Anderson rewarded in year of toil
This has not been the best of years for England. Defeated in seven Tests, they have lost their No.1 ranking, their proud home record and suffered a damaging dressing room fall-out. The careers of players who seemed destined for sustained success have stalled and the seam attack that looked so potent against Australia and India has become jaded.
Yet, through it all, James Anderson has remained a beacon of reliability. He has played on some unforgiving wickets this year and has also suffered far more than his share of dropped catches, but he has carried the burden of leading the attack with unflinching stoicism. Fit, willing and consistent, he has missed only one Test when he was rested, against his will, for the game against West Indies at Edgbaston.
Perhaps, on the flattest of wickets with no help from swing, he now looks tidy rather than threatening, but he showed once again at Eden Gardens that, given any help at all, he remains a fine performer.
Of seam bowlers, only Vernon Philander has taken more Test wickets (43 to Anderson's 41) this year, but no seamer has come anywhere near Anderson's work-rate of 511.4 overs in 2012. Indeed, Anderson has bowled nearly 100 overs more than the next busiest seamer this year. He will wish that fewer overs had been necessary but, in a struggling team, he has been a rock.
He could have been forgiven for a sinking feeling when his captain, Alastair Cook, once again lost an important toss - it is the fifth time in his five Tests as captain that he has lost the toss - and he was sentenced to another day in the field with the pitch at its best. In a two-man seam attack, his team needed him more than ever.
He responded with a magnificent performance. Forget the statistics - 3 for 68 does him little justice - this was as good as display of bowling as Anderson has produced since the Ashes. On a slow, low surface, he found swing, both conventional and reverse, a little movement off the seam and, at times, bowled with more pace than the disappointing Steven Finn. Five of the 12 fours he conceded went behind square on the off side and was unfortunate not to have won an lbw decision against Yuvraj Singh before he had scored.
The difference in Kolkata, Anderson reasoned, was simply that the ball moved. "The new ball swung in this game which hasn't done in the last two games," Anderson said. "And I think it will keep going for the whole match. The early start probably helps with all the dew around. This pitch was perfect for reverse swing - it is very abrasive - so I enjoyed it."
This was a polished performance by England. While Finn, rusty and anxious, and Graeme Swann, rumoured to be unwell, could not quite sustain Anderson's pressure, Monty Panesar compensated with 35 tight overs - a remarkable contribution on the first day of a Test - and again shared the second new ball.
England also caught several sharp catches - something they have rarely done of late - and maintained the standards with the ball and in the field even when luck turned against them. Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir and, in particular, Yuvraj all enjoyed some fortune in the early stages of their innings.
As several Indian batsmen contributed to their own downfall, only Anderson's victims received excellent deliveries. Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, again tied down by tight bowling (his last 92 balls against England have now generated 32 runs and three dismissals) pushed at good ones on off stump that left them, while R Ashwin was beaten by one that swung back between bat and pad.
Anderson has now dismissed Tendulkar eight times in Test cricket. No-one has done it more.
"I'll probably think about that more when I retire," Anderson said, before adding with a smile "and tell everyone I meet that it happened. That was a crucial wicket for us. It looked like he was set. He was scratchy early on, but when he is set he can be dangerous."
There were few other chances. Ashwin, stuck on his heels when his captain called him for a sharp run, should have been run out had Finn, at mid-on, not missed a simple pick-up and throw, but generally this was as solid a team performance in the field as England have managed this year.
That England were unable to take greater advantage was almost entirely due to the determination of Tendulkar. Watching him at this stage of his career is not unlike watching George Foreman who, aged 45, came out of retirement to reclaim boxing's heavyweight title of the world. The reflexes may have waned, but the experience remains and, crucially, Tendulkar refused to give his wicket away. His young colleagues may not be able to emulate his talent, but they should strive to emulate his desire. It was what set him above them in this innings.
Gambhir described facing Anderson as "very difficult" with the ball "reversing and reversing that big." The key, according to Gambhir, was Anderson's ability to mask the ball with his left hand as he runs in, so the batsman cannot anticipate which way it will swing. "Finn gave a lot of loose deliveries," Gambhir said, "but Anderson bowled well."
Bearing in mind where Anderson learned that skill, however, and England may face some tricky moments of their own later in the match. "On the last tour here, Zaheer Khan did a lot," Anderson said. "That is when I started practising it and it has proved to be a good skill."
"Zaheer is a master of reverse-swing," Gambhir added. "So if he gets going it's going to be very difficult for England. It's an even contest. The wicket has something for everyone."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo