Anderson's magic not to be missed
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.
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