“Over the last few years, if I bowl a good ball I just try to think about everything I did during that ball, how it came out of my fingers, how it felt and just try to recreate that over and over again.”
From the time James Anderson first came onto the international cricket scene in 2002, he has improved with every ball that he has bowled. That massive improvement has come about because he goes about his business with a method, using all the resources that he has at hand, may it be the coaching staff or the technology.
He was not a special bowler to begin with as he did not have enough in his arsenal. He developed the in-swinger largely working with his coach Mike Watkinson and worked hard with to get that important facet of the game in the nets.
He went through a phase of self-doubt when he tried tweaking his natural action and that left him with a stress fracture that could have possibly finished his career. He has traveled a lot since and is the most critical cog in the English wheel at the moment. All others are important, but James Anderson is simply indispensable.
Anderson’s a master of many arts now. He can swing the new ball both ways with an action that makes it terribly difficult for the batsmen to read it. That allows him to induce the false shot and his spell against South Africa in the Champions Trophy semi-final was testament to the control he has over his swing. The fact that he can execute it to perfection against both right-handed batsmen and left-handed batsmen makes him a rare commodity.
He does it even better with the cherry that is used in Test cricket. While most swing bowlers are a finished commodity after their first fiery spell, he cannot be shoved out of the game when the ball has worn out. That is yet another facet of his game that he did not have when broke into the international scene. He developed it by looking at opposition bowlers, working with the coaching staff and with the help of technology.
It was before the Ashes of 2010-11 that was to be played in Australia when he was worried regarding his skills with the ball when he briefly lost the ability to swing. He wanted to develop a line-and-length, a delivery that would make him difficult to get away and keep him in the game.
“We were playing Pakistan at the time and Mohammad Asif had a ball that wobbled a bit, hit the seam and moved both ways. Our batsmen were saying how difficult it was to face, so we got footage of it and tried to figure out how he did it,” Anderson was quoted as saying in an interview last month. The plan worked very well and he tasted enormous success at the Ashes finishing with 24 wickets in the five-match series as the highest wicket taker.
The world watched with greater disbelief when Anderson starts to reverse the old ball. It is something that has done wonders for the team so much so that it has prompted critics to doubt how they do it.
England have been wrongly accused of ball tampering in the process. The art of bowling reverse swing is something that requires individual talent that Anderson has but also a team-effort as they legitimately ensure that the ball wears out in a particular way.
“You have an idea of when the ball will reverse swing because it will be dry and scuffed up on one side. The whole team has to be involved. If one person with sweaty palms catches the ball on the dry side then it ruins it for everyone,” Anderson explained giving a rare insight into the technique and effort that goes in the magical delivery.
Anderson is no stranger to the heat and hostility of the Ashes and has been part of the series ever since his first appearance in the squad of 2005. He is always up for a battle with the batsman may it be with the ball or through a cold stare, an occasional word. It’s a part of the process of getting the adrenaline going for him.
Darren Lehmann’s Australian side will be doing a lot of that and Anderson is prepared to do his bit. “First and foremost, it will be my skill trying to bowl accurately and put pressure on batsmen like that. Then, at certain times, I might go a little more aggressive with some verbals,” he revealed his plans for the upcoming Ashes.
Anderson has gradually climbed the ladder and is now a part of the elite group of English players who have taken over 300 Test wickets. He has deserved his place in the ranks of Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Fred Trueman. He will have an opportunity to surpass Willis in this series and grab yet another personal milestone.
However, that will be a secondary thing for him at the moment. The primary task will be to spearhead England’s bowling department and set the standards for the likes of Stuart Broad and Steven Finn.