The 2005 Ashes series was witness to some of the most exhilarating performances with the red cherry. Andrew Flintoff's magical over to Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne's magnificent performances were a few highlights of the series.
The English bowlers had a great series. With four quick bowlers and a solitary spinner, England enjoyed bowling against the Aussies.
For once, the England captain, Michael Vaughan, had resources up his sleeve. The four pronged attack of Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Simon Jones and the maverick Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, had the variety necessary for a great bowling attack.
Pace? Flintoff. Swing? Hoggard. Bounce? Harmison. Reverse Swing? Jones. Vaughan had every department covered efficiently and he led the Three Lions to a famous Ashes series victory against their bitter rivals.
We all know that a four pace attack wouldn’t last long, more so when the bowlers are English. Hoggard had a couple of torrid seasons, Harmison went wayward and Jones kept getting himself an appointment with the medics. What happened in the next Ashes series was a story all too familiar to English fans: a 5-0 whitewash.
They were annihilated by Warne, McGrath, Ponting and Co.
England desperately searched for a quality pace bowler and they sure did find one. He could swing it in the initial overs like Hoggard, or maybe even more. He was genuinely quick. He could get bounce out of even the deadest pitches, and he could reverse swing the ball. Plus, he was a brilliant outfielder.
He was the total package.
No prizes for guessing. Yes, it is indeed James Anderson.
Over 650 men have donned the whites for England, but when it comes to taking wickets, no one has been better than James Anderson.
It is not often that a bowler plays over a hundred tests and takes 400 wickets. There have been even fewer bowlers who have relied this little on pace and yet survived for so long in International Cricket. It takes a lot of heart and character for a bowler to play for so long and fine tune his craft when the opposition i.e. the batsmen, have been consistently gaining access to better methods of scoring runs. And the fact that James Anderson has troubled greats of the game, such as Sachin Tendulkar, on more than one occasion with consummate ease shows us how good Anderson really is.
Long gone are the times when Anderson used to be a raw, brash bowler who could steam in and bowl with great pace. Yet he has garnered a lot of success in an era where batting has become that much easier with flatter decks all round the world; this tells us why Anderson deserves to be in the highest of echelons, giving company to greats of this era such as Glenn McGrath, Shaun Pollock, Dale Steyn, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis...
For more reasons than one, Anderson is perceived to be a one trick pony, something which he isn’t. If the ball doesn't swing, he gets labeled as a bowler that England doesn’t need. When it does, he gets called the swing equivalent of a batting flat-track bully. The inability of some to identify and applaud excellence never fails to surprise me.
The past month or so has been significant for the England Cricket Team with Alastair Cook becoming their highest run scorer and James Anderson, who else but Jimmy, becoming England’s leading wicket taker. Very few bowlers have been consistently able to prodigiously swing the ball like Anderson, a trait once seen in Ian Botham’s initial years; maybe Richard Ellison and Phil Newport, two swing bowlers who flirted in the fringes of the England cricket team.
On his day, when the rhythm is there, when the wind aids his run up, when the Dukes ball is bright red in colour, when the opening batsman takes guard, the sight of Anderson running in, open chested, is surreal. He catches more steam as he speeds ahead and just as he lands on the delivery stride, he releases the ball, in the process, delivering the perfect outswinger, an Ian Botham special. It all just seems so effortless. To witness James Anderson, the artist, in full flow, is ecstasy in itself. The subtle change in the wrist position along with his first and second fingers on his right hand is all that he needs to dart the ball- in or out- according to his whims and fancies.
Anderson’s Test career began against one of the minnows, Zimbabwe. After England and Mark Butcher in particular took a special liking to the Zimbabwe bowlers and scored a solid 473, England took the field with a young James Michael Anderson making his debut. Two overs from the young Lancastrian resulted in nothing significant. The time, slowly yet steadily moved on. It became 6 o’clock. According to ECB’s contract with the channel showing the test, Channel 4 would shift to the TV show The Simpsons at 6, and so they did. It was in this manner that Homer, Marge, Bart and the whole of England missed the action that followed. The third over from Anderson was slated up next and what an over it was! The stumps were uprooted the same over and the next day. At the hallowed Lords, the Home of Cricket, the youngster went on to dismiss 4 more batsmen in a 14 ball burst.
Lords. Five wickets on debut. Quick and menacing. A star was born.
12 years and thousands of deliveries later, Anderson induced a snick off Martin Guptill. Alastair Cook safely pouched it and Anderson opened his wings, ready to fly. He had done it.
In between Mark Vermeulen and Martin Guptill were 12 years of struggle and toil.
Anderson’s accomplishment on becoming the first English bowler to take 400 wickets underlines his value, his skill, his expertise with his craft and his longevity. But the fact that he is still unheralded in many parts of the globe astounds me.
His excellence with the red cherry has masked the shortcomings of the England Cricket team for quite a while now. At one stage in the innings where Anderson got his 400th, England dropped 2 in successive deliveries and 3 in 8. That’s England for you. Brilliant in patches.
Reverting back to Anderson, it is only fair to say that he is England’s greatest pace bowler. His repertoire is complete. The yorker, the bouncer, the slower ball, the length ball, the outswinger, the inswinger. He has them all.
The problem with England and him is the fact that other than Broad, and to an extent Greame Swann, he has never gotten a proper partner to assist him and put pressure in the other end.
He saved England a Test against the Aussies in 2009 and almost did it again, only to be dismissed off the penultimate ball by Shaminda Eranga last summer.
Anderson has been a proven match winner for his country. After all, Dhoni proclaimed that Anderson was the difference when England toured India in 2012, a tour where Anderson was deprived of even Stuart Broad yet managed to script a famous series win for the English by getting Tendulkar and Dhoni out repeatedly.
It was Anderson who proved to be the difference as he bowled 13 consecutive overs against a rampaging Brad Haddin and led England to a famous Ashes victory in 2013. It was Anderson, who with his best friends: Swing and pace, outplayed the visiting Indians in 2011 and 2014.
The past 5 years have been anything but easy for Anderson. He has now bowled the most balls (23304) by any bowler currently playing, comfortably pipping the next bowler, Rangana Herath who, at 16820 deliveries, is more than 6000 deliveries behind Anderson. He has been a workhorse who has known no bounds. He has been England’s jewel.
The next year or so would be crucial for England and its fortunes for the years to come. The likes of Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, Sam Robson are yet to cement their places, and it will be a testing time for the youngsters. Joe Root looks like the kind of talent that doesn’t come around too often, maybe just once a decade. And it is up to seniors such as Anderson, Ian Bell and Alastair Cook to steer the ship.
He was in the fringes, not playing, when the Aussies were defeated in English soil. He was there when Australia tore apart the English bowlers the next year. He was there when the Ashes were next won in 2009, and was a vital cog in the subsequent triumph in the T20 World Cup. Anderson has always been there for English cricket. The question is, for how much longer will he be there? Few have been as successful as Anderson and fewer have been able to possess his aura.
Enjoy it while it lasts, for there aren’t many out there like the Lancastrian.