England v West Indies, 2nd npower Test, Chester-le-Street, 3rd day May 16, 2009

Anderson stands up to be counted

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Andy Flower has made it clear in the early days of his official reign that only those with strong character and a big heart need apply to take on the Australians later this summer. Those with suspect temperaments will not be considered. He made a statement by leaving out the likes of Ian Bell and Steve Harmison, who have previously been accused of lacking the necessary ticker, in favour of those he feels have the bottle required.

If you'd looked at the England side only a couple of years ago and tried to pick out those who had what it takes, James Anderson's name wouldn't have been anywhere near the top of the pile. However, over the last 12 months he has gone from the quiet man of the England team to an attack leader of some stature. His opening spell here was a prime example, where he had complete control of his swing and took out three top-order wickets.

When he returned to the side against India, mid-way through 2007, he said he wanted to be the captain of the bowlers. During the winter tour to the Caribbean, during a low-key and almost anonymous practice session, the squad was split into two teams. The choice of each captain was fascinating. Stuart Broad led one side and Anderson the other. The captain of the bowlers had become a captain in his own right. It probably wasn't an insight into a future role - bowling captains are a rare breed in international cricket - but Anderson has clearly become a senior figure.

Yet, it isn't only with the ball and in the field that Anderson's growth as a player has become apparent. He has taken over the role vacated by Matthew Hoggard's departure as England's nightwatchman and has still managed to extend his extraordinary run of never collecting a duck to a world-record 48 innings.

The merits of the nightwatchman role are there to be debated and Steve Waugh certainly wouldn't approve of England's desire to protect the specialist batsmen in any situation. Flower has admitted it was wrong to use Anderson in the second innings in Antigua, where the lead was already over 300, and a strong case could have been made here of a negative choice when he walked in at 282 for 2.

However, Anderson rarely lets his team down when told to do the job despite often coming in when the quick bowlers have their tails up with a new ball. No bowler gets more excited by the sight of Anderson walking out than Fidel Edwards. "I'm not sure what I've done," he said. "He just seems to crank it up each time I bat and I seem to get a few words. I honestly don't have a clue what is going on. I really didn't want to get out to him."

It's a duel that started back in Antigua and simmered throughout the Caribbean, while last week at Lord's Edwards pinned Anderson with a nasty blow on the helmet that left him momentarily on his back and not sure what day of the week it was. This time Anderson stayed upright, but still took some body blows. However, he stood up to the barrage and even managed an elegant square drive much to the annoyance of Edwards, who was close to boiling after Denesh Ramdin dropped a catch down the leg side and a no-ball was edged to third slip.

Edwards' response to eventually grabbing the wicket was an elaborate version of the DX crotch crop, a wrestling celebration, as Anderson thought about his revenge. "It does spur you on and I also had in the back of my mind that he still has to bat yet," he said. "I'll keep that in the locker."

When asked if the verbals from Edwards would be printable, Anderson replied: "Probably not." Even Edwards' own camp is none the wiser as to why he gets so charged up, but if Anderson keeps reply with devastating bursts of swing they may be telling him to stop. "It's very strange, I can't explain that," said coach John Dyson.

Anderson's detirmination to front up to a battle head-on is mark of his development. It shows in his bowling, when he now longer becomes insipid when the ball doesn't swing. Movement remains his greatest weapon - as he showed in his 11-over burst with the new ball, especially the wicket of Devon Smith bowled through the gate - but he is learning to take wickets in all conditions.

"I think on any wicket, if you have a general idea of where you are going to pitch the ball and hit the top of off stump as people always say, you can't go far wrong," he said. "It could be tricky at times because it is a good wicket, but if the conditions are right and we ask as many questions as we did today we should have a good chance."

Two months of bowling on Caribbean featherbeads has had its benefits. Conditions may be too damp over the next couple of days, but Anderson is now mastering reverse-swing - such a key weapon for England in 2005 - which will become vital later this summer when, hopefully, the sunshine greets the Ashes series.

It hasn't been a seamless transition into the role of figurehead, but now that mantle is resting firmly on his broad Burnley shoulders. He has clearly made a strong impression on Flower. The early battles of the summer are being easily won by England, but that won't remain so. When the going gets tough, Flower knows he'll be able to call on Anderson. After six years in the shadows of England's Test side, he's ready to burst into the limelight.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo