Anderson's blue-sky thinking
James Anderson believes that his final-day showing at The Oval, in which he produced a fast and threatening display under cloudless skies and with a 25-over old ball, will help to convince the doubters that he has what it takes to succeed in adverse conditions in Australia this winter. Although England went on to lose the match by four wickets, Anderson's tenacity in defending a meagre target of 148 was particularly timely as the team's thoughts begin to turn to the Ashes in November.
Anderson, 28, has been the pick of England's bowlers this summer, claiming 29 wickets in five Tests against Bangladesh and Pakistan, including a career-best haul of 11 for 71 in the first Test against Pakistan at Trent Bridge last month. But whereas his prodigious ability to make the ball swing has been assisted by overcast conditions for much of the summer, it wasn't until the sun came out at The Oval that he was forced to rely on his less celebrated traits of stamina and accuracy. In tandem with Graeme Swann, England made Pakistan battle for every run as they stretched a seemingly routine run-chase well into the afternoon session.
"There was a period there when they were on 16 to win for quite a few overs, and we all believed we could cause an upset," Anderson told Cricinfo's Switch Hit podcast. "Unfortunately it didn't happen for us, but we gave it everything we could that day, and to be honest we probably didn't have enough runs to defend. But I'm delighted with the way it's gone for me this summer. I've made use of some helpful conditions along the way, but also when the ball hasn't been swinging, like at The Oval, I've still done quite well."
Andrew Strauss's tactics in that final innings came under some fire as Anderson was initially asked to bowl in the channel outside off stump to stymie Pakistan's flow of runs. But a magnificent outswinging yorker to the well-set Mohammad Yousuf signalled a change of emphasis, and also highlighted Anderson's greater reliability as an attacking bowler who can also be trusted to keep a cap on the scoring rate - as demonstrated by a current series economy rate of 2.30, the lowest of any of the specialist quick bowlers on either side.
Anderson attributes that greater reliability to two factors - an increased sense of responsibility within the bowling unit, a process that began back at Wellington in March 2008 when he took over from Matthew Hoggard as the leader of England's attack, and a return to the idiosyncratic, but undeniably effective, bowling action that served him so well as a rookie swing bowler at the start of his international career, but which was more or less coached out of him during his years in the wilderness between 2004 and 2006.
"Keeping the ball pitched up, and obviously straight, is a basic of bowling, but it's obviously a key thing for anyone who plays cricket," said Anderson. "I'm really trying to get rid of any free scoring shots for the batsman, especially that one four-ball in an over, and in the last few years, certainly since Peter Moores took over the job of England coach, he instilled a lot of confidence in me and gave me some extra responsibility.
"Since I suffered a stress fracture in 2006, I went back to near enough the action I started with as a 16 year old," he added. "I think from then, I've gone on from strength to strength. My bowling's improved, and is continually improving, and I've started to become a bit more consistent which is what I've been searching for for a number of years, and which every bowler strives for. I'm just really enjoying playing at the moment, I feel pretty confident with it, and the main thing for me at the minute is staying fit, keeping strong and bowling well."
The doubts will continue to linger, however, until Anderson produces a similarly reliable display in Australia this winter, a country in which he claimed five wickets at a costly 82.60 in the 2006-07 Ashes. Under the guidance of their new bowling coach, David Saker, whose greatest emphasis is on tactics rather than techniques, England have already begun practising with a Kookaburra ball to attune themselves mentally to the task that awaits them this winter, but Anderson is adamant that the challenge should not be overstated.
"I've bowled six balls this summer with a Kookaburra, just to see how it held up in English conditions, nothing more than that," he said. "We've gone to plenty other countries in the past and won using the Kookaburra so it's not a big deal, and not something we're going to worry about. I've bowled well in plenty of games where the ball hasn't swung - it's just a matter of doing it on a consistent basis to prove to people that I can do it. I know I can do it, but I've just got to become consistent."
James Anderson works with ASICS Smarter Cricket. For expert coaching videos visit www.asics.co.uk/cricket
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.