How Jimmy Anderson became England's main man
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.
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."
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."