Anderson admits defeat is 'a huge wake-up call'
James Anderson has admitted England's much-vaunted bowling attack were given a sharp "wake-up call" by the quality of their South African counterparts. The Test series against South Africa had been billed as a battle between the two best bowling attacks in world cricket but there proved to be little comparison as South Africa clinched the series 2-0 and with it usurped England as the No.1 rated Test team.
While Anderson and Stuart Broad claimed their wickets at a cost of 40.66 and 39.72 apiece respectively, Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn claimed theirs for 23.66 and 29.20. Graeme Swann claimed only four wickets in the two Tests he played at an eye-watering cost of 77 runs apiece.
"It was a huge wake-up call for this bowing attack," Anderson admitted. "When you get to No.1 you can start believing your own hype and your own press. When people say you are a great bowling attack you can start believing that and this is a huge wake-up call in this series.
"We have been truly out-bowled in this series and it shows we have a lot of work to do. Maybe we have got a long way to go."
Despite the defeat, Anderson insisted that Andrew Strauss remained the man to lead England. While England's captain endured a grim series, averaging just 17.83 and looking increasingly jaded by the Kevin Pietersen debacle, Anderson said the entire dressing room - sans Pietersen - were united in support of Strauss and would back him "to the hilt".
"Andrew Strauss has been pivotal in everything we have achieved," Anderson said. "He is a huge part of our team. As players I can speak for everyone and say we hope he carries on for a few more years yet. Straussy has got so much respect as a captain and a leader. We all very much respect his decisions and we will back him to the hilt with whatever he and the ECB decides to do over the Kevin Pietersen issue.
"It was Straussy's 100th Test match and you could see how much he still loved being in the dressing room. Now we have lost the No.1 spot I am sure he is very hungry to get us back there."
Anderson struggled to explain England's disappointing form in the series against South Africa, but conceded that the mindset of being No.1 rather than chasing that status may have been a contributory factor.
"There is a slightly different mentality when you are trying to get to No.1 rather than being No.1," he said. "Teams have a different approach towards how they play against you and maybe we needed a different mindset to the one we had. We have not quite got it right whatever it might be.
"Perhaps we have let our standards slip as Straussy said after the game. If you do that you are going to come under pressure.
"I don't think we have shown any complacency. The one thing that got us to No.1 in the world was striving for constant improvement. We were always trying to be better and maybe we rested on our laurels a little bit. We didn't try and keep improving as we had done in previous years.
"I think we were better when we were trying to get to No.1. We were better when we were chasing. We know how to do that."
Anderson remained confident that England could reclaim the top spot, though. He felt that the success of younger players such as Steven Finn and Jonny Bairstow promised much for the future
"We have made some steps forward," Anderson said. "Steven Finn has done a great job since he came in. The spell on the fourth day at Lord's was one of the best spells of bowling I have seen in a Test. It is exciting from that point of view, but we know we have got to do a lot of improving if we want to get back to that No.1 spot.
"We got to No.1 in the world with this team and Straussy leading this team. I don't see why we can't do it again. Especially with a couple of new guys coming in it is an important phase letting them settle into the team. I thought JB was exceptional this week and he showed real signs of being a world class player. It is exciting we have guys like that coming into the team. We know what it takes to get there so hopefully we can do it again.
"Could we do it without Kevin Pietersen? I don't see why not. We have seen we have talented guys coming through. If he doesn't play Test cricket against it would be a huge loss because he is such a devastating player but I don't see why we can't. We have enough talent there to get back to No.1.
"The starting point is India. It is a tough place to start but it an exciting challenge. If you want to be No.1 in the world you have to win in India, so why not start there?"
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George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo