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How Jimmy Anderson became England's main man

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Tom Fordyce | 22:07 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2012

On his Test debut at Lord's almost exactly 10 years ago, 20-year-old James Anderson picked up a brilliant five-for. A decade further on, he's taken more Test wickets in the last year than any other pace bowler except South Africa's Vernon Philander.

The casual observer might imagine a relatively straight line between those two points. But for Anderson, named England Cricketer of the Year on Monday night, it has been anything but.

"In the last 18 months I've probably doubled my Test wicket tally, which tells you something about the first eight years of my career," he smiles.

"I always believed I could perform at the top level. I knew on my day that I could be brilliant. But there were a lot of times when I would be at the other end of the scale, and that scared me a little bit. I didn't know what was coming from day to day."

Anderson is now established as the spearhead of the top-ranked team in Test cricket, the number one reason, in the words of TMS analyst Simon Hughes, why England are number one.

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Anderson wants this England team to be remembered as the best of all time

In 24 matches since the start of 2010, on pitches from Sydney to Southampton, Edgbaston to Abu Dhabi, he has taken 110 wickets at an average of just 23.74.

If it's a far cry from his days in Burnley's 3rd XI, when by his own admission he was picked as a specialist square leg fielder ("because my bowling wasn't up to much and my batting wasn't up to much"), it's also the culmination of several pivotal moments when his development as a bowler took a sudden leap forward.

In his 16 Tests before July 2007, Anderson had taken 46 wickets at an average of 38.39. In the nine Tests that followed he took 43 wickets at 30.58 and a much lower strike rate.

What changed? It began with a seemingly contradictory decision: stop searching for the magic ball.

"If you're in and out of the team, when you do picked the danger is that you try to be more attacking than you maybe should be," he explains.

"That summer against India was when I realised I could be consistent enough to succeed at the top level. I learned that you have to play the conditions. If the pitch and overhead conditions are in your favour then you can be attacking. If they're not, then not going for runs will bring you wickets."

Unloved and undermined by the regime of Duncan Fletcher and his bowling coach Troy Cooley, Anderson responded to the unequivocal backing of their successors Peter Moores and Andy Flower.

Consistency of selection brought consistent results. His next evolutionary leap? Learning how to bowl overseas.

"It was a big thing that was intimidating me," he tells me, perched in a commentary box overlooking a wet Old Trafford.

"I didn't really have a plan B to go to. That's something I worked really hard on with (Cooley's replacement) Ottis Gibson in the summer of 2010. I wanted to go to the Ashes knowing that I still had ways of taking wickets even if it wasn't moving around.

"When we played Pakistan that summer, I watched how Mohammad Asif got wickets with a scrambled seam.

"The seam normally comes down slightly wobbly, so everyone tries to bowl with it coming down perfectly straight. That's great if it's swinging, but if it's not, it won't move.

"If the seam is scrambled, it's got a chance of hitting either side of the seam and nipping off the pitch either way. I don't know if it's going to nip or not, and if I don't know the batsman doesn't know, and that's a great position to be in for a bowler."

Australia expected the same bowler who had taken five wickets at 82 in the previous Ashes series. Instead they were blown away by a man transformed; 24 scalps at 26.04 helped transform England from maybes to certainties.

Since November 2010, his bowling average away from England has fallen from 45.63 to 26.65. This winter, on spinner-friendly tracks in the UAE and Sri Lanka, he took 18 wickets at 24.

The learning process continues. Anderson used to have a major problem against left-handers. Before 2010, Anderson was going for 41 runs for every success against them. In the 2003 Test series against South Africa, Graeme Smith and Gary Kirsten took him for 276 runs while only being dismissed once between them.

Not any more. Smith will return to England this summer to face a bowler who, since the start of 2010, has dismissed left-handers 31 times at an average of just 20.87.

"Becoming more confident with the ball swinging across the left-hander was a huge thing for me. Being able to disguise which way the ball is swinging to them, a leftie can't line you up so easily - that was massive.

