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The two faces of James Anderson

Why does the man who is possibly England's greatest fast bowler occasionally turn into Mr Hyde on the field?

Sidharth Monga

August 19, 2014

Comments: 60 | Text size: A | A

Dr James or Mr Jimmy? Depends on whether he's on a cricket field or not © Getty Images

Burnley used to be arguably the biggest cotton town in the world. Generation after generation used to work in its cotton mills. The mills went after the Second World War. Now Burnley is not as prosperous as it used to be. Real estate here is among the cheapest in England.

Conversations in barbershops can tell you a lot about a city. Here they talk mostly about football. One of the blokes getting a haircut has worked as Burnley FC's mascot. Now most of the youth here work outside of town. Burnley FC, though, is the pride of the city. The town's population, according to Wikipedia, is 73,500. Five years ago they made it to the playoff finals at home. Thirty-seven thousand went to watch at Turf Moor.

Next to Turf Moor is another Turf Moor. It houses Burnley Cricket Club. It is a modest ground. No stands. Two small sightscreens, a scoreboard, and a small pavilion-cum-bar-cum-office. Charlie Griffith played for Burnley in the Lancashire League. In 1964 he took 144 wickets at 5.2 apiece. His action is depicted beautifully in a series of photos on the bar wall.

Paul Blakey played for Burnley, umpired Under-18 matches, and now runs the bar. He remembers an optometrist who used to play for Burnley's 2nd XI about 20 years ago. The man used to bring his son along, who would score for them. Soon the boy made the 2nd XI as a fast bowler who was not different to any. All of a sudden, when the boy came back after an off season, about 16 years ago, he had grown taller and had added pace. As the balls whizzed by that day, Blakey asked the optometrist if it was indeed his son. Soon the boy dropped a return catch and Blakey said, "Oh well, he is your son."

The father runs an optician's clinic up the road from Turf Moor. In the front room of the clinic are two team photos, from the early 2000s, two of the first times the son represented England. The father is busy: he has to see patients, and then he has to go to London to possibly witness history being made.

The boy now lives in Hale, the posh part of Manchester where many Manchester United players live. He is set to become England's highest wicket-taker in Tests. If you look at skill, craft, strength and fitness maintained and improved upon in a competitive atmosphere over a long period of time, James Anderson might be England's best bowler of all time.

There is a beautiful picture in the bar at Burnley Cricket Club. A young Anderson, bowling for the side, is letting the ball go. His head is looking down, about two feet ahead of where his front toe is, and slightly to his left. The head will go further to the left in the follow-through, and look at the pitch adjacent. This is a rare action. Biomechanists will go on to see it as an injury risk. They will want to change it. That's for later, though.

At around 17, Anderson made it to the Lancashire 2nd XI. Bob Simpson was Lancashire coach then. Mike Watkinson, the former England and Lancashire allrounder, coached the 2nd XIs.

"Jimmy creates a lot of his speed with the slight quirkiness that he has to his action," Watkinson, now the director of cricket at Lancashire, says. "He rotates his body to create a lot of whip with his arm. In doing that, his head - he doesn't do it as much now as he did when he was younger - but he used to quite fall away. People said you can't see where the ball is going because you are looking down at the ground, but it was his way of creating that extra whip."

 
 
Anderson loves his music. And movies. He has played a part in the making of one, Barney Douglas' Warriors, about how the Maasai people of south-western Africa are using cricket as a tool to educate, inform and unite
 

Anderson was primarily an outswing bowler then. He didn't have a contract when he first played under Watkinson. A late developer, thanks to that growth spurt, Anderson had been picked more "on potential than performance". Watkinson says they worked exclusively on his outswing, although Anderson would use the bouncer often. He was often given sweeper-cover and square leg so he could develop control of that outswinger.

Michael Brown used to face Anderson almost every week in the Burnley nets. He is now the club's chairman. He has played for Hampshire and Middlesex. Michael's brother David was best man at Anderson's wedding. The brothers know Anderson's game and his persona - David more than Michael. In May of 2007, Brown opened the batting for Hampshire against Anderson's Lancashire at the Rose Bowl. Anderson bowled Brown through the gate. Brown clearly remembers he had not seen Anderson bowl the delivery before. It was an inswinger. A late inswinger.

Anderson had been averaging 32 against right-hand batsmen and 69 against left-hand ones at that point. He had also had his big back injury because coaches had tried to have him conform to biomechanics. Working with Watkinson and Kevin Shine, the ECB fast bowling coach, Anderson went back to his original action.

"When you have a boy with an action like that, people will have a judgement that he is an injury risk," Watkinson says. "In the end he did a little bit of modification work, and finished up with a back injury - stress fractures. He recovered from them, but in recovering and getting back into bowling, we [Shine and Watkinson] worked together to put a programme in place. Jimmy was instrumental in that, putting a little bit more rotation back into the action rather than protecting the body by not rotating. So when he recovered from his stress fracture, he started to turn the shoulders a little bit more pre-delivery, and he felt much more comfortable and got a bit of that whip-back. That's pretty much where he is now in relation to then."

Watkinson didn't work with Anderson on the inswinger, but he knows why it worked. "In the latter part of his career he has developed the inswinger, which his action is really set up for," Watkinson says. "It is just that at an early age we worked on control of the outswing. So he has great control of the outswing, and now he has the inswing as well, without any change in the action, just fingers and wrists. So it becomes very difficult for the batsmen to read."

His action, which pushes him away from the stumps, to the left, as he delivers, creates deception. "If you are absolutely textbook in the way you do things, you become a bit more predictable," Watkinson says. "He creates deception because he does push the ball in a little bit. So he angles the ball in and it swings away. The batsmen mentally think the ball is coming in, so they start playing at balls they shouldn't be."


James Anderson celebrates removing Cheteshwar Pujara, England v India, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 1st day, July 9, 2014
Behind Anderson's wickets is plenty of homework © PA Photos
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Anderson doesn't just turn up and bowl. He prepares thoroughly. He even got in touch with ESPNcricinfo for some work experience once because he quite fancies a media career. This season, after the disaster in Australia, he did the whole old-fashioned pre-season thing with Lancashire. He didn't just turn up and try to take wickets because he is a Test bowler. "He makes sure he has got great plans for every batsman he bowls against," Watkinson says. "He doesn't go out on the field not knowing about the opposition's strengths and weaknesses. When he comes back to play for Lancashire, he wants information about people he is playing against, where will the fielders be, what is the team plan."

Anderson has done reverse swing in India. He also bowls a slightly split-finger ball on damp pitches to let the surface seam the ball after pitching. He has worked left-hand batsmen over from round the stumps. He is quick to spot weaknesses and expose them ruthlessly. He had such a hold over Sachin Tendulkar that he would start warming up every time Tendulkar came in to bat in 2011. Most skilful or not is a debate for herders as they wait for the cows to come home. Anderson is pretty damned skilful. He is Zaheer Khan with extra pace and fitness. And, many of his opponents believe, a potty mouth.

Michael Clarke wants to let "Jimmy" Anderson know he should get ready for a broken elbow. Rahul Dravid says Anderson has crossed the line often. An India player says it got ugly between Anderson and Dravid in 2011. MS Dhoni says Anderson kept abusing Ravindra Jadeja all the way back to lunch at Trent Bridge, and then pushed him, a charge so serious it led to legal proceedings. It didn't fly; there was no evidence. A couple of Anderson's former team-mates have privately spoken about how abusive he is, even with his own fielders when they fumble. This Jadeja-Anderson episode has revealed that his opponents respect Anderson as a bowler but don't like his behaviour on the field. It is not even funny sledging, they say, just plain incessant abuse, samples of which were noted by the judicial commissioner in the Jadeja-Anderson case. Yet before this incident, the only time Anderson had officially been charged for poor behaviour was in 2007. So whatever he does he does smartly, which probably infuriates his opponents more.

