Ashes 2015: No matter what they say, Aussies will be delighted to face a James Anderson-free England

Stuart Broad will be on his own without his mate to turn to. Can he cope? Yes, of course

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The Independent Online

England will shortly find out the answer to a question that might be asked regularly in a couple of years’ time: can you win a vital Test match in England without your inspirational bowling colossus Jimmy Anderson?

Since March 2008, when Anderson and Stuart Broad replaced Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison in Wellington, England have played 87 Tests with Anderson leading the attack and have won 40, lost 24 and drawn 23. Without him they have played five, won two, lost one and drawn two.

Statistics tell but part of the story. The psychological impact is huge and England will know it. Obviously the captain, Alastair Cook, will talk of an opportunity for another player but deep down he will know just how big a hole Anderson’s absence leaves.

With England making a dramatic comeback at Edgbaston after a dismal outing at Lord’s, Cook will have stood at slip when Anderson pulled up in his delivery stride and thought: “No, please, of all the injuries, not him.” His worst fears were confirmed moments later.

Australia will obviously respect England’s bowling attack but will know its heart has been ripped out. This situation immediately takes you back 10 years to Edgbaston in 2005 when Glenn McGrath stepped on the ball. The psychological impact was clear.

 

So what is it with these mental battles in sport and how crucial are they? Sportsmen hate to admit to mental frailties, but of course we all have them and some hide them better than others. The fear of failure can engulf some to the extent they find it hard to perform on the big stage.

When the opposition’s star player is out through injury it can provide a lift and a belief that performing well is more likely. But you wouldn’t expect players to admit it, and Australia’s captain, Michael Clarke, alluded to this at the end of the last Test, stating that he wanted to play against and beat a full-strength opposition.

He can say nothing else and, while I can’t speak for him, deep down he will know that his team now have a better chance of retaining the Ashes. Don’t get me wrong here. There is nothing more satisfying in sport than competing against, and being successful against, the best. But there are just moments like this when the task of getting back into a series that you trail in can be made so much simpler.

It is a team game, yes, but there are so many individual battles that go on in cricket. Opening batsmen are up against opening bowlers. While you tell yourself to shut out previous encounters and address the moment, it is hard to do.

As a batsman you sometimes remember vividly your previous dismissals. It can play on your mind and affect the way you approach your innings. Thoughts swirl around such as: “He got me out like this last time so I mustn’t do that.” It can fill your mind with negative thoughts.

Every batsman will have his own technique and approach, and every bowler will know your weaknesses and how to expose you. Anderson’s great skill is his control of the swinging ball. It is so difficult to know which way the ball is swinging with almost no discernible change in action and therefore you are reacting to the ball as it is coming down at you.

Anderson gives you virtually no clues as he is running in to bowl or as he releases the ball. As a batsman the earlier you detect a change in the bowler’s action, the more time you have to adjust and you are therefore more likely to be able to play the ball successfully.

It is one of the reasons why in this Ashes series Australia’s batsmen have been so uncertain about which of Anderson’s deliveries to play at. They have been unsure of which way the ball is swinging.

As far as the impact on the England team is concerned, it may have a direct influence on the other bowlers. They often talk about bowling in partnerships and quite often Anderson’s partner will pick up wickets because of his excellence.

The pressure that he builds up with his skills sometimes results in batsmen either slightly relaxing when facing the bowling from the other end or trying to take more risks in order to score, and wickets can be the result.

Anderson’s opening partner, Stuart Broad, will lead the attack at Trent Bridge. If he stays fit and is looked after, Broad could rival the incredible numbers Anderson has racked up during his illustrious career. Broad has 299 wickets from 82 Test matches.

He will be on his own without his mate to turn to for advice. Can he cope? Of course he can. If Broad bowls well and Steve Finn continues his renaissance, even without the star turn, England can start to dream again.

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