"Going round the wicket to left-handers was something that Ottis first suggested. It took me a while to learn how to swing it away, but it's a huge skill to have. Being a left-handed batsman myself I know how had that is to face.

"To be successful round the world you need as many weapons as possible. It gives me such confidence to know that I can go anywhere in the world and have the skills to take wickets."

England disability cricketer of the year Callum Rigby, England men's player of the year James Anderson and England women's player of the year Charlotte Edwards

Anderson collected the England player of the year award on Monday. Picture: Getty Images

With success on the pitch has come contentment off it. Anderson describes this as the most enjoyable England squad he's been part of, whether on the pitch or off it, immersed in epic contests of Call of Duty and Fifa 12 with Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan and Stuart Broad.

"Broady has a slight advantage because he's the only single guy in the team," he says. "When he's not playing cricket he's at home on his X-Box in a dark closet, with his projector up on the wall, headphones on, microphone up, talking to some six-year-old Americans as he plays them online.

"It's funny. On tour we basically act like kids. We play X-box and order room service. When you get home you almost have to start again, press the rest button and learn how to be dad again.

"You never completely lose that fatherly touch because you're always looking after guys like Bres and Broady, who struggle to survive in the real world.

"But it does make it hard. My three-year-old daughter Lola already doesn't like cricket, because if she hears the word mentioned she knows I'm generally going away for a while. It's a balancing act."

Anderson's lowest point came in 2006, when endless tinkering with his idiosyncratic action, initiated by Cooley and approved by both Fletcher and fast bowling purists like Bob Willis, ended in a stress fracture of the back.

He grimaces. "It was a strange situation, because I got 50 wickets in my first season of county cricket, and then three months later I was playing a one-day international with a different action.

"It's difficult enough bowling when you're not thinking about your action, but when you're thinking about where your arms and legs are going it's impossible.

"When the fracture happened I couldn't bowl for four months. All the way through that rehab you don't know how your body is going to react to the thing that caused the problem in the first place - bowling. And that's a scary process to go through."

He refuses to be drawn on whether he is now the best fast bowler in world cricket, insisting that the man most would consider his main rival, Dale Steyn is a very different bowler.

For the statistical record, it's a close thing. Since the beginning of 2007, Steyn has 240 Test wickets at an average of 21, Anderson 214 at 28. Since the start of 2010, Anderson has those 110 wickets at 21 to Steyn's 100 wickets at 21.

So what does taking one of those wickets feel like? How does an Englishman feel when he sends Ricky Ponting packing for a golden duck? Anderson grins.

"For a few seconds you get this big buzz in your head, and then you look up at the replay on the big screen and realise that you've legged it 30 metres towards the crowd, or done a stupid celebration that at the time you don't realise you're doing.
"It's amazing. It's hard to describe how good it feels."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Great blog Tom, as usual.

    I remember when Jimmy took 1-12 from 10 overs with 6 maidens at Adelaide in 2003 in what can't have been more than his 10th ODI and we all thought here's a bowler that can lead England for 15 years. It's such a shame that he wasn't allowed to develop naturally, but was tinkered with by bowling experts. I completely understand the need for injury prevention, but the "if it ain't broke" maxim must hold true sometimes too.

    It used to be that the best you'd expect Jimmy to take would be 2-75 from 20 overs, now you'd be surprised if it was worse than 3-40. In swinging conditions he's up there with the best in the world in my opinion.

  • Comment number 2.

    In swinging conditions he IS the best in the world.

    He is the only bowler i can think of who can swing the ball both ways with complete control and at top pace.

    I have replayed the ball he bowled to Damien Martin in the 2009 Ashes where it swung visciously towards leg stump before jagging back off the seam to remove his off stump. One of the greatest balls i've ever seen. Would love 5 more years of Jimmy at the helm.

  • Comment number 3.

    If our batters remember how to bat we'll blow the Windies away in 3 days in each test. Rain is their only hope in my opinion. Wonder what the odds are on a whitewash as it's surely worth a fiver.