It would possibly confound Anderson's cricketing opponents if they saw him off the field. He was at Burnley Cricket Club before the Old Trafford Test. He interacted with fans in a q&a session. He is still so shy and soft-spoken, he couldn't be heard at the back of the bar despite being mic-ed up. He spotted and identified a man, a Burnley resident, in the gathering, a presence at many of England's overseas matches, and spoke to him for a while, asking why he was not seen at Burnley's games. Anderson makes donations to Burnley Cricket Club. In return he gets the logo of his charity, Nordoff Robbins, on Burnley kits.

Nordoff Robbins works through music therapy. Anderson loves his music. And movies. He has played a part in the making of one, Barney Douglas' Warriors, about how the Maasai people of south-western Africa are using cricket as a tool to educate, inform and unite. Douglas did the Swanny Diaries during the Ashes in Australia in 2010-11, which revealed the funny side of Anderson.

"When he is with a sidekick he has got really good, dry sense of humour," Brown says. "His jokes are actually quite good. He is not shy of taking the mick out of someone with a straight face. People wonder if he is serious or not. It's not often he reveals that to all and sundry. They see it only in the dressing room. Or we see it when four or five of us grab a dinner."

Two years ago Douglas approached Anderson with the idea for the Warriors documentary. "He knows me. He was very keen to help," Douglas says. "He knew the support would help us. He loves the story - the fact that cricket can reach remote places, and can be used to promote really important messages. He talked to me about the love of the game, the way playing makes you feel, the way it gives you confidence.

 
 
Observers feel a bit of Ryan Sidebottom might have rubbed off onto Anderson, because it was around the time Anderson bowled with Sidebottom in the England side that he began to develop his Jimmy persona
 

"He is executive producer - basically someone who can help you to reach areas you couldn't on your own. He has introduced me to good film-making friends of his, some music people, people who can finance the film. He has got a short little role in it."

Those who know Anderson will tell you that the Aussies don't like him because he gives as good as he gets. Bowling fast day in and day out is a tough job. You have to fire yourself up, take your body to extremes you can't imagine in a normal state of mind. You might overstep the mark here or there, but when you look back you don't want to think you could have been more fired up in a particular match.

There is unconfirmed talk that one of the ECB's behaviour tests might have revealed that Anderson the bowler is at his best when he is grumpy and fired up. Alastair Cook has more or less said as much, without alluding to the test.

Anderson is two different persons. James, quiet, dryly funny and helpful off the field; Jimmy, fierce, aggressive, lippy and abusive on it. It seems deliberate, but Brown thinks it is also a bit of a northern thing to be so competitive on the field and normal off it. Darren Gough and Ryan Sidebottom were grumpy on the field too. Observers feel a bit of Sidebottom might have rubbed off onto Anderson, because it was around the time Anderson bowled with Sidebottom in the England side that he began to develop his Jimmy persona.

The Lancashire League is a tough place to play cricket. "You grow up in league cricket where there is much more chirping and banter and senior player-junior player-type chat and humour. It teaches you to laugh at yourself," says Brown. "Also, in the north you have people paying to watch you. Albeit it might only be a hundred people. Certainly in our league you pay your £4 and people are not shy of telling you you're bowling badly."

Brown expands on the two-personality theory. He says Anderson has three of them. One he reveals to only a few - David Brown maybe, or Barney Douglas. And Graeme Swann and other close mates and team-mates. Then there are James and Jimmy. Anderson's mother, by the way, has always hated the name Jimmy. The way mums don't like Mikey or Mick for Michael.

We don't know what she thinks of the Jimmy on the field. We don't know what her husband thinks. They are private people, much like their son. We don't know exactly when James turns into Jimmy on the field. Jimmy himself might not be able to put a finger on when. Nor might Jimmy's opponents. The biggest problem for batsmen, though, is most of them can't tell when he will follow up a perfect outswinger with a spitting late inswinger.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by liz1558 on (August 21, 2014, 23:47 GMT)

@proteas1992 - now you know how we English supporters feel when Jacques Kallis is perpetually talked up as a great all rounder like Botham, Flintoff or Moeen.

Posted by liz1558 on (August 21, 2014, 22:31 GMT)

@BillyCC - if mean average is the best and most accurate measure of a cricketer's quality, Warne must come behind Wardle, Laker Muarli - and merely be on a par with Underwood -among post war slow bowlers. Also, where does this place Graham McKenzie, whose average is very close to Anderson's? Is he outside the top 200? How about Thommo - averaging a little lower than jimmy, the best ever! Does he make it into the top 200?

Posted by BillyCC on (August 21, 2014, 11:47 GMT)

@SettingSun, you must be kidding me. Did they have uncovered wickets back in 2000 when McGrath was at his peak and finished with an average of 21.64 or five years earlier when Ambrose was at his peak and finished with an average of 20.99 or even 10 years before that when Marshall and Hadlee were at their peaks. How about in the late 1970s when Lillee was plying his trade? How about in the mid 70s? Averages are the best and only comparison, period.

Posted by liz1558 on (August 21, 2014, 7:05 GMT)

No doubt England haven't hada truly great bowler since the early years of Botham and Willis.Anderson has been very consistent, but I'm not convinced he ever showed or shows as much promise as Fraser, Gough or Harmison, who all burned brighter but faded faster than Jimmy. Longevity is a great asset, but Finn has the potential to be a great bowler.

Posted by aman15 on (August 21, 2014, 1:56 GMT)

@andrew ibbotson Well said. I am an Indian cricket fan but would definitely admit anderson was just wonderful in the series especially in the last three tests. Conditions perhaps were more to his liking in the last two tests but you still need to pitch the ball in the right areas consistently to reap benefits. In fact I was kinda disappointed that he did not equal or perhaps surpass beefy in the last match itself. Also why the need to compare with other fast bowling luminaries when the article clearly does not make the case for it.

Posted by yorkshirematt on (August 20, 2014, 23:11 GMT)

Good read. Every northern league club has at least one character like Jimmy. Affable and generous of the field, but as soon as he steps over the rope he turns into a right miserable so and so

One slight gripe. Burnley FC certainly did not admit 37 000 into Turf Moor five years ago as it only holds around 20,000. This was the number of fans they took to Wembley for the play off final

Posted by Lmaotsetung on (August 20, 2014, 20:11 GMT)

@ ThirteenthMan - "Let us see how he goes overseas next time."...Let me refresh your memory...India 2012 - 12 wks@30.25 on square turners/low slow wickets...Aus 2010-11 - top wicket taker 24 wks@26.04..ENUFF SAID!

Posted by   on (August 20, 2014, 18:57 GMT)

Indians cannot take this article it seems. Plenty unwanted comments after 3-1 thrash. Indians just accept the moment as it is........

Posted by   on (August 20, 2014, 18:53 GMT)

Wise words Setting Sun.

It's funny, whenever an article is written about Anderson in a complimentary tone, there are literally dozens of people rushing to rubbish him by comparing him unfavourably with other great bowlers. It's like a sport with some people. Even funnier, it's usually after he's just decimated a side "Oh he's not as good as Steyn, he's not as good as Trueman, he's not as good as Sydney Barnes!" Sydney Barnes? The greatest bowler of them all. No, of course he's not that good. You don't have to be the best to be great though. Example? Kapil Dev is a great player but would struggle to get into a an all time World 5th XL. Anderson isn't the best pace bowler england have ever had, but the "possibly" that preceeds the statement in the article makes it an acceptable question. Judging on wickets taken and longevity, He is great. Last thought: Kumble? 619 wickets. Great, Undoubtably, but average same as Anderson and better spinners around in his era. Rest my case.

Posted by SettingSun on (August 20, 2014, 16:01 GMT)

BillyCC - No it isn't. Anderson has never played on uncovered wickets. So a comparison of averages is worthless.

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