22 March 2013

James Anderson: From yips to swing king

Photograph from Wikipedia Commons 

"Oh Jimmy Jimmy, Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Anderson!"

Hailed as a wonder-kid in the 2003 World Cup, James Anderson then fell into the international wilderness in 2005 as people said he had lost it, but now the Barmy Army are rightly blowing his trumpet again.

Just five wickets short of adding to an illustrious list of names that have taken 300 Test wickets for England, the burly Lancastrian has transformed himself from a wild, but exciting young prospect, to one of the best exponents of swing bowling in the world. 

The 30-year-old burst onto the scene in 2002 with a brilliant spell of 1-12 from 10 overs in an One Day International against the all-conquering Australians. His ability to swing the ball late, at pace and with excellent control earned him high praise from many and the expectations of a country were duly placed on his shoulders. 

Despite a good run of form that included England's first ODI hat-trick against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup, he slowly slipped out of the team as Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher set about forming their fearsome fast quartet. While Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff took the headlines Anderson stayed on the periphery of the side, bowling at cones and tail-enders. 

When Jones was injured during the Test series against New Zealand Anderson must have been champing at the bit to get a chance, only to see Kent's Martin Saggers called up. 

England's toughest task ahead of the 2005 Ashes was always going to be the Tests in South Africa, and with the series tied at 1-1 Anderson was given his opportunity in the fourth match in Johannesburg, amidst claims the ball would swing. Many were baffled by the decision to leave out an in form Simon Jones and Anderson failed miserably to prove his doubters wrong. 

His first innings figures of 2-117 from 28 overs were flattering at best, while his second innings effort of 0-32 confirmed to many that he had the dreaded 'yips' as the ball flew to all parts of the ground, sometimes not even via the bat. What made that performance even more disappointing was that the ball did swing, Matthew Hoggard showing all the skills that Anderson lacked as he took 12 wickets to win England the game and the series. 

Thanks to injuries and loss of form to many of England's bowlers, the seamer found himself back in the side for the 2006/07 Ashes. Like many in an England shirt his efforts could best have been described as pathetic as the Aussies won 5-0. 

However fast forward to the next clash of the Titans Down Under and the Burnley Express was tearing the home batting line-up apart, taking 24 wickets at 26.04. 

He has continued in that vain for a long time now and is England's highest ever international wicket taker. 
Photograph from Flickr
                   England's highest Test wicket-takers
Sir Ian Botham
383
Bob Willis
325
Fred Trueman
307
Derek Underwood
297
James Anderson
295

But how? The Anderson of old would storm in and try and bowl fast swinging yorkers and magical balls almost very delivery. Now he has controlled his aggression into grinding batsmen down with unerring accuracy. 

The fire in the belly remains, always ready to stare a batsmen down and shout at his own fielders. His pace is consistently around the 140kph mark, and this enables the ball to swing late, especially with the Duke ball. 

One of the main reasons is that he has gone back to his old action. When he first played international cricket he bemused and confused because of the tendency to not actually look at the stumps when he delivered the ball. The coaches huffed and puffed and 'corrected' this flaw in his technique. 

This threw him off guard and he seemed to be thinking too much about his technique, forgetting about the basics of swing bowling that had got him so far. Since Andy Flower took over the England set-up, Jimmy has got back to the drawing board and perfected the bowling action that shook the world in 2003. 

Now he is bringing cricket to a standstill and even when he is not running through batting orders, there is always a nagging doubt in the batsmen's mind. 

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