England v NZ, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 2nd day May 17, 2013

Indispensable Anderson master of his craft

He may not be the quickest or the most dangerous bowler in world cricket but James Anderson has mastered the skill of fast bowling and England would be lost without him

If any reminder was required of James Anderson's value to the England team, it was provided in empathic fashion on the second afternoon at Lord's.

It was not just that Anderson joined an illustrious group of players to have claimed 300 Test wickets - he was the 26th man to do so and just the fourth England player - but that he produced a performance so palpably superior to his colleagues that it was painfully clear once more how much his team continue to rely upon him. Without his contribution, England would be in desperate trouble in this match.

When Fred Trueman became the first man to take 300 Test wickets, in 1964, he remarked that anyone else who reached the landmark would be "bloody tired". So it was probably not surprising to see Anderson appearing weary at the close of play. But it was not just the emotion of reaching a landmark that has been looming in the road ahead for some months, at this famous old ground and in front of his proud parents, but that he continues to shoulder more than his share of the bowling duties of this England side. Only when Graeme Swann, gaining turn and bounce, was in support did England maintain control at both ends.

The difference between the sides to date - and New Zealand have looked the stronger so far - has largely been in the performance of the support seam bowlers. While New Zealand's were wonderfully disciplined and tight, England's have been profligate and expensive.

Stuart Broad, in particular, endured a wretched day. After a duck with the bat underlined the doubts about his suitability to bat as high as No. 8 - he has reached 30 just once in his last 20 Test innings - he then conceded 10 boundaries in his first 13 overs. On a truculent pitch on which England had struggled to score at more than two-an-over, every long-hop he delivered - and there were several - was another body blow for his team. He generated neither great pace nor great swing and, in conditions in which seam bowlers should dream, was close to a liability.

Steven Finn, cut to ribbons by the impressive Ross Taylor as punishment for over doing the short ball, was even more expensive. But while Finn was selected for this game in the knowledge that he was a fast bowler in the developmental stage of his career, Broad is playing his 56th Test. Such seniority comes with expectation. England require more from Broad.

Besides, Finn was hostile and sharp. He has conceded more runs in 11 overs than Bruce Martin did in 26, but he compensated with a wicket that kept his side clinging on to the coattails of New Zealand. Taylor later commented that they would be looking for a first innings lead of 50 or 60 but at one stage it looked as if it could be far more than that. "I wasn't looking to score at a run-a-ball," he said. "They just bowled a few loose balls."

Both Finn and Broad could learn much from Anderson. He is, in most ways, a far superior bowler to the young man who, a decade ago to the month, burst upon the Test scene here with a five-wicket haul against Zimbabwe. Most crucially, he has learned how to bowl an inswinger to complement the outswinger with which he claimed his first Test wicket; Mark Vermeulen beaten by a beauty that pitched leg and hit the top of off.

"I'm happy I got the landmark out of the way, really. It was nice that Graeme Swann took the catch to reach it. It was just nice to see him hold on to one."
James Anderson on his 300th Test wicket

Anderson has developed a consistency, too, that led Andrew Strauss to name him the most reliable bowler he ever captained, MS Dhoni to remark that he was the "difference between the sides" in the Test series in India and earned him an excellent opportunity to overhaul Sir Ian Botham's England record of 383 Test wickets. He might not be the most dangerous, the quickest or even the best fast bowler in Test cricket - those accolades surely belong to Dale Steyn - but it is very hard to think of one more skilful.

But it's perhaps Anderson's attitude that marks him apart. While some bowlers bemoan their workloads and their aches and pains, Anderson simply gets on with it. His quiet, modest demeanour conceals a strength that used to be considered a pre-requisite of a fast bowler. He makes neither excuse nor complaint and prepares with the professionalism and diligence required to go into every Test in condition to give of his best. It is a long, long time since Anderson bowled poorly with a red ball. Taylor later compared him to "a mixture of Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn", to which Anderson responded: "I'll take that".

Maybe time - and all those overs - have taken a toll, though. Until a couple of years ago, Anderson was still capable of bowling spells at least approaching 90mph. Now he operates closer to 80mph and, on pitches or conditions offering no assistance, can appear tidy but unthreatening. He experienced a disappointing tour of New Zealand and a disappointing series against South Africa, though whether he has chosen to bowl within himself in the knowledge of spells ahead or whether the miles on the clock are starting to show is unclear. It is quite true that speed is not everything, but it is not nothing, either.

"I don't see why not," 30-year-old Anderson replied when asked if he could beat Botham's record. "I'm not too old. I've a few more left yet. But I don't want to think about it. I'll just try and stay fit.

"I'm happy I got the landmark out of the way, really. It was nice that Graeme Swann took the catch to reach it. It was just nice to see him hold on to one," he said with a smile. "It meant a lot to me and I could see how much it meant to him too."

Anderson's relief was tempered by the knowledge that New Zealand remain in the stronger position in this game and that his side's bowling had contributed to the situation. While he modestly attempted to share the blame, his description of events owed far more to his colleagues than himself.

"I bowled too many short and wide and I'm sure the other guys would say the same," Anderson said. "That's one of Taylor's strengths and we knew that. We weren't trying to bowl there. We just didn't bowl very well for that period of time."

England will have to bowl far better on the third day if they are to claw their way back into the game. But the knowledge that Anderson remains fit and willing to lead the revival will remain as reassuring to England's supporters as it has been to a succession of England captains.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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