  • Comment number 4.

    I remember when people were interviewing him and trying to make him an England sex symbol (aka Beckham) because he was young and liked funny colour hair. It didn't really happen though, which I am relieved at.

    Great to see him perform as well as he has. A fantastic bowler who has become the leader of a very good bowling attack.

  • Comment number 5.

    i remember Jimmy coming into the england one-day team and playing himself into the world-cup squad. Not sure if it was a WC warm-up or a group match when he routed the Pakistani top order getting Haq out with a peach of a ball pitching outside leg and hitting top of the off peg. class act. hope he stays injury free and gets to 400 test match wickets.

  • Comment number 6.

    For years, experts and commentators were always quick to blame Jimmy's action when he wasn't taking wickets. He wasn't looking at the batsman at the point of delivery, he was falling away too quickly, his delivery stride was stuttering. The spells of brilliance were soon forgotten when it started to go wrong, the wickets weren't tumbling and the mediocrity returned. Now, in hindsight, it seems tactical naivety and youthful exuberance were the faults, not the action. Pity this wasn't spotted sooner. If he'd had the proper encouragement and coaching at the time, he'd be light years ahead of his competitors.

  • Comment number 7.

    Jimmy, just like any other English Bowler is good when bowling in ENGLISH conditions. I cannot deny that he's amongst the best when playing at home, but as with the other English bowlers, including Swann, they seem toothless away from home. This has been highlighted over the past year or so with their struggles in the sub continent. I don't dislike Jimmy, or Broad, or Finn/Bresnan, but in my opinion - they're some way off the likes of Dale Steyn. Credit where it's due, he's certainly one of the best in bowler friendly English conditions.

  • Comment number 8.

    @7 I'm pretty sure you wrote that comment without reading the article or watching Anderson bowl away from home in the last two years. Anderson is now up there with the best bowlers in the world in all conditions. Would still put Steyn at number, but only just. This summer should be a great battle between the two best bowlers and the two best attacks in the world

  • Comment number 9.

    @7 FatRonaldosGoofyTeeth, did you watch, listen to, or even read about any England cricket this winter in the sub-continent? The bowlers were magnificent -- better than any England attack in the sub-continent in decades, including that of Nasser's successful team. They skittled Pakistan consistently, although the Pakistan batting line up was not that strong, and the conditions (while a million miles from "English") did offer something for the bowlers. More impressively, they made mincemeat of the fine Sri Lankan line up in extremely batsman-friendly conditions. "Toothless away from home"?

    Steyn probably just shades Anderson for best bowler in the world, imo, but I think the only non-subjective reason for that is the fact that Steyn was turning in consistently world-class performances from the beginning of his career, whereas Jimmy has taken a while to find his range. If you just take stats and performances from the last two years, the roles are reversed and it's Jimmy that just shades Steyn by a smidgeon. Either way, these are the two finest bowlers around these days, and we've got a treat in store in the summer :)

  • Comment number 10.

    On the Steyn-Anderson comparison, not sure how close a thing it is.

    No question that Anderson has been outstanding the last 2-3 years, and he's been almost unplayable at times. But by any measure Steyn remains the best fast bowler in the world, he is more consistently very threatening (his strike rate of 41 is mind-blowing), and it's why he remains nearly 100 points clear of Anderson on the ICC rankings.

    But otherwise, enjoyed the article! Anderson is a top bowler and good to be reminded how he got to where he is today.

  • Comment number 11.

    "He is the only bowler i can think of who can swing the ball both ways with complete control and at top pace."

    Steyn does this too, but yep, it's a rare skill.

    "If you just take stats and performances from the last two years, the roles are reversed and it's Jimmy that just shades Steyn by a smidgeon."

    The last two years aren't a great comparison, because SA played very little test cricket in 2011. I think the key point is that you can take Jimmy Anderson's last 15 tests, which have been exceptional, but they'll be no better that any 15-test period of Steyn's career. Bottom line, Steyn is the best fast bowler to come out of SA, perhaps ever, the stats really don't leave much doubt.

