England v NZ, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day May 19, 2013

Anderson's magic not to be missed

None of the other three England bowlers with 300 Test wickets - or many other of the game's finest swing merchants - could have bowled better than James Anderson at Lord's

Consecutive balls to Dean Brownlie at Lord's on Sunday afternoon crystallised James Anderson's brilliance. The first swung in and zipped past the inside edge; the second swung away, found the outside edge and was comfortably held low at slip. Both were delivered at a lively 83mph, both were perfectly pitched in that place Geoffrey Boycott once christened the corridor of uncertainty, and both had the seam positioned upright and threatening.

All in a day's work or a mind-blowing talent? It depends on your take, the answer is to try it. Go bowl a ball that fast, land it where you aim to and swing it one way, never mind two. Believe me, it is extremely difficult.

How well we remember the Burnley boy's debut on this very same Lord's ground ten years ago. That skunk hair variously coloured red, white and blue; the Mediterranean look with its five o'clock shadow; the mistrusting eyes and the quiet responses to innocent questions all combining to confuse our first impression. At once showman on the field and shy off it. But he could bowl, we knew that immediately. We thrilled at the late outswing while forensically analysing the idiosyncratic head position at the point of delivery. And we salivated because a star was born.

For those of us involved with Channel 4's television coverage of the time, Anderson was the cause of deep embarrassment. During the early part of that summer, commerce dictated that we came off air at 6pm - the soap Hollyoaks I think, or The Simpsons, was the programmers' darling. Jimmy took his first Test wicket at five minutes past the hour. All hell let loose - "Bring back the BBC" was the cry. We got it sorted in the end but the boy-wonder moment was never anything more than a replay.

Now, almost a decade on, we dare not miss a ball. There is a magic about him, a looseness to his talent that rewards the eye. For a while, the coaches tried to iron out the idiosyncrasies but leopards and spots and all that, so they went back to letting him be who he is.

From that point, the wickets have come in a rush: 305 of them now and only three Englishmen have more. Two of them, Fred Trueman and Ian Botham, had the same sort of magic, best illustrated in their ability to outwit the great players of the age. Bob Willis relied more on sweat and blood and bursts of such ferocity that he became irresistible. They were the comic-book heroes of their time. Anderson is a PlayStation salesman's dream.

Fred's girl married Raquel Welch's son, though not for long - "not as long as my run-up as it 'appened." Fred liked it while it lasted, being a regular in the court of Raquel. Beefy attempted to conquer the world and has come close enough to receive the Queen's approval with a knighthood. Bob sank into verses of Dylan and hours of Wagner. Jimmy appeared naked in Attitude, the biggest selling gay magazine in Britain. It takes all sorts to collect 300 wickets for England.

None of the first three to the landmark could have bowled any more beautifully than Anderson bowled in this match. Nor could Malcolm Marshall or Dennis Lillee or anyone else you care to name. At his best, Anderson glides to the wicket and then, with feline agility, gathers himself to deliver and strike. Like Marshall, the wrist is the key along with commitment to the idea.

We dare not miss a ball when Anderson is bowling. There is a magic about him, a looseness to his talent that rewards the eye

Few people have ever truly mastered swing in both directions. Usually, one way suffers in the pursuit of the other. Once Marshall collared the inswinger for example, he tended to shape the ball out rather than hoop it. It was much harder to bat against, even though his pace had throttled back by then. Anderson has developed in much the same fashion but because he was never super quick like Marshall, his pace hasn't changed much. Come to think of it, any suspicion that he had lost a yard can be put to bed.

The greatest gift given to these bowlers of swing is the lateness of the movement. The ball appears gun-barrel straight until the batsman sets himself to play and then, whoosh, it's gone. The deliveries to Brownlie were good examples of this. The latest swing comes with an old ball and the skill to reverse it. Think Wasim and Waqar throughout their careers and Andrew Flintoff against the Australians in 2005.

Anderson is a superb practitioner of reverse swing - his talents are broad church as he proved in India recently - but his orthodox methods are ideal for conditions at home. His innate ability to make the ball spit from the surface allows the movement to appear quicker than it actually is. This is a nightmare for opponents, who feel for the ball, afraid of its powers. Again, the two to Brownlie were examples of this. Marshall might just as well have been the bowler.

So there you have it - James Anderson, the real deal. Think what he has mastered: swing and seam, wobble seam (don't laugh, there is such a thing and it works; It means not keeping the seam upright and not canting it in either direction, such as when Stuart Broad produced the ball to knock over Hamish Rutherford) reverse swing, changes of pace, slower balls, Test-match stamina, one-day cricket flexibility, the list goes on.

