Thoroughbred Anderson looks a sound bet to last the distance

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The Independent Online

It might turn out to be a moment in history. The history of recent English cricket, at any rate. At 2.13pm precisely, Nasser Hussain signalled to Steve Harmison to take over the bowling from James Anderson.

While Harmison took off his sweater and walked purposefully to his run-up, Anderson had a word with the skipper. He clearly felt he had another over in him, because Hussain called over to Harmison, who put his sweater back on and turned back towards mid-on.

On the day, Hussain was treating Anderson as his main strike bowler. He opened the bowling and took the new ball as soon as it was due, and he has not even come of age. He had been asked to open the bowling at the start of play yesterday. Given the Finchale End with the gusting wind behind him, he was bending his back, bowling at 85mph and getting enough bounce off just short of a length to embarrass young Dion Ebrahim.

This was the session that ought to have seen Zimbabwe sliding quickly to an inevitable defeat, but Ebrahim and Stuart Carlisle lasted 32 minutes, a lengthy partnership by Friday's standards. Ashley Giles dropped Ebrahim at third slip off Anderson, but the bowler controlled his anguish, and two balls later he had Carlisle caught off bat and pad by Robert Key, charging in from short mid-wicket.

Anderson bowled seven overs in that first spell, four of them maidens, for nine runs and one wicket to add to the one he took on Friday evening. When he came back on after lunch he bowled Grant Flower off an inside edge. In that spell his figures were 6-3-8-1, and he had dismissed three of the top four batsmen for 36 runs. He is still raw, his radar control still needs development and there are too many no-shot balls, but Anderson justified Hussain's decision to make him his main man.

Promotion has come in only his second Test. But he seems to lose his boyish looks on the field. Doing a man's job, he looks like a man. Off the field, however, he is an obliging, rather innocent figure, signing a great bush of autograph books while his older colleagues put their heads down and push through the crowd. But caution dictates that we ask whether success has not happened too early against undemanding opposition.

Refer to the Sage of Longparish, John Woodcock, former editor of Wisden, who recently compared Anderson with the legendary Brian Statham in The Times: "I'm not sure Statham could have produced the late outswinger of a near-yorker length that we saw in the Lord's Test. Good enough to have bowled out anyone who has ever played the game."

But Woodcock worries that Anderson will not be allowed to serve a proper apprenticeship in county cricket: "Anderson, poor fellow, is already being lauded as a world-beater, wrapped in cotton wool and removed from the county scene for 'bonding'." Woodcock concludes that to hope for greater things is surely premature. Quite so.

But the performances are impressive. Returning after tea with the new ball, he soon forced Andy Blignaut to check his shot. The ball took a high parabola dir-ectly over Anderson's head and Hussain, sprinting over from mid-off, took a diving catch behind the umpire. That was 4 for 51. He was replaced by Harmison, who had showed more mixed form, pitching short with minimal radar control, but he took the ninth wicket - his third - with a sharply rising ball that Ray Price parried with his right hand to Alec Stewart.

So it was strange when Hussain replaced him after only one over and gave Anderson another go from the Finchale End. Since the batsman was Douglas Hondo, the move seemed designed solely to present Anderson with a bunny for his second five-for in two Tests.

Main man or teacher's pet? He came close, but in the next over Harmison came on at the Lumley End and yorked Hondo for his own four-for. "I was pretty proud of that," he said. Each had taken 4 for 55 on an unhelpful wicket, but in the long term you would have to back Anderson to settle down as the next main man.