Anderson bullies in the right way
There is much magnificence at Old Trafford these days. Great cubes of contemporary red structure rise from the fringes of the same field once graced by Eddie Paynter, Cyril Washbrook and Brian Statham. The old red brick pavilion remains but in vastly modified form. It has grown, almost beyond recognition, to corporate requirement. An industrial age has been replaced by the commercial age. Thankfully, the place still has cricket in its soul. Eddie, "Washy" and "George" can rest easy.
If those three incomparable Lancastrians were keeping an eye on the first morning's play, they would have recognised the weather and appreciated the new ball bowling. It was a dog of a toss to win. Bat and be damned. Bowl and be slaughtered. The morning grey with its heavy, damp air. The delayed start. The English hunger. The unlikely presence of James Anderson with a point to prove and a home crowd to please. Decisions, decisions. In the new media facility, the gents bathroom has malapropisms printed on the walls in quotes from past players, broadcasters and writers. Among them is Trevor Bailey's splendid observation about pitches: "No captain with all the hindsight in the world can predict how the wicket is going to play."
Not even MS Dhoni, who at other times appears to benefit from divine intervention. He chose to bat, as Alastair Cook would have done. It was a disastrous decision. So disastrous that Dhoni himself, India's No. 6, was at the wicket before most of the crowd had bought their cappuccinos. The architect of this unpromising state of affairs was, of course, Mr Anderson, as the ICC judicial commissioner Gordon Lewis presumably was obliged to call him. "The charges are dismissed Mr Anderson." Yippee, thought Jimmy, Jadeja is mine. And he was. More of that in a mo.
When the ball swings and nips as it did this morning, Anderson becomes irresistible. From very good Test match cricketer in general, he morphs into great English swing bowler. His wicket tally tells us he is up there with Sir Ian Botham, who at his best was something special. Geoff Arnold was another gem on days such as this. Fred Trueman was off the chart. All three have reduced teams from the subcontinent to humiliation.
Trueman did it at Headingley in 1952. He took three in five balls in his first over of the second innings - "were that alright for thee then skipper?" Alec Bedser had already taken one in the first over. India 0 for 4. Four of the first five made nought. Thus, we could say that 8 for 4 today was a bit of a result. Joke.
Arnold played his part in bowling out India for 42 in just 17 overs at Lord's in 1974. Chris Old, who pitched pretty full, took five to Arnold's four. Sunil Gavaskar says they were unplayable in the overcast and damp conditions. He adds that the English umpires were trigger-happy.
In 1978, Sir Ian walloped Pakistan for a hundred at Thomas Lord's ground and then knocked them over for 139 to win the match by a mile. He captured his best figures that day, 8 for 34. Botham swung the ball at a lively pace, mastering both the outswinger, his natural delivery, and then his inswinger, which moved wickedly late. The bully.
Bowlers like to bully. Theirs is a job of blood and sweat and when the odds turn in their favour, watch out. Anderson kept his counsel today, doubtless aware that big brother was all over him. He still gave the batsmen an evil eye. He snarled a bit. He brushed shoulders with Dhoni. In short he brought an aggressive approach to his play and all but left the verbals in the dressing room.
He drooled at the opportunity of the new ball on his home patch on a sultry August morning. He sprang to the crease, like a buck loose and happy in the African bush. He canted the seam to the left for the outswinger and, whoosh, away it went to the slips. He canted it to the right for the inswinger and it zeroed in on the stumps like a guided missile. There was venom in his pace and consistency in his line. Murali Vijay proffered forward and edged the swinging threat to the wicketkeeper. Virat Kohli let his bat drift away from his body and towards the same zipping, dipping, swerving enemy. From the edge of that bat, the ball flew to slip. Kohli out! Two in three balls. Moths to the flame. At the other end, Stuart Broad was Anderson's Chris Old. For the first hour or so, the game hardly seemed fair.
Dhoni sort of evened it up, resisting with unorthodox skill. The suspicion lingers that Anderson has a bigger issue with the Indian captain than with Ravindra Jadeja. It was the captain who reported him and the text of the hearing includes some ugly crossfire. Unable to fathom any truths, the judge laid it all to rest. He added: "I urge the ICC to conduct an immediate review of its Code of Conduct." Which means such behaviour from everyone is unacceptable but the prosecution has nowhere to go. As others have written, Anderson is too good a cricketer to be stained by an unattractive attitude.
The longer Dhoni stayed at the wicket, the more engrossing the cricket became. The contest between fast hands and swing bowling was a belter. On occasions, Dhoni appeared almost agricultural, wielding his willow as if it were a shovel. On others, the same piece of willow might have been a magician's wand. He held Mr Anderson at bay and gave India a glimmer.
Let's finish on the magician theme. On Mr Anderson's three-card trick that left Mr Jadeja flummoxed and forlorn. First an outswinger (inswing to a right-hander) that Jadeja just about left alone. Then another that Jadeja coolly left alone. Then the third-card whammy, the hooping inswinger that the Indian left-hander saw too late, played too late and, because of it, found himself leaving the field of play too early. When the ball thudded into Jadeja's pads, we all knew which way the umpire would go. And we all know that swing is a mighty gift, given to few and suffered by many. It may well have already won this Test match.
Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK