Anderson ready to banish memories of Brisbane

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The Independent Online

Once the klaxons fall silent and the flags are rolled up at Lord's this evening, it will feel for the first time that the main event is imminent.

The World Twenty20 may have titivated, exhilarated at times and clearly enthused the nations represented in the final. But nothing quickens the pulse here so much as an Ashes series. The count is down to 17 days.

Yet for James Anderson the wait still seems intolerably long, much as he appreciates some precious days off before the England players reconvene later this week, ahead of a three-day warm-up match against Warwickshire. Unable to stay away long from a cricket ground, he ventures to Liverpool to catch up with his Lancashire teammates, enjoying the conviviality of the players' dining room during the lunch interval.

"It's going to be a long two or three weeks," he observes. He says he wants to look upon the opening encounter with Australians in Cardiff on Wednesday week as "just another Test match" but accepts that others are unlikely to see it that way. In any event, he knows that his own career needs a strong series against Australia to give him credibility as a significant England bowler.

The last time he tried to achieve that, the results were disastrous, both for himself and the team, although on a personal level there were mitigating circumstances. A fast starter in Test cricket, still only 20 when he made a five-wicket debut bowl against Zimbabwe at Lord's in 2003, he went to Australia in 2006-07 when, it became clear, he was not fully rehabilitated after a stress fracture of the back. Lacking match practice, he bowled 29 overs in Australia's first innings in Brisbane, conceding 141 runs for one wicket as England took the first thumping of a calamitous six weeks.

Things improved, but only a little. In the three Tests he played in the series, his five wickets cost 82.6 runs each. Little wonder, when asked to revisit those dark moments, he feigns not to remember.

He would much sooner discuss the last 18 months, the period in which he has added to his natural ability to swing a cricket ball at speed the sometimes underestimated benefits of experience. His Test bowling average stands at 33.91 for 128 wickets but since the end of the 2007 season in England, when it was 37.73, the figures have improved steadily.

The breakthrough came in New Zealand in the spring of last year, when Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard were dropped, making him suddenly the senior figure in England's attack. Since the beginning of last summer, encouraged to see himself as the "leader of the pack" among the England bowlers, he has taken 58 Test wickets at 28.05.

"I have had a lot of responsibility but I have enjoyed it," he said. "Particularly over the last few months with Fred (Andrew Flintoff) not being there. It is nice being the guy the captain can throw the ball to when he needs a wicket.

"And it has helped me as a player. With that extra responsibility, I have had to mature as a cricketer and as a person. I have got more consistent and I think I am an all-round better cricket than when I last played against Australia."

Whether that translates into what it takes to banish the memories of Brisbane, only the next couple of months will tell. Still reserved, guarded in the media spotlight, Anderson would clearly rather it would all begin immediately, with a minimum of fuss.

"It is going to be very difficult but we have to get on with our business as quietly as possible," he said. "In Australia last time we got sucked into all the hype and involved in doing a lot of interviews and I think that was a mistake. I am going to try to ignore it as much as I can."

England may also wish to ignore their form in the World Twenty20, in which they at least bettered Australia's miserable effort, but only just.

"We got some good momentum going through the one-dayers against the West Indies but the dynamics of the team changed a bit for the Twenty20 and we didn’t get as far as we wanted to," Anderson said.

"I don't think it is relevant to the Ashes, though. We got some good rhythm and form going in the West Indies series. If we start playing like we did then it will be good for us." Better still, you sense he is thinking, if time could be fast-forwarded a couple of weeks and it could all begin now.

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