Lost: Anderson's Ashes form. If found please return to Bangalore
Wednesday 02 March 2011
From hero to zero may be pushing it to define Jimmy Anderson's recent career path. Bowlers who perform as he did to win the Ashes for England do not suddenly shed the craft and skill that took them to such heady places.
But Anderson has mislaid something since that epic afternoon in Sydney when he finished with seven wickets in the match, 24 in the series, the ball putty in his hand and the world likewise at his feet. Put simply, he keeps going round the park in one-day matches.
It has to be rectified soon if England are to make much progress in this World Cup let alone win it for the first time. Anderson conceded 91 runs against India on Sunday night which might have been both forgivable and understandable given the irredeemably flat pitch. But it followed 0 for 72 against the Netherlands and two matches before that another analysis of 1 for 91 against Australia. It cannot go on like this.
Anderson is the leader of England's attack with 139 caps and a smart cookie about fast bowling. Not only is he an arch-manipulator of a cricket ball, a genuine swing bowler of both varieties, but he likes to dispense advice and wisdom to his colleagues which they are happy to accept.
He will almost certainly play in England's third match of the competition against Ireland today. It is too early in the piece to overlook such a key figure and the old argument about bowlers being more easily dropped than the batsmen, who have usually got England into a mess, would have some clout. Still, Anderson has been the least proficient of the four seam bowlers England have used so far.
Stuart Broad, who missed Sunday night's match with a stomach virus, practised yesterday, though did not bowl at full tilt. He was confined to his hotel room for two days and although he has now recovered, the after-effects of dehydration make it unlikely that he will be risked yet.
Ajmal Shahzad, his replacement, acquitted himself admirably and it cannot be long before he is a permanent fixture.
He is another reason that Anderson must rediscover his touch soon.
Ireland will still be kicking themselves that they made so many wilful batting errors and lost an opening match to Bangladesh that they could have won. It is difficult to imagine that their bowlers can contain England if the pitch is as unsporting as it was on Sunday. A bold, businesslike move would be to give a couple of overs at the start to their 18-year-old left-arm spinner, George Dockrell, to see if he can make something of Kevin Pietersen's traditional weakness against his kind.
It has become clear that this tournament will be played on surfaces that are full of runs. Bowling will never be more important. The ball will not bounce much, it will rarely swing, it may turn a little. Taking advantage of what little that exists in the conditions will be vital.
That means early wickets when the ball is at least willing to bend in the air a little and repeated variations to ensure that batsmen have to make regular adjustments. England tied with India on Sunday night not only because they had the guts to chase down 338 batting second but because they were not pursuing 378.
So friendly are the pitches that there is no margin for error. Anderson has often only been a matter of inches out, but it is the difference between a half-volley and a yorker. Sometimes he has been more wayward: witness the waist-high full tosses he bowled in the opening match. But he has to bowl most of his overs in powerplays when the fielding limits are at their most draconian and variety is paramount.
Tim Bresnan, who took 5 for 48 on Sunday, including three wickets in an over, in a peerless spell of late-innings bowling, said yesterday: "There is not a lot of margin for error on these wickets. The Holland pitch was a very good wicket and the one the other night was probably the best we've ever seen. Three hundred and thirty plays 330, you can't argue with that as a spectator, can you?
"Jimmy will be disappointed with his performance but he's a quality bowler and we know he can bounce back from that. You can't get away with anything wider than off stump. Even on off stump is all right for some players.
"It's difficult to keep it in an area where they can't score – especially in the powerplays. It's easier to play your shots when the ball is harder and new and that's when Jimmy has got the ball."
But when Jimmy has got the ball and it is hard is precisely when he must take wickets. He might, it is true, have dismissed Virender Sehwag three times in the first over on Sunday – the first ball flew high to slip, the third was narrowly out of cover's reach, the fifth went agonisingly over Anderson's head.
When he pushed one past the groping outside edge of Sachin Tendulkar's bat he knew another opportunity for early wickets had gone begging. In his last 20 matches, Anderson has taken 31 wickets, an adequate return in limited-overs cricket. He would probably settle for having gone wicketless in his first spell of 14 of them. But in this World Cup the team that strikes early will make it much easier for themselves to stop their opponents running riot later.
Bresnan, who has conceded fewer than 50 runs in each of the first two matches, added: "Basically you've just got to work out the conditions, what the pitch is doing, is it slow, quick, can you get away with bowling short? You've got to take all these things into account. Who you're bowling at, what their areas are. The first powerplay's a lot more difficult than at the death, because you can only have three outside the circle. It's a nightmare but it can be attacking as well. Just depends who you've got batting and what you try to achieve. So, yeah, there's a lot to think about." Anderson has more to think about than most.
England A J Strauss (capt), K P Pietersen, I J L Trott, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, M J Prior (wkt), M J Yardy, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, A S Shahzad, J M Anderson.
Ireland W T S Porterfield (capt), P R Stirling, E C Joyce, N J O'Brien (wkt), A R White, K J O'Brien, A C Botha, J F Mooney, D T Johnston, G H Dockrell, W B Rankin.
Likely to be flat, skidding on to the bat and full of runs after early movement. Reverse swing will be the bowlers' fondest hope.
TV: 8.30am - 5.30pm, Sky Sports 1.
Highlights: BBC 2: 10-10.30pm
Weather: Humid with clear skies, with a maximum temperature of 31C.
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