Anderson glad to be back sharing his wisdom (but only in the middle)

Jimmy Anderson is almost unrecognisable from the diffident fast bowler who spent the first few years of his England career wondering whether he would ever feel fully confident and completely comfortable on the international stage. Almost, but not quite.

In one respect, Anderson has changed very little: he still struggles to express himself quite as fluently as he would like when confronted by a pack or cricket reporters, armed with tape recorders and questions. But at least he can laugh about that now, rather than retreating further into his shell.

The fact remains, anyone popping into the Rose Bowl yesterday and eavesdropping on what public relations people like to call a media opportunity might have found it difficult to appreciate that the chap being ever so gently grilled is not only seldom short of a word in the middle but has also become a leader of men.

"I'm a different bloke when I've not got these things [tape recorders] and you guys in front of me," said Anderson with a smile when asked to explain his personality changes. And so he is, clearly. It was obvious to everyone that England missed their most experienced bowler during the drawn Lord's Test. But, perhaps less evident, the side strain that prevented Anderson from facing Sri Lanka also deprived Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett and Steve Finn of someone who has become a guiding light in the pace union.

Barring any late relapse, Anderson will be back to lead the attack into tomorrow's third and final match of this summer's opening series. And, far from feeling under pressure, the boy from Burnley will relish carrying that load.

"Having extra responsibility means I must set the tone when I take the first over," said Anderson. "I've got to lead from the front and set an example for other people to follow. That added responsibility and pressure has helped me to become more consistent."

Anderson has never been more consistent than he was during last winter's Ashes series. True, Alastair Cook earned most headlines for his wonderful impersonation of a run machine but 24 wickets from the ever present Anderson went a long, long way towards putting Australia in their place.

It was all a far cry from the days when Anderson toured as an understudy to the likes of Steve Harmison, Matthew Hogggard and Andrew Flintoff. If there had been a prize for bowling most balls at one stump on the edge of the square during lunch and tea intervals then he would have won it hands down.

The big breakthrough, especially psychologically, came during the 2008 tour of New Zealand. England dropped both Harmison and Hoggard after losing a Test in Hamilton, thrust Anderson into the firing line and have been reaping the benefits of that decisions pretty much ever since.

He had played 20 Tests before that, spread over five years, but never looked like a permanent fixture. Now, as Anderson prepares to win his 59th cap and aims to add to 215 wickets, there is no doubt about his importance to the side. Or his willingness to get stuck into the opposition with word and deed.

The England moment of the last 12 months, as voted for by users of a social networking site, was not the series-winning wicket in Australia or even Cook's double hundred at Brisbane but Anderson's verbal joust with Mitchell Johnson in Perth.

Not many innings go by without Anderson and an opposition batsman exchanging a few words. But, far from distracting England's senior bowler, those "debates" seem to galvanise him these days.

"In the past I often got quite emotional, lost concentration, got sucked into a battle with the opposition and not bowled very well," admitted Anderson. "What I've started to do over the last couple of years, and what I felt I did really well in Australia, was to be able to have a battle with the batsman but keep calm when it came to delivering the next ball."

It will be a surprise if Anderson does not have a few words to say to Sri Lanka at the Rose Bowl. But passing on a few words of wisdom to his bowling partners may be even more useful, especially if their radar goes awry like it did in London last week.

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