Ashes 2013: The complete package - how James Anderson became England’s go-to man

Anderson’s precision with the ball was staggering

So who is the best fast bowler in the world – South Africa’s Dale Steyn or England’s Trent Bridge match- winner James Anderson? Statistically, it is a no contest. Whatever way you look at it Steyn’s figures are far superior to those of Anderson. But would Alastair Cook, the England captain, exchange his spearhead for any other fast bowler in the world? The answer would be a big, loud, resounding no.

It was clear at Nottingham that Anderson is Cook’s go-to man, the fast bowler he believes will produce a moment of inspiration or supreme skill when his team needs it most. Cook trusts Anderson implicitly. He knows he is the man who can make him look good as a supreme captain. Between the pair a field and plan  are set, Anderson bowls to them and they produce results. It sounds easy but consistently bowling to a plan is a talent very few bowlers possess.

And this is why I couldn’t give a damn about the rankings and who people think is the best. The table is a bit of fun but the conclusions the mathematicians reach are largely irrelevant. I am sure in their calculation Anderson gained more points for knocking over New Zealand’s top order in seamer-friendly conditions at Lord’s in May than for dismissing Australia’s lower order at a steaming-hot, pressure cooker Trent Bridge on Sunday. We know what was more valuable and all that is important is that James Anderson is British and he  continues to win games of cricket for England.

Of far greater interest is what actually makes Anderson the world-class performer he is. Fast bowlers need a number of assets and characteristics to compete in a game that is largely geared to favour batsmen. It is, for example, extremely advantageous for a fast bowler to be tall, fast and intimidating. Yet these are not the resources that stand out in Anderson’s profile. At 6ft 2in he is not small but many of England’s other bowlers – Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Graham Onions, Chris Tremlett and Boyd Rankin – tower above the 30-year-old. Neither is he lethally quick. Anderson generally checks in at between  80 and 85 mph. He doesn’t snarl like Merv Hughes either.

Although Anderson is a wonderful athlete it is his personal rather than physical qualities that make him stand out. Cricket history states that the great Sydney Barnes was an unbelievably skilful bowler yet it is hard to believe he possessed greater qualities than Anderson.

Nowhere were Anderson’s skills highlighted more than during a Sky Sports Masterclass filmed last year. Now I thought I had pretty good control of a cricket ball but during this session Anderson was producing staggering precision – attention to detail I struggled to comprehend. The fact that he was able to control which way the new ball swung by a simple, last-minute movement of the wrist; that he could deliberately hit the seam of the ball on an intended side and also release the ball with the seam wobbling, a skill that means the ball could move either way, was breathtaking. It was fascinating and illuminating to watch a master showing and explaining his craft.

But a fast bowler would be ridiculed and hopelessly exposed if he did not have a big heart and an unbreakable desire. Bowling is an unbelievably tough job, especially in the climate the first Ashes Test was played in. Anderson will have pushed himself as hard as he did at Trent Bridge on numerous occasions in the past and had very little to show for his efforts. But the reason why you go through the tough, unrewarding days is because you believe that somewhere along the line you will get what you deserve, and Anderson received just that in Nottingham.

The lesson to be learnt for many aspiring young fast bowlers and coaches is that Anderson’s rise to the top has not happened overnight. I clearly remember him making his England debut in a one-day  international against Australia at the MCG in December 2002. The Ashes were already lost and England were on the wrong end of a mauling from  Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting, who both scored hundreds in a total in excess of 300.

Anderson went for 46 in six overs but even then there seemed a spirit in him. He was not overawed by a huge crowd and great players. Gilchrist became his first international wicket when he bowled him for 124.

He then spent the next five years on the periphery of the Test side and with coaches trying to change his bowling action. I recall interviewing him at New Road, Worcester ,when he was at his most frustrated. We just sat talking bowling for an hour or so, and I take no credit for what has happened since.

At the time Anderson was obsessed with taking wickets and he chased them recklessly. To him they were all that counted. It was the only way he felt he would force his way in to the England side. I told him he was going about things the wrong way, and that what he should attempt to do was bowl consistently well and to trust the game. The number in the maiden column was just as important as the number in the wicket column. The aim should be to bowl with consistency so that even on a wicketless day he was still doing a job for the team. It is not a coincidence that Anderson now consistently concedes fewer than three runs per over, offering his captain control as well as a cutting edge.


As impressive as anything is his adaptability. As he proved this week he is a threat in any conditions and on any type of pitch. This is achieved through conventional or reverse swing, by subtle changes of pace and angles or by simple seam movement. Basically, he is the complete package.

The England team know what an asset they have and, when possible, will handle him like a Ming vase. Without him this Ashes series could take a different road to that many predicted.

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
The video, titled 'A Message to America', was released a day after Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that has overrun large parts of Iraq, threatened to attack Americans 'in any place'. U.S. officials said they were working to determine the video's authenticity
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape