's batsmen showed they had fewer answers to the Anderson question than Fletcher himself, as they poked and wafted at a flotilla of off-stump screamers. At one stage Anderson had figures of 4 for 34 in ten overs - and this in a contest in which Alastair Cook went 188 overs without offering so much as a chance. The zipping, harrying, relentless examination was more than India cared to deal with, and at 116 for 6 at lunch, all that remained was a face-saving tonk from the tail.

With 18 wickets in the series to date, Anderson has cemented his place as the No. 2 bowler in the world Test rankings - behind South Africa's Dale Steyn for the moment, but unquestionably the first pick in a pack of English fast bowlers that has propelled their team to the summit. Anderson and his acolytes may lack the sheer terror of the West Indian quartet of the 1980s, but the totality of their methods is cut from the same cloth. Relentless, suffocating pressure is their modus operandi, and the fact that Anderson - who once answered to the unflattering nickname "Daisy" ["some days he ..."] - is central to that approach speaks volumes of the distance he has come.

"He's been an integral part of our development as a side," Andrew Strauss said at the end of the Edgbaston Test. "We've all seen his onfield exploits with the swinging ball, and even when it hasn't swung, he's become a very effective campaigner. He's not an out-and-out quick bowler now, but he's very smart in what he does, and also, off the pitch, he's become an increasingly important part of the working of our side, the way he interacts with other bowlers, the example he sets, and he's really matured as a person.

"We're hopeful his best years are still ahead of him, but we're obviously delighted with what he's achieved in the last couple of years."

At the age of 29, Anderson is finally achieving the status that seemed preordained when he was plucked from league cricket in Burnley as a 20-year-old, and sent to reinforce England's ailing one-day squad in Australia in the aftermath of the 2002-03 Ashes. His achievements on that trip included a spell of ten overs for 12 in a one-dayer in Adelaide that led, in turn, to his call-up for the World Cup, where four wickets under the lights at Cape Town provided England with their one true highlight of the tournament - a memorable win against Pakistan.

Five wickets on Test debut soon followed against Zimbabwe, as well as another starring role against Pakistan, a one-day hat-trick at The Oval. But Anderson's premature stardom torched his credentials almost before they'd been established. A red "go-faster" stripe through his hair attracted the sort of media attention that no young sportsmen needs to bring upon themselves, but more worrying for the management was his sheer unreliability. The knowledge of what he was capable mitigated the days when his radar would go awry, but only up to a point, and after his first 12 Tests, his average and run-rate (36.40 and 3.75) both had him labelled as a liability.

Even at this senior stage of his career, with Alec Bedser now among the English legends whom his wickets-tally of 237 has eclipsed, Anderson hasn't quite been able to write off those shortcomings of his youth. His average, for instance, still hasn't managed to dip below 30, but the font of experience that he is able to bring to the equation is invaluable. No-one else in the squad - not even the captain, Andrew Strauss, whose debut came a year later in 2004, and whose career trajectory has suffered just a solitary blip in the winter of 2007-08 - knows half as much about international failure, and consequently, what it really takes to succeed.

Success for Anderson was deferred until the end of Fletcher's reign. In the interim he suffered the ignominy of being overlooked throughout that epic summer of 2005 - Chris Tremlett was England's designated 12th man for the first four Tests, while Paul Collingwood's solid character was trusted ahead of Anderson's flair for the crucial decider at The Oval. Meanwhile, his performances overseas made him out to be the little lost boy of the world game. In his first eight Test tours, he was selected for seven matches, but would invariably appear to bowl at a single stump during lunch breaks, honing his technique for the day that would never come.

All the while, something strange was happening to Anderson's action. Troy Cooley's success with the likes of Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff was legendary, but his attempts to iron out Anderson's habit of peering into his left armpit at the point of delivery proved disastrous. The meddling robbed an instinctive cricketer of the natural swing that had earned him England recognition in the first place, while transferring new stresses onto previously ungrooved parts of his body. His back duly gave way in May 2006; an injury that wrote off his season but at least gave him the excuse to dispense with the tinkering. By the following summer, with Fletcher coincidentally now out of the picture, he was at last ready to be his own man.

Peter Moores' reign as England coach proved to be short and bitter, but aside from calling in Graeme Swann and Ryan Sidebottom from the cold, his one lasting triumph was the manner in which he turned Anderson into the attack leader for a new generation. He showed glimpses of what lay in store during the 2007 home series against India, when his seven wickets at Lord's all but wrapped up a rain-saved match, but his true second coming was at Wellington in March 2008.

One game earlier, while Harmison and Hoggard had been bowling their way out of the team during an abject display at Hamilton, Anderson had been released from the squad to go and play for Auckland - a controversial arrangement, but one that was infinitely preferable to yet another round of single-stump practice in the lunch breaks. He responded to the fine-tuning with a crucial five-wicket haul in a series-turning display, and from that moment on, he has scarcely looked back. His last 42 Tests have reaped 175 wickets at 27.45 and an economy rate of 3.04.

"I want to be the bowler that the captain can throw the ball to when we need a wicket," Anderson stated after that Wellington performance, and sure enough that's exactly what he has become. Even so, the final aspect of his development has required a certain degree of regression, because it has been the solidity of his stock performances rather than the dynamism of his breakthrough moments that have defined his role in the second half of his career.

In short, he has given up trying to bowl the "magic ball" - the sort of jaw-dropping jaffa that Yousuf Youhana received at Cape Town in 2003, or Aaron Redmond at Trent Bridge in 2008. Under the tutelage of David Saker, a bowling coach who cares more about tactics and mindset than technique, Anderson has resolved never to offer up anything that can be cut, which means beating a tattoo on a good length on and outside off, and conforming to an orthodoxy that is far removed from his maverick beginnings.

His methods have been too subtle for a host of recent opponents, from Pakistan last summer via Australia in the winter, where, on Saker's watch, a new "wobbly seam" delivery gave him a weapon that enabled him to transcend the vagaries of the Kookaburra ball and transform his own reputation in unresponsive conditions. The truest challenge for Anderson's methods now lies in the subcontinent this coming winter, where Pakistan and Sri Lanka will be expecting to thwart England's formidable momentum. But like the team that he has helped to haul from mediocrity to the top of the tree, he's ready for the challenge. Anderson knows the taste of failure, and he wants nothing more to do with it.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Wayne on August 17, 2011, 8:44 GMT

    HA HA HA HA.... The excuses from the Indian supporters are funny and at the same time disturbing. I think it's this denial that has brought India's downfall and will continue causing sub-par performances for years to come. India and their supporters just CANNOT comprehend that they have NO BOWLING ATTACK. Guys, even if you prepare a dustbowl, you can't bowl teams out because you DON'T HAVE A SPINNER. Mishra?? The guy bowls WAAAYYYY too slowly. And noyone is putting their hands up in India. I knew Indian supporters would jump up and blame conditions, Sehwag's absence, Zaheer's absence, fatigue etc. etc. etc. but the fact is: YOU HAVE BEEN CRUSHED AND OUTPLAYED. And before you start owning up to the truth that your team has NO BOWLING ATTACK you won't win series. Ask the BCCI to invest their billions in finding two fast bowlers, ACTUAL fast bowlers and not reformed medium pacers... and one good spinner... Then you can start thinking about ascending to the top.

  • Mark on August 16, 2011, 15:01 GMT

    Even if England do face spin friendly pitches in the sub-continent, I'd back Swann every time on them. I know Swann didn't do that well there in 2008 but he is a far better bowler now with much more variation in flight, direction and delivery. The preparation that goes into every series England plays is second to none. They will have worked out the lines and lengths that the seamers will need to bowl before they set foot in Saudi, Sri Lanka or India next year. Jimmy backed up by Tremlett, Bresnan, Broad, Finn and Onions are the real deal as a seam attack. Who have India got? An ageing Zaheer Khan and a workhorse in Praveen Kumar (who is more of a container than a wicket taking threat). What about India's spinners? An ageing Harbhajan and a leg spinner who can only bowl a telegraphed googly..

    England certainly wont turn up and expect to hammer the opposition in unfamiliar surroundings without preparation or acclimatisation like India did in England this summer...

