Growing pains of the boy wonder

Third Test: Wickets reward youthful endeavour but Jimmy Cricket's graduation to the big league will be a hard road
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The Independent Online

James Anderson is a phenomenon. He bled runs yesterday with bowling that, for the most part, varied from moderate to very moderate. But he took the last four wickets and finished with 5 for 102, and the match ball.

That is his second five-wicket haul in his five-match Test career. The figures make it hard to appreciate that he is still an apprentice. The better bowlers in the England attack were James Kirtley and Andrew Flintoff, who took four of the other five wickets to fall.

Part of the Anderson phenomenon is luck, but there is more to it than that. He appears to have an instinctive belief in himself. His head went down on three occasions during the South African innings when he was blasted out of the attack, but at the end he was the bowler Michael Vaughan trusted to take the final wickets.

The belief shows when you ask him about his problems. He doesn't have any, he says. "I have been happy with the way I have been bowling in the first two Tests and I thought the first three overs here were all right," he said. The third of those overs cost 14 runs and Vaughan had him off promptly.

He says he came back when the ball started to swing, and the best of his wickets yesterday was one that nipped in and bowled a strokeless Jacques Kallis. Two more of his wickets were clean bowled, and the ball that had Neil McKenzie caught in the slips moved out when the batsman expected it to cut in.

But if nothing is wrong, why is he spending time with the new bowling coach, Troy Cooley? It's merely a matter of his follow-through, apparently. He is treading on the prohibited part of the pitch because he is not thrusting hard enough with his right leg. And he is right. If that is all that's wrong, he may be just as good as his figures.

Anderson's late run obscured the debut performance of James Kirtley. Anderson was generous without reserve: "He bowled magnificently well." Kirtley's figures of 2 for 80 off 31 overs were no less misleading about the quality of his bowling than Anderson's. He set up England's charge with the fifth and sixth balls of the morning. When the wicket was still misbehaving, the ball was swinging sharply and skidding through low, creasing up the batsman.

It was not Kirtley's fault that when South Africa saved the follow-on at 3.15pm in the seventh over with the new ball, no more wickets had fallen. He had done what Test bowlers are paid to do. He bowled a good line and length and moved the ball quite enough to give Alec Stewart a torrid time behind the stumps.

McKenzie and Mark Boucher regularly played and missed, but Kirtley's luck had run dry. Until McKenzie was out at 4.01pm, the afternoon was a period of frustration of irritation for England. But Kirtley has plenty of experience of frustration and irritation, having been chosen for the squad for the first two Tests and then sent back to Sussex on the first morning of the match. He was in the one-day squad for the VB Series in Australia last winter but did not make the final selection for the World Cup. He was left out of the winning NatWest Series team as well.

He probably would not have got a game all summer were it not for retirement and injury. The trouble with Kirtley is that, when he was reported for chucking in Zimbabwe in the autumn of 2001, there was no gasp of surprise. He underwent remedial training and was officially declared cured, a new man.

So he remains, but his action still arouses uncertainty. No one will ever say anything on the record, but doubts seem to linger in the minds of some selectors. C4 received some emailed queries from viewers during yesterday's coverage, but, in the absence of any visual evidence, declined to raise the matter.

Clearly the doubts were overcome before this Test. Just as well. He ran in, arms pumping, chest full on to the batsman and worrying the South Africans with balls that sometimes moved extravagantly.

It was not Andrew Flintoff's fault either that South Africa gradually extricated themselves from jail. He bowled gamely but without much luck. He has got fit; his line and length have become reliable. Like Kirtley, he deserved better than 2 for 91.

But there is no justice. Every bowler knows that - instinctively.