County before country the way for Anderson

The talent and desire still burn but both are in urgent need of careful handling.

One of the most regular sights in English cricket is James Anderson rehearsing his bowling on Test outfields. He does so accompanied by a series of traffic cones strategically placed to guide the direction of his bowling as if it were a Ford Mondeo on the M25.

One of the most regular sights in English cricket is James Anderson rehearsing his bowling on Test outfields. He does so accompanied by a series of traffic cones strategically placed to guide the direction of his bowling as if it were a Ford Mondeo on the M25. The cones and their necessity to Anderson's bowling have become something of a joke: if traffic cops were ever short of them, they could do worse than look in Anderson's garage.

No bowler can have put in more practice overs than Anderson and if any think that they have, then they have trained jolly hard. But the suspicion is growing that Anderson, the wunderkind from Burnley, has not delivered enough real overs out in the middle at real batsmen. Nothing, outdoor nets, indoor nets or a motorway length of cones can substitute for it.

It is the central dilemma of central contracts, the desire to hitch key players to the Team England bandwagon and the need to protect bowlers. But it could be argued that Anderson will not become the bowler he so obviously could until he has learned thedetail of his craft, and you learn by bowling overs, by going back to Lancashire in the Championship and rolling them out off the long run.

Anderson burst to national attention suddenly in 2002. He was bowling at above 90mph and two things undoubtedly helped his case.

Lancashire appeared on television in a Championship match in which he bowled like the wind and was a breath of fresh air. Two of the commentators were Paul Allott and David Lloyd. As former Test players from Lancashire, they might be said to have a vested interest but they knew a contender when they saw one.

Allott said: "He was frequently bowling at 93mph. He was quick and hostile and you took notice. That winter, of course, he was picked for the Academy in Australia. I think I'd promoted him for the main Ashes tour but then he got called up for the one-day series because of injuries. In Adelaide against Australia he gave one of the most brilliant displays of line bowling I've ever seen and gave away just 12 runs in 10 overs.

"Then it was decided, quite understandably, to hone his action. It had been purely natural before that. He was found to have a mixed action and that could mean back problems so it was altered slightly. It meant a loss of speed."

But it has also probably meant that he has simply not become acquainted enough with the new method in terms of overs bowled in anger. True, he had a golden beginning to 2003 in which by his own admission he sometimes wondered if it was all happening to another Jimmy Anderson from Burnley.

Allott, a huge supporter, pointed to his bowling on the opening day here. He was bowling beautiful away-swing, then would try something different with an in-swinger. On it went like that.

"I feel that his bowling strategy is not quite right, that you can't be taking a wicket with every ball. When you can bowl out-swing like he can, the idea is to bowl it and bowl it and wait for the batsman to make a mistake because he will eventually nick one when you're just on and outside off [stump] all the time."

The comparison between Anderson and Brian Statham was first evoked by the great cricket writer, John Woodcock. Like Statham, Anderson was a fast bowler from Lancashire who made an instant impression with the county and was called up by England on a tour of Australia at 20.

It might have been more than half a century ago but the connection holds good. In the 1951 season after he came back from the Antipodes, Statham bowled 633 overs, and in the one after that 798. He was barely thought of by England at home; he was learning his trade in Manchester. Anderson has bowled 855 overs altogether, 275 of them in that debut season.

"Jimmy is a great worker, keen to learn," said Allott. "It is quite understandable that he is keen to impress and perhaps why he is trying so hard and so many different things. I think he has to learn the great bowling art of patience."

Whether Anderson will ever be in the nineties again, the pace at which batsmen of the highest calibre are forced to take notice, or rather stop noticing, is doubtful. It was entirely natural that he should recede after his initial blistering foray into the international arena when he could not stop taking wickets.

He is a mainstay of the one-day side but is hanging on to his place in the Test team. Yesterday, for instance, he was the last bowler to be called on by Michael Vaughan and it was almost an act of desperation.

Anderson can do it. He just may need to dispense with the cones, get out and bowl that delightful out-swing in the middle and not necessarily in a Test match.

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