Anderson's arrival restores damaged England spirits

First Test - England 472 Zimbabwe 147 and 233 England win by an innings and 92 runs

The benefits of England's comprehensive innings and 92-run victory over Zimbabwe should run deeper than raising the morale of a team recently starved of success. For the majority of England's players who walked off Lord's tired but elated at 7.35 on Saturday evening it did not matter that the opposition was of a similar standard to that of a Second Division county side.

The previous three days had given them the ideal platform on which to launch, or relaunch, their international careers. Zimbabwe proved to be the perfect team against which to gently introduce a budding star or allow a 'good un' to regain confidence lost during the heat of an Australian summer.

This Test match will be remembered for James Anderson's five-wicket haul on his debut, even if Mark Butcher's innings of 137 was the classiest performance of the game. To start your Test career on a successful note is vital. With it comes belief; one only has to look at the international careers of Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick to see what a negative effect waiting for a hundred can have on you. Not only do such performances get the media off your back, but they allow you to convince yourself that you can actually succeed at Test level.

Watching Anderson run in full of vibrancy and ambition was a joy. There will be plenty of occasions when the fast bowler finds wickets harder to come by than in the Zimbabwe first innings, but a couple of the deliveries in his spell of 4 for 5 in 14 balls were absolute beauties. Bowling from the Pavilion End, which he is best suited for and should have started from on Friday evening, two deliveries pitched on middle stump, moved up the slope and knocked back the top of off.

Batsman of a far higher quality than Travis Friend and Douglas Hondo would have struggled to keep them out but they allowed the tiro to get on the honours board in the home dressing room at Lord's.

In may ways Anderson's figures of 5 for 73 signified, in black and white, how far the lad from Burnley has come in the last 12 months. But he knows there is some way to go before he is the finished article and this is another cause for encouragement. As is the manner in which he goes about his business.

Off the field he is shy, modest and struggling to come to terms with what is happening to him. Success, it appears, will not go to his head, even if his is the face the England and Wales Cricket Board should be using to promote the game in England - not that of a former colleague of mine who won a television contest by sitting in the jungle for two weeks smoking fags.

My only criticism would be that he appears to try and bowl too many different deliveries. Like Darren Gough, his instinct is that of a gambler. Anderson does not seem to care what a wicket will cost. It always seems worth the risk and, as a result, the Lancastrian overdoes the in-swinging yorker at times. Again, this is something he will learn to be more prudent with, especially against stronger opposition.

Despite Anderson's blitz, Matthew Hoggard was the pick of England's bowlers. After miserable series against India last summer and Australia during the winter, he was in danger of moving from the fast bowler that England were to build their attack around to one edging towards the last-chance saloon. Even if he had not taken wickets in this Test it would have been wrong to write off this whole-hearted Yorkshireman. When the ball swings, as it did at Lord's, he is a handful.

Just ask Zimbabwe's top order, which on Saturday suffered as he took two crucial wickets in his opening spell. Not only did it raise English spirits but it also knocked back any hopes the tourists had of posting a competitive score.

What was most impressive was the line Hoggard bowled. At times the 26-year-old, like Anderson, has been guilty of trying to bowl too many unplayable balls, the sort that pitch leg and hit off. At Lord's, however, he persevered on or just outside off stump and went for less than two runs an over in the 33 he bowled.

If the role of Stephen Harmison was to intimidate Zimbabwe's diminutive batsmen, it was a tactic he succeeded in doing. In full flow the Durham pace man is a fearsome proposition, but he needs to bowl more balls in wicket-taking areas - fuller and straighter - if he is to get the sign writers putting his name on boards.

That Butcher and Anthony McGrath ran through Zimbabwe in their second innings after they were asked to follow on 325 behind highlighted just how weak the tourists batting is. It also left people wondering exactly how well England's front-line bowlers had bowled in the first innings when they skittled the visitors out for 147. Watching Butcher and McGrath bowl gentle medium pace from the Nursery End, apart from the small fact you were sat among 20,000 spectators in the home of cricket, one could easily have been at Stanmore watching a game of club cricket. However, after the shots that led to many of the 19 wickets that fell, several Zimbabweans might be finding themselves at Bushey Police Club - venue of Stanmore 3rd XI - next week.

Of the England batsman, McGrath had a debut to remember but it is difficult to see him playing in the second Test should Andrew Flintoff recover from his shoulder injury. Despite an impressive innings of 69 and match bowling figures of 3 for 16, the Yorkshire captain may have to wait some time for another chance, especially after leaving the field with a side strain before England gained victory in the gloom.

He may have scored only 59 but Marcus Trescothick will also gain from this exercise. He looked relaxed at the crease and these runs, plus four good catches at first slip, will have lifted his spirits. The only player worrying over selection next Saturday will be Robert Key. Unfortunate to be given out caught behind, the Kent opener desperately needs a score to further his credentials and there is a possibility that McGrath could replace him in 10 days' time.

All victories are important, but they do not always provide solutions to ongoing problems. This win was emphatic and it fits into just that category.

Comments