James Anderson: An account of his wizardry in recent times

James Anderson has picked up 320 wickets in 84 Tests for England © Getty Images

By Bharath Ramaraj

Over the last few years, cricket pundits have showered lavish praise on the fulcrum of England’s pace attack — James Anderson. In recent times, Anderson has swung it both ways at will and bowled with transcendent control. In an era where most of the pacers break down every now and then, the indefatigable stamina of James Anderson is nothing short of sui generis.

Just like a cheetah on prowl, the street-smart bowler with his subtle change of wrists and fingers has teased and tempted batsmen, before delivering the coup de grace. With a singular and tunnel-visioned focus of leading England’s attack, he has married sublime celestial talent and perseverance.

This article is about looking back at Anderson’s wizardry with a red cherry in hand, in recent years.

8) James Anderson’s fiery spell at Edgbaston against India in 2011

In the series in England in 2011, India was already looking down the barrel after losing the first two Tests by huge margins. Even in the third Test at Edgbaston, India was in dire straits.

England, after dismissing India for a paltry total, had notched up a mammoth score of 710 runs on the board. In the second innings, India’s phalanx of glittering stars fell like a pack of cards when up against Anderson’s controlled-mastery of swing/seam bowling.

The self-effacing James Anderson, who had already sent Virender Sehwag packing back to the pavilion late on the third day, started the fourth day’s play on a perfect note. When a bowler starts a new spell, there is something called as a warm-up delivery, but not with Anderson. The first ball he bowled on the fourth day was bang on the money, as it swung late in the air, pitched on a good length and with a bit of natural variation off the pitch, took the edge of Gautam Gambhir’s bat.

In that innings, Anderson saved his best for two of India’s lynchpins in the batting line-up in Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. With his trademark delivery that in-slants, before swinging late and away from the batsman, he dismissed both the willowy maestros of India. Interestingly, replays showed the peach of a delivery that Anderson bowled to Dravid missed the edge of the bat. But surprisingly, Dravid didn’t ask for a referral. Anderson ended with excellent figures of four for 85.

7) Anderson makes his detractors eat humble pie at Brisbane in 2010-11

Before the Test series in Australia in 2010-11, the utterly mundane cliché going around cricketing circles was that on hard tracks Down Under, and with kookaburra ball being used, Anderson would be rendered ineffective.

All of Anderson’s critics baying for his blood had forgotten the fact that by 2010-11, he was twice the bowler that he was back in the 2006-07 Ashes. With downright dogged determination, he had honed his skills. By the time England travelled Down Under to play their old enemy Australia, he was a fine exponent in extracting appreciable movement off the pitch as well as generating reverse swing.

On the third day of the first Test match at Gabba, he gave an eloquent riposte to his critics with a virtuoso exhibition of seam bowling. His overall figures of two for 99 in the first innings just doesn’t tell the true story of how well he bowled.

With the second new ball, he trapped Michael Hussey lbw only to be overturned through a referral. With legs and heart pumping, Anderson didn’t give up, as he continued to hit Hussey on the pads. The third time he hit Hussey on the pads in that spell, there was a loud appeal. Unfortunately for Anderson, umpire Aleem Dar turned it downl. Replays in a crystal clear manner showcased that it had pitched in line and was crashing into stumps. Cruelly for Anderson, England had already wasted their referrals.

With what seemed like an almost inhuman willpower to win against all odds, Anderson continued to charge in and beat the bat of both Hussey and Haddin. One of those breath-taking deliveries from him pitched outside-leg and seamed away to beat Hussey’s bat. It was a believe-it-or-not ball, but it just wasn’t his day.

Such was Anderson’s prestidigitation that it won’t be unfair to say his magical spell at Brisbane would go down in the history books as one of the greatest wicketless spells ever bowled. In rest of the series, Anderson bowling with an ironclad faith in his ability got just reward for his soul-lifting endeavours by ending up with 24 wickets next to his name.

6) Anderson comes to the party at the hallowed turf of Lord’s cricket ground

After Anderson’s mettlesome spells at Kolkata and Nagpur in India, everyone expected him to steamroll New Zealand in 2012-13. However, the plucky Kiwis were successful in blunting England’s key bowler at home. Anderson too was perhaps below par in New Zealand, as he didn’t get the ball swinging around the corners. The astute New Zealand former Test bowler Simon Doull also pointed out that Anderson’s seam position was pointing more towards the second slip.

On New Zealand’s return leg on their tour of England though, Anderson, bowling in familiar English conditions, was a different kettle of fish. At the well-manicured, lush-green Lord’s cricket ground, he blended insouciance with geometric precision to leave New Zealand’s batting line-up in tatters in the first innings.

First up, Anderson bowled a crackerjack of a delivery to send New Zealand’s new kid on the block, Hamish Rutherford, back to the pavilion. The short-of-a-length ball from Anderson swung late and away from Rutherford to take the edge of his bat. His probing first spell also saw him snaring Fulton’s wicket and that incidentally turned out to be his 300th Test wicket.

Curiously, he saved his best for the lower-order batsman Bruce Martin by castling him with a jaw-dropping ball. The general feeling is that to bowl an out-swinger right on off-stump is equivalent to the contours of a fabled story for a swing bowler. But for Anderson, it seems to be a child’s play. Anderson used the signature delivery of his to send Bruce Martin’s off-stump somersaulting. The wondrous ball was a purist’s delight. Anderson with a magnificent performance in that innings chalked up impressive analysis of five for 47.

5) Anderson obliterates India’s top-order at Nagpur in 2012-13

In spite of Anderson’s remarkable success in Australia in 2010-11, in Sri Lanka and UAE in 2011-12, respectively, there was still an inkling that in Indian conditions, he would find it difficult to bowl incisive spells on largely barren tracks for pacers.

In 2005-06, Anderson had made an impact in India by taking six wickets in the Mumbai Test match. But perhaps his enervated performances at a big-ticket tournament like the World Cup held in the subcontinent in 2010-11 gave an impression that he doesn’t have the ability to do well, especially in India. With his spellbinding spells at Kolkata and Nagpur though, he silenced his detractors once-for-and-all by hammering the final nail in their coffin.

At Nagpur in the first innings, he briefly touched the rarefied zone in terms of swing bowling. He made an immediate impact with a perfectly pitched in-swinger to disturb Sehwag’s furniture. Anderson though, always seems to reserve his best for the little maestro Sachin Tendulkar.

With a slightly older ball in hand, he deftly used the crease, tailed it just enough into Tendulkar and with a bit of natural variation off the pitch, Anderson sent the stumps of Tendulkar cartwheeling. Interestingly, in the previous Test match at Kolkata with a three-card trick of bouncer, in-dipper and the one that straightens on the angle, he had teased and enticed Tendulkar into edging a delivery outside the off-stump.

Anderson’s coup de main of reversing it both ways, and with no real discernible change in his action, proved to be too much for Gambhir too. In that Test match, just like any good or great bowler, Anderson upped his pace to take maximum advantage of a reversing ball. What makes Anderson’s efforts at Nagpur even more praiseworthy is the fact that he was unwell. His sustained brilliance at Nagpur helped him to end up with superb figures of four for 81.

4) James Anderson rips open Australia’s top-order at Adelaide in 2010-11

Anderson followed up his sparkling show at Brisbane with a boomerang-bending exhibition of swing bowling at the picturesque ground of Adelaide.

Anderson’s picture-perfect out-swingers to get rid of both Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke were so good that an aficionado won’t mind capturing them in a huge photo frame, and put it at the entrance of his house. Anderson could have even taken a five-for in the first innings, but he dropped a rather simple caught and bowled chance of Hussey.

In many ways, it was Anderson’s initial burst on the first day that scripted England’s famous win on a featherbed of a track at Adelaide. The triumphant England team savoured the emphatic win, and soaked in the electric atmosphere created by the Barmy Army.

3) Anderson sends shockwaves through Pakistan’s batting line-up in 2010

The series between England and Pakistan in the Old Blighty transported cricket lovers back to the bygone era of good swing bowling defeating the best of the batsmen. Mohammad Asif, Anderson and Mohammad Aamer took the mickey out of many a batsman in the series with genuine swing bowling.

It was also the time when Anderson finally translated his burgeoning potential into wickets. In the first Test at Trent Bridge, Anderson was simply an irresistible force, as he ended the match with a rich haul of 11 wickets. None of Pakistan’s batsmen had an idea of how to decipher Anderson’s modus operandi.

Anderson reserved his best for Pakistan’s opener Imran Farhat. By bowling from around the wicket, he swung it into the left-handed Farhat, before it incredibly snaked away at a high speed to take out the off-stump. It wouldn’t have surprise anyone if Farhat had come out and said in an interview that he felt like being hit by a 440-volt electric shock.

2) Anderson’s bewitching spell floors New Zealand at Trent Bridge in 2008

In 2008, Anderson was still learning the tricks of the trade. But when bowling with good rhythm, he was a substantial threat against any team.

In the first innings of the Test match against New Zealand at Trent Bridge, he annihilated their batting line-up with subtle changes of wrists and fingers. For the umpteenth time, he wowed the capacity crowd at Trent Bridge with those signature unplayable deliveries that slant in before swinging away late at a high speed to take out the off-stump of both Brendon McCullum and Aaron Redmond.

Anderson had the ball virtually on a string and it seemed like he could get a wicket every ball. In short, he made a mockery of New Zealand’s batting line-up by taking seven for 43 in the first innings.

1) Anderson’s 10-wicket haul takes England to a nerve-wracking victory at Trent Bridge against Australia in 2013

In the on-going Ashes series against Australia, Anderson yet again bowled like a seasoned magician at Trent Bridge. There is no doubt of the fact that Trent Bridge has been his happy hunting ground over the years.

In what turned out to be an immeasurable performance on display, just like a true colossus he bowled with a ‘never say die attitude’ to take a rich haul of ten wickets. His herculean efforts also came in conditions that were vastly different to the one that we usually see at Trent Bridge.

The ball of the match has to be the one that he bowled to Clarke in the first innings.
To the naked eye, it seemed like the ball was Anderson’s trademark out-swinger on off-stump. However, replays of that awe-inspiring ball left everyone gasping for breath, as the seam position indicated he was trying an in-swinger. But it straightened a touch to take out Clarke’s off-stump. It exemplifies that sometimes even a swing bowler of the highest class can’t tell which way the ball will swing.

English cricket fans, though, would remember Anderson mainly for his marathon 13-over spell on the final day. With a brand new ball in hand, he tore-apart Australia’s lower-order to leave them reeling with nine wickets down. He wasn’t finished yet, as England required Anderson’s services for one final time, and he didn’t disappoint them. With a well-disguised off-cutter, he took the final wicket of Haddin.

A day full of ebbs and flows ended with England winning the match by a mere 14 runs. There was no wonder that Anderson, for his gladiatorial-like spell, was the cynosure of all eyes. It almost felt like if Anderson was asked to run through a brick wall for the sake of the team, he would have done it.
In fact, such has been Anderson’s wizardry in recent times that if he continues to bowl in the same vein, there may come a day when cricket writers will run out of superlative synonyms to write glorious tributes on the aesthetically mystical brilliance of Anderson.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)