Bob Willis: It took time but Jimmy is the real deal

Leader of the attack offers hope for rest of series but long spells for pacemen are cause for concern
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The Independent Online

Steven Finn experienced the pleasure of taking six wickets in an innings during his first outing as an Ashes cricketer. But for Jimmy Anderson there should be the huge satisfaction of having proved to friend and foe alike that he is now a fast bowler for every occasion and all conditions.

Anderson had good reason to feel short-changed when he trudged off the field in Brisbane yesterday with only two wickets to show for a 37-over exhibition of high-class swing and seam bowling. No one could have done more to try to derail Australia during their first innings of 481 and, regardless of the result at the Gabba, his performance throughout the first half of the First Test offers England plenty of hope for the rest of the series.

Going into this match there had to be some doubts about Anderson, because the last time he toured Australia, four years ago, he finished the series with five wickets at 80-plus runs apiece. So was he still a one-trick pony? If the ball did not swing, would he be cannon fodder once again? Well, I admit to having some concerns myself, but he has answered those questions in a single innings, bowled superbly and shown the other two seamers, Stuart Broad and Finn, the line and length needed on a Brisbane pitch that has been slower than normal.

Now 28, Anderson looks the real deal. Yes, it's taken some time, but if we think back to when he was recalled to the Test side in New Zealand – getting on for three years ago – he has matured steadily. And if you look back a bit further, to those tours when he was out of the side and spent every lunch session in the middle, hammering away at one stump under the watchful eye of Troy Cooley or whoever was bowling coach, he has certainly worked hard to find success.

He was denied proper reward in Australia's first innings but it must come if he continues to bowl the sort of spell he produced with the new ball on the third morning in Brisbane.

Like Anderson, Broad has also matured and at 24 there is still plenty of time for that process to continue. There was no hot-headed or petulant behaviour from him at the Gabba. He was competitive without losing the plot, certainly did not deserve to finish wicketless and his economy rate, at two runs an over, was spot-on.

As for Finn, seeing him bowl in an Ashes Test at the age of 21 turned the clock back 40 years for me. But this guy is so much more advanced in his fast-bowling education than I was when England first took me to Australia at the same sort of age. I was completely wet behind the ears, while you only have to listen to Finn being interviewed to realise he knows the errors he is making.

Going at four runs an over was not ideal. He made the mistake of bowling too full in his first spell, then over-compensated later on and bowled too short against Mike Hussey. But with him it is just a question of gaining more experience and then he will be able to iron out those problems.

What did concern me about Finn, and Broad as well, was the length of their spells. I'm not too happy about them bowling nine and 10 overs at a go but that is the consequence of having a four-man attack, with precious little back-up, when your spinner is neither taking wickets nor keeping the opposition quiet.

So much of England's planning revolves around Graeme Swann and nothing really went right for him. There wasn't the usual bounce in this Gabba pitch but Swann still bowled too short and I don't think I have seen him perform so indifferently since Cardiff 16 months ago, at the start of the previous Ashes series.

It is amazing how England always seem to be slow out of the traps when the urn is at stake, but you have to hand it to the Australians. They've mostly been very aggressive against Swann and haven't allowed him to feel his way into a spell. No doubt he will bounce back but his confidence must have been dented by the ease with which most of their batsmen played him. Even those down the order didn't seem to have that much bother with him. On the plus side he did dismiss two front-line batsmen (Marcus North and Brad Haddin) when they were playing defensively. But he needs to bowl tighter to take some of the pressure off the three seamers, because otherwise they will be on their knees before long.

The Decision Review System has not helped to put a spring in England's step during the first half of this Test. As far as I'm concerned, though, the whole thing is flawed because I would far rather see the three, or even four, umpires working as a team to rectify mistakes, rather than having their decisions questioned by players.

Bob Willis will be summarising for Sky Sports throughout the Ashes