Top Performer - James Anderson July 24, 2007

The drinks are on Jimmy

It's been a long four years for James Anderson where his roles for England have switched from new-ball bowler to drinks waiter
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Very appealing: James Anderson produced outstanding swing bowling during the Lord's Test © Getty Images

It's been a long four years for James Anderson, during which his roles for England have switched from new-ball bowler to drinks waiter. When he burst onto the scene in Australia during 2002-03, and shone at the subsequent World Cup, England had apparently found a new star. "Cricket's David Beckham" screamed the tabloids, desperate for a new cricket hero after another depressing Ashes trouncing. However it didn't last and a year later, as England embarked on their golden period which would cumulate in victory over Australia, Anderson was no more than a fringe player.

Now, though, he is back at the forefront of the nation's attention. His success in the opening Test against India, at Lord's, was reward for a year of hard work. He almost had to go back to the beginning and start again. After being plucked out of the Burnley side as a raw quick, he hadn't had time to learn his trade. The early success was helped by the innocence of youth and the benefit of opposition knowing nothing about him. But his body - and mind - wasn't ready for day-in day-out international cricket.

The perfect outswinger that dismissed Rahul Dravid in the first innings last week reminded everyone of how he'd begun. Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf were cleaned up under the Newlands floodlights with outswingers touching 90mph. Anderson is no longer a tearaway quick - a stress fracture of the back after the tour of India in 2006 has put paid to that - but what he has lost in pace he has made up for in guile and intelligence.

Sourav Ganguly has been around the world game since 1996, but he was outsmarted like a rookie by Anderson's classical set-up; a series of deliveries leaving the left-hander before a pearling inswinger struck his off stump. It signalled the start of a new phase to Anderson's career.

Despite the bitter end to Duncan Fletcher's reign as England coach, he got most things right during his seven years in the job. Anderson - even though Fletcher, no doubt, had a major say in his early selection - was a notable failure. Fletcher stubbornly refused to admit that the central contract system wasn't ideal for everyone. Certainly it helped manage the workload of key players, but Anderson was a young bowler who needed time in the middle. All he got was plenty of time bowling at a middle stump.

If Matthew Hoggard hadn't pulled out, England would probably have handed a debut to Stuart Broad. On such moments can careers change

He was finally handed an extended run back in county cricket during 2005 and his form slowly returned. When he was selected, at the last minute, for the Mumbai Test against India in March 2006, he claimed 4 for 40 in the second innings (including Tendulkar's wicket) and the tough times appeared to be coming to an end. But three weeks later he was back home spending all his waking hours in a back brace.

He missed all but one game of the 2006 season and there were fears of a recurrence when he flew home from the CB series last winter. However he made the World Cup - and didn't disgrace himself - but it wasn't a patch on what he produced at Lord's.

And he might not even have played. If Matthew Hoggard hadn't pulled out, England would probably have handed a debut to Stuart Broad. On such moments can careers change.

Suddenly Anderson was the leader of a pace attack that consisted of 20 Test caps, against a batting line-up of more than 30,000 runs from the middle order alone. But the trio lifted themselves to new levels, none more so than Anderson. In the first innings he went at less than two an over (compared to a career economy of 3.68) and collected a hat-trick of Indian giants. If his second-innings performance was marginally disappointing - 2 for 83 off 25 overs - it was only because such high standards had been set.

Earlier this season Ryan Sidebottom pipped Anderson to the vacant spot against West Indies when Hoggard picked up his first injury of the summer. It appeared the selectors still needed convincing that Anderson deserved another chance in the Test side. Now he slots into a first-choice attack. Having slipped from the top once, he knows what's needed to stay there this time.

What he said
"That's the best I've bowled for a while, and the best ever in an England shirt. I'm really pleased with how it's coming out, and I'm really happy with the way I bowled all the way through the innings."

What the numbers say
During the Lord's Test, Anderson bowled 83 balls at Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly, conceded 32 runs, and became the first English bowler to dismiss all three in the same innings.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo