James Anderson's all-round value to the England team continues to rise by the day. When Anderson broke in to Nasser Hussain's side on England's ill-fated 2002-3 Ashes campaign he was a fast bowler of immense promise and a useful fielder. As a batsman he was nothing more than a ferret, someone who went in after the rabbits – a shotless and rather inadequate tail-end batsman.
How that has changed. Anderson followed up last week's heroic match-saving batting display in Cardiff with an equally important innings yesterday. England were teetering on 370 for 8 when Anderson walked to the crease, having lost Andrew Strauss and Graeme Swann in the opening two overs of the day. Stuart Broad quickly followed, leaving Anderson with Graham Onions, who was yet to score a Test run.
In the past Anderson would have prodded and pushed for 10 minutes before missing a straight ball or edging a catch. Not any more. These days the left-hander goes for his shots, and he is beginning to strike the ball well. Indeed yesterday's entertaining little cameo contained a couple of sumptuous drives, strokes Strauss would have been proud of. When he was dismissed he and Onions had added 47 valuable runs and taken the sting out of Australia's aggressive comeback.
Anderson's new positive style of batting highlights the confident frame of mind he is in, and he is now averaging almost 16 with the bat. When you consider that Darren Gough and Philip DeFreitas, two far more naturally gifted willow wielders than Anderson, had Test batting averages of 12.57 and 14.83 respectively, it is a pretty good effort.
As a fielder he has become possibly the best Strauss, the England captain, can call on. In the deep Anderson is quick and athletic; he possesses a magnificent throwing arm and a safe pair of hands too. The England management's confidence in his ability to catch was shown when Australia began batting and, between bowling overs, he fielded at gully.
But it is with the ball that Anderson's reputation is and will be made. Fortune went his way yesterday with three of his wickets: he strangled Phillip Hughes down the leg side with a wayward short ball, had Ricky Ponting given out caught at slip when the Australian captain failed to hit the ball and Marcus North bowled off an inside edge. Together with picking up the wicket of Michael Clarke, caught pulling to the boundary, Anderson deserved his luck because he bowled beautifully. Bowling fast can be a thankless task and there are many days when the reward/effort ratio will have worked against him.
It has taken Anderson several years to work everything out but England are now profiting. When he was in and out of the England side, playing solely when there were injuries to Andrew Flintoff, Stephen Harmison or Matthew Hoggard, he felt under pressure to take wickets. In attempting to do this he would go searching for an unplayable wicket-taking delivery. What is wrong with that, you may ask? Isn't it what bowlers are supposed to do? They are, but there are less reckless ways of being successful.
The correlation between wickets taken and bowling well is not always high. There are days when a six- or seven-wicket haul is deserved but only one or two appear on the scorecard, others where the analysis is flattering. The objective of every bowler should be to bowl well and trust that such an approach will, in time, bring the rewards deserved. The problem with searching for wickets is that when they do not come along the bowler concerned can be an expensive passenger.
Anderson's method and mindset is currently in contrast to that of Broad, a cricketer with far more all-round potential. Broad is where Anderson was three or four years ago.
Broad admits that he struggled to find the rhythm he was looking for at Cardiff, and he is unlikely to find the consistency he desires at Lord's unless he begins to settle into a more simple and less adventurous gameplan. A reason for his inconsistency could be seen during Michael Hussey's partnership with Simon Katich.
Broad was constantly tinkering. A ball from round the wicket would be followed by one from over and then a bouncer. The short ball got him two wickets, those of Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin, but there will be other occasions when Australia's batsmen are far less generous.
At the moment Broad seems to be chasing wickets at any cost and his bowling is inconsistent because of it. In helpful conditions he conceded five runs an over in his opening spell. Broad is an outstanding young cricketer and in time he will realise the error of his ways. An evening with Anderson would hasten his development.Reuse content