Anderson rescues his Test career

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If it should happen that England win the Third Test against South Africa here today at what, to estimate roughly, would be the third attempt in the course of the last four days, there will surely be as much relief as celebration.

This, after all, is a match in which so much remains at risk. At the top of the list, plainly, is the credibility of new captain Michael Vaughan's regime, along with belief that there is indeed the will - and the nerve - to return the England team to consistent winning values.

However, there was at least one issue resolved satisfactorily as the light failed at Trent Bridge last night; it was the rescuing of the Test career of James Anderson.

The young Lancastrian, despite displaying a great talent for the match-winning art of swinging the ball, came here a marked man. Marked, that was, for the ritual fate of so many young Englishmen of talent, the killing pattern of brief exposure and then the long ride into oblivion.

Many years ago, the tough old Aussie batsman David Boon summed up the situation succinctly enough. After a resounding defeat of England at the Sydney Cricket Ground, he declared that playing against the old country was to face opposition composed of a constantly changing cast of "thousands''.

The great Australian captain Steve Waugh was saying pretty much the same the last time he was in England. "It's not for me to tell you Poms how to do things,'' he said, "but it does seem that you do have to spend some more time picking out your best young players and then putting a whole lot more faith in them. You don't become a Test cricketer overnight. It takes a little longer than that.''

How long it takes in the case of Anderson we cannot be quite sure, but here the indications are that he has found himself again.

His momentum, launched with an impressive run through the one-day series in Australia last winter - when he was called up from the Academy - gathered force in the World Cup and eye-catching work in the Zimbabwe series earlier this year, starting with five wickets at Lord's.

But then, in that grimly familiar way, oblivion beckoned during the first two Tests in the current series. Geoff Boycott's return to cricketing public life after his illness was marked by blistering criticism of the English game - and Anderson was used as the most potent symbol of waste.

Boycott claimed that Anderson represented nothing more than neglect. Here, he said, was a fine young player who had been allowed to drift into the bowling of "rubbish''.

That was a harsh assessment, perhaps, but there was no doubt that Anderson's brief career was stalling under the savage weight of the assault launched by South Africa's young captain, Graeme Smith.

Smith, on his way to a record haul of runs, was particularly brutal when Anderson lost his line and poise at Edgbaston and Lord's.

Whatever else Boycott may have achieved with his strident criticism, he presumably affected both the young man and those around him in the England camp.The fact is that Anderson's achievement here is to have reannounced himself as a genuine force against obdurate opponents.

On Saturday, he took five wickets as the South Africans were rescued by the intransigence and intelligent hitting of their newcomer, Neil McKenzie. It was a performance marked by both concentration and a steadfast heart.

One old Test bowler was moved to say: "We knew the boy [Anderson] had talent - and in this match we have also seen he has a good ticker. This is a very important match for him and he's coming through it well.''

Yesterday, as England moved back, once again, into a dominant position, Anderson was again at the heart of the action. He claimed, for the second time in the match, the invaluable scalp of the man many believed, before the onslaught of Smith, was South Africa's key batsman. Jacques Kallis. His statistics, as the South Africans were obliged to desperately hang on for a foothold in the match, spoke eloquently of relentless application - nine overs, four maidens, seven runs and two wickets.

They were figures that could easily have been more spectacular if umpire Daryl Harper had looked more kindly on two extremely worthy shouts against the again-defiant McKenzie. Sometimes bowling statistics can paint a false picture but Anderson's were utterly reflective of the nature of his performance; nagging, intense and filled with the belief that he could, indeed, lead England to a vital victory.

This morning will again be his time, along with his young team-mates James Kirtley, Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison, to announce that England do indeed have the resources to win significant Test matches.

The issue is complicated by the famous obduracy of the man sharing the rearguard action with McKenzie, wicket keeper Mark Boucher. But we have seen enough of Anderson to know that his resolve is back to optimum levels. It is an encouraging portent that England can bring life back to their Test cricket, and a little belief that they know how to handle the best of their talent.