    And have to say, for anyone suggesting Anderson hasn't been good away from home in recent series, you must have only watched the occasional test where he hasn't fired.

  • Comment number 12.

    Jimmy is a top bowler, but I think with Steyn you have a bowler who does exactly what Jimmy does but at a faster pace. This doesn't necessarily mean he is better but it gives him the option of ruffling the batsman with a faster bouncer or a more effective slower ball because of the larger change in pace.

  • Comment number 13.

    james anderson has improved alot, that is why his now consistently ranked in test among the top 3 along with swann, im curious why wasnt he picked for the ipl?

  • Comment number 14.

    @2 / wirral18 - Martyn didn't play in the 2009 series, he finished after the 5-0 whitewash Downunder in 2006 /2007.

    Since then, Anderson has had the Aussies in his pocket so whose wicket are you thinking of in 2009 or 2010 / 2011?

    Alternatively, if you're sure it's Martyn, are you talking about 2005 when all the England bowlers had him for dinner?

  • Comment number 15.

    No question that Anderson has done exceptionally well but I doubt he would be given the chance of a debut at 20 today. There is absolutely no question as to who is the best seam bowler playing regular county cricket, and has been for the last 3 years - Chris Woakes - and yet he still waits for a test debut at age 22. England are ignoring the Jimmy Anderson of the new generation - and he can bat which Anderson has never claimed. Keep selecting no hopers like Dernbach or promoting the bowling skills of pie chuckers like Stokes (decent bat) and Englands time at the top will be limited.

  • Comment number 16.

    Wrt the Anderson / Steyn argument the killer stat has to be their respective records on the subcontinent. Steyn has taken 10-fors and blown India away in their own back yard. Jimmy has had once decent series (only 2 tests mind!) in SL and bowled well in the UEA. But as the batsmen claimed when they couldn't play Ajmal, they weren't typical subcontinent pitches. We'll see how Anderson goes in India this winter before we even consider him in the same breath as Steyn.

    Don't even start on their respective abilities in ODI & T20, especially on flat decks....

  • Comment number 17.

    I'm really looking forward to Jimmy battling SA this summer but think the main danger won't be Steyn but Philander. It'll be interesting to see how both sides cope if the sun shines and the ball doesn't swing. Both sides equally matched but Swann could be the difference assuming that the winter hasn't done terminal damage to the batsmen's confidence.

    However, I can see nothing but pain (and frost bite) for the Windies....

  • Comment number 18.

    Well done Jimmy. Proof to the young players that persistance and self belief count for alot. Looking forward to the summer with the windies and South Africa. Just hope the top order take a leaf out of the bowlers book and grind it out when its needed

  • Comment number 19.

    West Indies are in for some kind of hiding, that's for sure...I suspect the conditions might just about be in his favor at the start of the summer!

  • Comment number 20.

    @2 wirral18 & @14 CleverCoverDrive I'm pretty sure wirral18 is referring to Graham Manou, who filled in for Haddin at Edgbaston in 2009. The video is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrV-US1xblo

  • Comment number 21.

    I also played for Burnley 3rds , and was crap. Where did I go wrong?

  • Comment number 22.

    Just read Alec Stewart's bizarre ode to Bairstow coming in at no 6 in the test team. He seems to miss the point which is that the England side would be better balanced with Prior at 6 and a genuine all rounder at 7. If Bairstow is good enough he should either replace Prior as keeper (ridiculous) or get one of the top 5 batting slots on merit. From what I have seen of Bairstow he is another Morgan - good baseballer for limited overs but lacking technique for the long form. Why is it that Stewart (and Agnew) are forever promoting the no 6 slot as a testing position for unproven batsmen when to do so continues to unbalance the side?

  • Comment number 23.

