Anderson unwilling to accept leading role

England fast bowler plays down his significance despite winter of improvement
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The Independent Online

The leader of England's bowling attack held court yesterday. It was hardly a tub-thumping, fire-breathing, Wisden-bashing, "watch out world we're coming to get you" type of performance.

Jimmy Anderson, indeed, is not even sure yet that he is the leader of the attack. Maybe he would prefer that he was not, or that it had not been noticed. But he is and it has. Gradually, over the course of the past year and during this winter, the diffident Lancastrian has emerged as England's new fast bowler-in-chief. The go-to man.

"I have not really thought about being the senior bowler," he said as if it had only occurred at that moment. But he was playing games. "We have got Big Steve [Harmison] and Fred [Andrew Flintoff] who are relatively senior compared to me. But we all chip in, we all help each other out, I try and field at mid-off as much as possible to talk to the guy who is bowling and offer some help with his field and what deliveries he should be bowling. But I don't see myself as the senior bowler just yet."

But Anderson has grown discernibly and if England are to salvage anything from their winter in the three one-day matches left it will probably be with considerable input from him. He has begun to assemble proper spells, proper not because he has thought of a plan but also because he has the wherewithal in skill and accuracy to carry it out.

On the flat pitches of India and the Caribbean he has started to look something. There has been conventional swing and reverse swing and a bit in between. This has not been reflected in a mighty haul of wickets – a miserable 13 in six winter Tests at 42.77, one every 93 balls. Compare that to the new bowling titans of the game, Dale Steyn of South Africa (34 winter wickets at 27.79) and Mitchell Johnson of Australia (33 at 25.15) and it pales rather. But figures are not always everything.

This is the club (similar age, knowledge, development) Anderson must aspire to join. Still only 26, he has reached this stage by returning to the point at which he started. His action now – bustling, face down at the point of delivery – is what it was when he burst on to the scene in 2002.

For a year he could do no wrong. Often since he has seemed to do little right. His action was changed to something more orthodox, deliberately and painstakingly. With it went his cutting edge and his confidence. Something had to change again.

"The action has pretty much come full circle," he said. "It's more natural, it's how it was when I first started. It took a stress fracture for the coaches to say maybe you go back to your original action. It was frustrating but everything that any coach has done for me they have done with my best interests at heart."

Anderson should be a warning to all coaches about changing actions and methods. He had come through the ranks bowling the way he did and he looked immediately at home. This has been a long tour for him because he had to leave behind his two-week-old daughter, Lola.

"I am very pleased with the way it's gone. I think I have been bowling well for a reasonable amount of time now. I have got quite a bit of consistency going, which is what I have been searching for.

"I have worked hard on my reverse swing and hiding the ball. One thing we have talked about a lot is that at this level people can pretty much see the ball in your hand. Everyone would like someone a bit different, someone who can bowl at 95mph, but if you've not got it, you've not got it and I think we have got some very skilful bowlers who can easily take 20 wickets in Test matches." Not easily, not ever this winter.

In his reserved character (and maybe his liking for the occasional pint) he is reminiscent of another Lancastrian fast bowler, Brian Statham. If he can approach those heights England really will have a fast bowler.

* South African fast bowler Andre Nel has joined Surrey on a three-year Kolpak deal, after announcing his international retirement. Nel is Surrey's second Kolpak signing after Pedro Collins.