Anderson's development picks up pace

West Indies tour: England's boy from Burnley now ready to build on his dramatic breakthrough at highest level
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The Independent Online

Sometimes even now, a year after it all kicked off, James Anderson struggles to grasp what has happened. "It's still like a dream," he said. "I've seen a bit of footage on video and it's like I'm watching some other guy doing all this, and when I read about it, it's like reading about some guy from Burnley. It's not as if it's me actually doing it. It's an extremely strange feeling."

What Anderson did was indeed the stuff dreams are made on. The way the former captain of England, Nasser Hussain, liked to tell it was that the boy went in a matter of months from Burnley Third XI to winning regular international man-of-the-match awards. Hussain was not far wrong.

To recap, because it is a glorious tale, Anderson was picked for Lancashire at the age of 19, took wickets galore, was selected for the National Academy, was quickly taken from there to the England squad because of an injury crisis, played in the one-day team, wowed Australia, led the attack, almost single-handedly lifted English hearts in the World Cup, watched Australia wreak vengeance, took five wickets in his first Test innings, took England's first one-day hat-trick, lost form badly and got injured. He is still only 21. A lifetime of emotions has probably been packed into eight Test matches and 27 one-dayers.

Now, he is taking the next step. Ander-son left last week as part of an England squad daring to believe that they can terminate a dismal 36-year sequence and win a Test series in the West Indies. He is no longer quite the golden boy of last summer, partly because of form loss, partly because the raw pace of Stephen Harmison and Simon Jones has excited minds.

"I didn't know when it was going to stop," Anderson said of those heady months of last year. "It carried on for quite a long time, obviously I knew it had to come to an end, and when it did I coped with it quite well, but it's still disappointing when you don't perform the way you want to. I've learned a lot more from the downs than I have from the ups."

Two things were inevitable about Anderson's rise: first, that it would come to be expected that he would go out every time and take wickets, and secondly that he would not. It has been an immensely rewarding yet bewildering experience. Boy, he learned from it.

He also coped admirably. In his quiet, thoughtful persona there lurks the humility and simple desire to get on with the job, like Jonny Wilkinson, though the comparison is made reluctantly in case it is immediately expected that Anderson becomes the new Wilkinson.

He has already had to handle being promoted as cricket's Beckham (courtesy of his employers at the England and Wales Cricket Board) and fuelled that fire himself by dyeing his hair red. His tonsorial arrangements caused as much of a stir as had the sporting of a (small) ear stud by Derek Pringle 20 years earlier.

At the very moment Anderson was asked about his chosen style, his colleague Matthew Hoggard walked past and suggested it was time the interviewer sorted his questions out. But the fuss over the hair certainly affected Anderson. "It's one of the things I learned from, I won't be doing it again," he said wryly. The red hair went (as did Pringle's earring), and back has come the unnatural blond streak.

What has impressed good judges as much as his natural talent is Anderson's willingness and ability to learn quickly. "In every department, that is, not just his bowling, and he takes it on board very quickly," the England coach, Duncan Fletcher, has said.

The game eventually caught up with Anderson, as it tends to do. He had back trouble, and then in the first part of England's winter he injured an ankle. He stopped bowling well, he stopped taking wickets, which was what made him so enrapturing in the first place. It is clear that he needed to have a decent break in Burnley, to get away from cricket to become a better cricketer. But he has still practised hard, working on his method.

He hopes he has eliminated a tendency to run down the pitch after delivery ("I can't really forget about it yet because it still takes an effort") but otherwise has been trying to work on inswing and reverse swing to complement the full- length away swing which brought him so dramatically to the fore.

"I've been working on several things, like the off-cutter and slower ball, because no matter how well you bowl the outswinger you need variations. I've got an inswinger but not the consistency yet. There's a knack, and you've got to do it when you want."

Although the talk is always of over-bowling bowlers, Anderson is painfully aware that he has not bowled enough overs to be a class act in international cricket. "It takes some people thousands of overs in first-class cricket before they've played for England, so I'm still missing a lot of overs to be the experienced strike bowler [he is still short of 1,000 overs in all his senior cricket combined]. At the same time it's possible that I can get the experience I need at Test level and be able to perform well enough to keep my place."

The highlight of his year, he said, was the whole World Cup, because it was so utterly unexpected, and the outstanding match was surely against Pakistan, when in Cape Town he swung Pakistan to distraction under the Newlands lights. The relief for England proved to be temporary but it was overwhelming: they had won a match after all the bitter shenanigans that had taken place over Zimbabwe, and they had found a new star.

His lowest point was two weeks later when Andy Bichel hit him for 10 from two balls, which consigned England to elimination. "But I learned." He has kept learning, and he has needed to as summer turned to winter.

"I think no matter who you are, it crosses your mind whether you're good enough, and that did actually come into my head: have I just been lucky up to now, am I actually good enough to perform at this level?" He should watch the videos. That bloke from Burnley taking the wickets truly is James Anderson.