He can bat - witness the match-saver against Australia in Cardiff in 2009 - and he fields magnificently well in pretty much any position (though he dropped a dolly at slip in New Zealand's second innings). Anderson has become the talisman of this team, the leader of the fast attack, the go-to man for the captain. Jimmy the Burnley boy, once usurped by Hollyoaks - or Homer was it? - yes, Jimmy done good.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shanmugam on May 22, 2013, 17:03 GMT

    @Yasar Khan, Agreed. I too admire Kapil considering that he was a good allrounder, a WC winning captain, and the only Indian captain to win a test series away from home by a two test margin (England - 1986). India also drew a test series in Aus. under his captaincy in 1985-1986. Kapil Dev deserves full respect for leading a weak attack superbly for several years. I remember his 9/83 against WI in Ahmedabad (1982-1983). Though he overbowled and India lost the match, that was a superb exhibition of bowling. At a time when most teams (definitely England) were getting thrashed by the mighty Windies home and away, Kapil (along with Gavaskar and Amarnath) provided some resistance. My post was a reply to @maddy20 that stats-wise, JA is not too far behind Kapil. As a bowler, of course. At the end of the day, we could all enjoy fine seam bowling regardless of nationality instead of arguing over trivial matters like who is better.

  • Dummy4 on May 22, 2013, 11:54 GMT

    OMG I cant belive that Jimmy cross 300. I still remember when he start his career me and my friend nady thought that this kid is not enough talent but now i am the big admirer of Jimmy. the presentation of swing is the real art and Jimmy is the master. those who left handed batsman he come round the wicket ball just comes in and then move in to slip region. Mind blowing ball that he produce so ma y time and dismiss so many good batsman around the world....

  • Dummy4 on May 22, 2013, 7:36 GMT

    Let us not forget Kapil Dev did end up scoring 5000 Test runs and there was a small matter of captaining his country to a WC win in England. Anderson is a treat to watch no doubt but compare Kapil and Jimmy at their best and you might have no winners or losers for that matter.

  • Shanmugam on May 21, 2013, 17:02 GMT

    @Amir Jafri, does it need to be mentioned? Wasim Akram is the greatest left arm paceman in history. Some Indian fans had the gall to mention Zaheer in the same breath as Wasim and these are the same fans who have come out in full force against comparing Jimmy to Steyn. In fact, the gulf between Wasim and Zaheer is wider than the one between Steyn and Jimmy.

  • Dummy4 on May 21, 2013, 15:32 GMT

    Jimmy is a high quality fast bowler. Definitely the most skillful bowler on the scene right now. Generally English bowlers struggle outside of their backyard but Anderson bowled well in India in the recent series. I think there is till ways to go before we start comparing him to Marshall, Wasim, Waqar, etc. However, I am sure he will leave a legacy behind. And he is certainly the best bowler England has produced in a while.

  • Dummy4 on May 21, 2013, 11:59 GMT

    Jimmy Anderson is arguably the second best pacer among the current ones, a distant second to some Dale Steyn. He is a very good pacer but not great. And for Gods sake, please do not bring Marshal into this comparison. If England wins the second test somebody may compare Bell with Sir Viv.

  • Dummy4 on May 21, 2013, 6:49 GMT

    Amazing as Jimmy's talent is, I was surprised Wasim Akram's command of the yo-yo didn't even merit a mention in this gallery of swing greats.

  • Martin on May 21, 2013, 6:06 GMT

    @maddy20 on (May 21, 2013, 0:31 GMT) As ever - a wonderfully rounded and relevent post from you. While you have taken the trouble to come on here to thrash Anderson we took the trouble to look up India bowlers performances in the recent India V England test series in India. In reality Andersons series average of 30 in that series is only bettered by one Indian - Yadav who played one Test and took 4 wickets at 21. All other Indian bowlers - playing on "designer" doctored pitches specifically for spin bowlers had worse series averages thatn Jimmy Anderson. So either Anderson is a good bowler on spinning pitches - or Indian spin bowlers are poor on spinning pitches. Which is it? Still crowing about what happened 6 years ago, eh? If you are going to try to score points here on an England forum all that is going to happen is that you are going to be reminded what England did to India 6 months ago. And BTW aren't India touring SA and England in the next year or so -? Oh dear oh dear......

  • Shanmugam on May 21, 2013, 6:04 GMT

    @jmcilhinney, excellent post and I have the same thoughts. Eng. fans don't care if he is the best in the business. We enjoy watching him play and he gets us the results more often than not. Seriously, if these so-called 'fans' cannot enjoy a great exhibition of swing bowling by Jimmy, then these people are not really 'fans'. It is akin to someone not enjoying a masterclass in batting by Sachin and instead comparing his batting average to the likes of Kallis or Sangakkara. Kallis is a great and so is Sachin. Steyn is a great, may be the best but that doesn't mean Jimmy is poor. He is a very good bowler in his own right.

  • Shanmugam on May 21, 2013, 5:58 GMT

    continued from previous post, @maddy20, Morkel's record is also very similar even though he has a slightly better average and SR than Jimmy. But, considering that you measure a fast bowler's worth by his performance in India, Morkel averages a very poor 41 in India. So, how is he better than Anderson? Of course, he has age by his side and he may well end up with better figures than Anderson but the same is true for Anderson vs Kapil as well. Perhaps you put Kapil on a pedestal because he is an Indian but if you really want to bring in names, you should have probably checked their records first and compared them with Jimmy's.

    oh btw, considering your fixation with the SC, you may need to check Lillee's record there. 4 tests, 6 wkts, 68.33 avg, and SR of 132. Not over yet - he played 1 test in WI and did not pick up a single wicket and gave away 132 runs. 349 out of his 355 test wickets were taken in Aus/Eng/NZ. Wonder if you would still consider him a great.