  • Martin on August 16, 2011, 10:35 GMT

    Look - if a pitch, ANY pitch has seam movement England have the bowlers to exploit it. India do not. If there is any swing, reverse swing, England bowlers will exploit that much more effectively than Indian bowlers (don't believe me? - check this series). If a pitch has variable bounce - England have the bowlers to exploit it, india do not. And finally, if a pitch offers spin - then England have the bowlers to exploit it and india have just dropped harbajhan. Any other kind of pitch is simply DEAD - with nothing in it except runs. If there is anything in any pitch - then England, with a collection of the best bowlers in the world, including the best spinner in the world will exploit it. And that's just the bowlers. England batsmen will just bat india out of every game in india - whose bowlers won't be able to do a single thing about it. If Indian bowlers can't bowl England out here - then they can't bowl them out anywhere, and this after winning the toss TWICE!

  • Ankur on August 16, 2011, 7:02 GMT


    Looks like you're getting in a bit of a tangle. If it offers something for the bowlers, be it seam movement or spin, it is not dead. If a pitch in the subcontinent offers spin it isn't dead, by definition. On the other hand, you do get pitches where the ball does absolutely nothing throughout the game, it won't seam & it won't spin, India found such pitches when they went to SL last time, and when they toured Pakistan before that.

    Nobody calls spin-friendly pitches flat or dead, if some of the pitches in the subcontinent are deemed dead it is because they offer nothing; not even spin.

  • Srinivas on August 15, 2011, 21:47 GMT

    @5wombats, mate it amuses me that spin friendly tracks are called as dead wickets when the ball will do all sorts of things from turning square to ugly bounce to skidding along for a straighter one. How is that a dead track? How is it that pace track is the only track that is batsman unfriendly and that spin tracks are batsman friendly? I will never understand that. Al right. If they are batsmen friendly then why do some batsmen fail on them miserably? My point is people have to stop spreading this myth that anything that is not a pace track is a runfest track.

  • joel on August 15, 2011, 19:06 GMT

    @ David- Gravitas , edgbaston is a featherbed pace friendly track with 1 dimensional bounce . Erm did you watch both of India innings ? , Dravid , sehwag , laxman and Tendulkar are some of the best batsmen in the world !. Yet all 4 of them struggled with unexpected bounce and movement . I agree with you about the lack of spin on the wickets tho , which is a bit dissapointing . Was hoping for some good battles against harbajhn . As for James Andersonn , the guy is the real deal now . He played well against Pakistan , he played brilliantly in Australia . And now he has just completely destroyed the best test team in the world .

  • Valavan on August 15, 2011, 17:11 GMT

    Indians only agree that uncle zaheer khan has improved, they are just about jealous if some others develop into a spearhead

  • Sikandar on August 15, 2011, 16:00 GMT

    I am very happy for ANDERSON!! here is the guy who got whacked in one of the Ashes, and he was rightfully crucified by how own English people, and he took that as a challenge and became a REAL THREAT to Indians! What INDIA lacks is Determination, Dedication, Discpline, but we love DOLLARS!!! IPL anyone???? Yes, our Indian crickters run for the money but look at English and some Aussies [Mitchell Johnosn, etc.] who gave a damn about IPL and were concentrating on to be #1 in Tests!!! Good work England! You folks deserve to be #1, you have all Ds in addition to "Talent and sincerity" to achieve greatness!!

  • Martin on August 15, 2011, 12:51 GMT

    @Dravid_Gravitas - sorry mate but you really are grasping at straws now. There are no more deader pitches in the world than the ones found in india. It's quite amazing that you think otherwise and demonstrates the underestimation that the current india team have shown on this tour. England will completely crush india in india next year - through better batting than india's, better fielding than india's and above all through better bowling. Jimmy Anderson will shock indians in india just as he shocked the Aussies in Australia. It's on it's way. I'm looking forward to it so that we can finally put this nonsense that "England can't perform on the subcontinent" into the bin where it belongs.

  • david on August 15, 2011, 10:18 GMT

    well all those guys waiting to see how he does in asian conditions. why dont you just wait if he fails then he fails. and some of the other guys will step up to the plate thats how this team plays. i must admit most of the guys saying he will struggle are the same guys who said we would be beaten 0 - 4 by the current indian team. dpk

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