Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Go-To Man

With 3 hours to go on day one of the 2nd Test at Colombo, in the midst of the searing Sri Lankan sun, and Mahela Jaywardene- ever the thorn in England's side, and young tyro Angelo Matthews set at the crease, Andrew Strauss signalled to Jimmy Anderson to warm up. England main seamer may have been forgiven for throwing his head back in despair, and thinking 'Why me? Why now?" Tired limbs, and an unquenchable thirst, not to mention and soft ball and flat, a dead Sri Lankan wicket- are not ideal conditions for someone once considered as only a swing bowler. But the present day Jimmy Anderson has shrugged that tag, and is now one, if not the premier seam bowler in world cricket. He took his captains instruction on board, and bowled a four over spell that had to be seen to be believed. It was a wicketless spell, but one that demonstrated why he is England's 'go-to man'.

In that spell to the impeccable Jaywardene and dasher Matthews, Anderson had already taken Sri Lanka's 3 top order wickets, including Kumar Sangarkarra for his second 1st ball duck of the series. So in the 29 year olds third spell of a sapping day, he forced an edge from Mahela who hadn't offered up a single chance all day. His captain Strauss was standing at a 1 and a half slip. It cost Anderson wicket number 4. Prior nor Strauss attempted the catch, the ball scuttled way to the boundary. Anderson wiped some sweat off his forehead a resumed business. He found some reverse swing two balls later to trouble Jaywardene, then beat Matthews with one that went straight on, after bowling two inswingers. All class. The next over he followed up with two more enticing deliveries which Matthews also poked at, and missed. All Anderson got was pats on the back or bum, but it was superb bowling. That fact that since that start of 2010, 109 wickets have cost 23 is a measure of his ever growing ability, even more so apparent when his career average is still a touch over 30, despite now being in England's top 5 wicket takers in Test history.

It has taken a while for Jimmy Anderson to become England's number one. When he entered the England fray, Darren Gough and Matthew Hoggard were England's designated swing bowlers. Gough soon pulled the pin, and that opened the door for Jimmy. But with an attack consisting of Harmison, Hoggard, Flintoff and Jones- it was tough going. Anderson needed more strings to his bow. Nobody ever doubted his ability as a swing bowler, but they did doubt whether he could deliver when conditions weren't quite swing friendly. He was in and out of the team from 2003to 2007, and was dealt a harsh blow when he encountered an Australian team in the 2006-07 Ashes series that were hell bent on winning the little urn back. Anderson only lasted 3 Tests, and had 5 wickets at 82.

Anderson was more constantly in the side after that Ashes series, more to do with other seam bowlers poor form and injury, than his steadiness- but things were turning. His English summers were bordering on brilliant, with swing both ways sublime. Suddenly Anderson realised he could do things with a cricket ball few could. Controlled swing both ways, but he added more variation, control to his repertoire, and thus became a better bowler. Something had clicked.

This summer and winter, Anderson, along with Alistair Cook and Chris Tremlett- has enhanced his reputation. Questions and doubts were raised about Anderson's ability to bowl in Australian conditions in 2010/11 after he previous debacle Down Under. 24 wickets at 26 quashed that theory. A long Asian summer encountered the English after a 4-nil whitewash of India in their homeland, where 21 wickets went to Anderson's name. In the seamers graveyard of Pakistan, the man from Lancashire took nine wickets at 27. His partnership with Stuart Broad was one of the only positives from that tour of the UAE. Then a 5-fer last week in Galle showed just how far he had come as a bowler.

A year ago, to mention Jimmy Anderson in the same sentence as South African speedster and the worlds best fast bowler, Dale Steyn- would've been laughable. Now it may not even do Anderson justice. He's not the quickest, nor the tallest. But he skills with red or white ball in hand are unparalleled.

It's hard work for Anderson and all the bowlers in Sri Lanka. But he keeps running in when his captain and team needs him, because he is the undisputed number one. Jimmy Anderson of previous years may have crumbled. No swing, no Anderson, they may have cried. But that tag is no more.

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