    It was Moores who promoted Jimmy. Flower was then the batting coach. So can't agree with the 'unequivocal support' from Flower. He dropped Jimmy from the T20 side and rested him from the ODI squad and had a few stand offs with Jimmy as a consequence. Anderson complained a great deal and said so to the media which infuriated Flower. For a while Anderson seemed to be the one bowler who was never showered with praise like Broad and Finn etc. But quality will out and he has the guts and determination of a true spearhead bowler. At last Jimmy Anderson has the credit he deserves. Well done! He has been deadly.

  • Comment number 24.

    #23; I agree with your sentiments regarding Flower. He has always played favourites and dislikes anyone who stands up to him. His appalling management of Bell has been a big factor in the time it took for Bell to convert from the best technique in England to the most valuable bat in the test team.

  • Comment number 25.

    #14,

    in fairness Martyn had a string of shocking umpiring decisions as I recall. But I take your point.

  • Comment number 26.

    A message to ncurd and Soupbear if you're out there.

    Re-read what I'd written on the other blog and understand and respect both your points of view. I have misgivings (which I shalln't go on about) but accept the points you raised.

    Soupbear, hope the birth went well. Congratulations and enjoy the summer.

  • Comment number 27.

    have to agree with 16, steyn's bowling performances in india were some of the best fast bowling i've ever seen, particularly the seven for. to put steyn in context, he's the second quickest fast bowler to 250 wickets after dennis lillee and his strike rate is the fourth best of all time. jimmy was good this winter but 18 wickets in 5 tests isn't incredible against rather mediocre batting lineups. statistically, steyn is pretty much the best fast bowler of all time, and if he keeps going for a few more years, will have a genuine claim to that title. having said all that, i feel philander will be the greater threat this summer, he finds the edge more than steyn and has actually been comfortably the better bowler this past year. just a thought on west indies, would loved to have seen narine here, australia were clueless, the ipl batsmen are clueless, england wouldn't have had a chance and would have perhaps given us a tighter series.

  • Comment number 28.

    Hearty congratulations to England Cricketer of the year James Anderson.
    Well written blog Tom. Jimmy is doing fine out there with wickets and a catch
    against his name already. Flower and Strauss will be immensely pleased.


    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 29.

    Let's look at this notion that Peter Moores backed Anderson to the hilt then.

    Anderson was charged to be the spearhead in 2007 against India and bowled well. What happened next?

    -Anderson found himself demoted to first change behind Messrs Hoggard and Sidebottom in the 1st Test against Sri Lanka in Kandy.

    -Hoggard's injury ruled him out of the 2nd Test. Moores responded by bringing Broad in to handle the new ball, dragging Steve Harmison as first change, and dropping Anderson outright.

    -Anderson found himself carrying drinks in the Third Test. Broad retained the new ball with Sidebottom.

    So spearhead in the summer, drinks waiter and first change in the winter. Great! England then go to New Zealand. Anderson doesn't play in the first Test as the Sidebottom/Hoggard/Harmison attack splutters. Back comes Anderson for the 2nd Test to be given the new ball with Stuart Broad as first change. Eh? How did that happen? In Sri Lanka, Broad leapfrogged Anderson to the new ball! Now he's back behind the guy not considered good enough for two Sri Lankan Tests. Peter Moores had zero consistency when it came to Anderson for that entire winter. We then came home and had the fun of splattering a wimpy Kiwi batting line-up all over the park, Anderson and Monty taking stackloads of wickets.


    The lack of Moores consistency in other areas rose up again against South Africa. Anderson was given the charge of opening. At the other end, we had three different guys: Sidebottom, Harmison, and the comedy that was Darren Pattinson. Yes, the ever-consistent Moores had thrown up the greatest wild card selection for years.

    Peter Moores was coach from April 2007 to January 2009. Anderson's record in that time:

    15 Tests, 62 wickets at 32.87.

    Anderson's record since Andy Flower took over:

    34 Tests, 143 wickets at 25.84.

    Yep, I don't rate Peter Moores as an international coach. Neither did KP and look how it all turned out...

 

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