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Two tests into his comeback, James Anderson is again fighting for his England place
December 9, 2006
Just to have his England place back is reward enough for the effort he has put in following the stress fracture he suffered at the end of the tour of India in April. But, much like the team's aspirations, it hasn't gone according to plan. After leap-frogging his Lancashire colleague, Sajid Mahmood, for the fourth pace-bowling slot at the beginning of the trip, the tour match against Western Australia has loomed as a last chance to keep his Ashes tour alive. His three wickets on the opening day have come in the nick of time.
Despite the trust shown in him (or, maybe, more accurately the hope placed in him) he suffered in the Gabba cauldron and proved insipid on a benign Adelaide surface. Anderson certainly wasn't alone in his struggles, but it served to highlight how difficult it is for a young bowler to continually come back from serious setbacks. This tour has provided him his first extended bowling spell since March and no amount of net sessions can fully prepare the body, or mind, for Test-match intensity. Anderson is still trying to adjust to his new action, which aims to alleviate pressure on his spine and prevent a recurrence of the injury that forced him to spend six weeks in a back brace.
If he is in need of inspiration, though, he should look no further than Matthew Hoggard, who four years ago was in danger of being pounded into obscurity. Hoggard was found out in conditions where his swing was nullified, and now Anderson is suffering the same fate. The skiddy nature of his bowling, which is what Duncan Fletcher said counted in his favour for selection at Adelaide, makes him as hittable as Hoggard was in 2002-03. But Hoggard went away and expanded his armoury to the point where he is now effective all over the world. Anderson's future relies on him expanding his game in a similar manner.
It is already clear he is not shy of the hard work. During months spent carrying the drinks for England two years ago, when his career would have benefited from playing for Lancashire, Anderson would bowl countless overs at a single stump. Often it would be under the watchful eye of Troy Cooley but sometimes he struck a lonesome figure as he thudded ball after ball into a baseball mitt.
When he was finally released back to county cricket, following a woeful tour of South Africa, he ran in day after day for Lancashire and bowled 512 Championship overs during 2005. In his previous three seasons combined he'd bowled just 508 overs in four-day cricket despite not being a permanent fixture for England since the end of 2003.
The selectors kept a close watch and after 60 wickets, plus Simon Jones's injury, he was recalled to the squad for the final Ashes Test in 2005 followed by the tours of Pakistan and India. Sport can be cruel, though, and following six wickets during England's famous win in Mumbai he was forced to watch as Mahmood and Liam Plunkett staked a claim for his spot.
However, neither made an impregnable case and there were signs in the Champions Trophy that the sharp, late out-swing that first caught the eye four years ago had not been lost. The Ashes tour has proved another sobering experience and, although Anderson fought his way back, it is just the start of the battle. He has to show that he can adjust to his new style, and that the catalogue of disappointments has not left a permanent scar, otherwise time will run out before the next generation are pushing for his place. For someone who once had the world at his feet that would be an incredible shame.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the 4th ODI between England and India at Edgbaston