The Ashes: Super Jimmy on the charge
There was once a quiet kid who bowled for England with shoulders like the economy.
Perpetually slumped. He mooched back to his mark and bowled the next ball. He looked as if he was enjoying it as much as a wallflower at a Saturday night hop.
This kid was called, more often than not, James Anderson and while he undoubtedly had something it was not harnessed.
Any threat was nullified by the slumped mooching. In his place has arrived — now in full bloom — Jimmy Anderson, swinging scourge of batsmen. Same man, different name, different outlook.
He is perpetually horrible to batsmen not only because of his artful, clever bowling but because he is always on their case, straight-backed, snarling, telling them their fortunes.
Anderson's presence as the leader of England's attack has been a prominent feature of England's attack in the Ashes series in which he is now the leading wicket-taker with 17 at 29.29 runs each.
“Body language is a huge thing — certainly as a bowler,” he said after his instrumental part in propelling England to the innings and 157-run victory in Melbourne which ensured the retention of the Ashes. You don't want to be seen trudging back to your mark so I try and keep my shoulders back and be as positive as possible. In the past I've been pretty average in that aspect. I think there's a difference between people telling me it and me actually seeing it when I look at games back on TV.”
So animated has Anderson been in this series, so blatantly unfriendly to his opponents that they have taken to putting the epithet sledge-crazed before his name in the papers. Jimmy Anderson could have been mistaken for Jimmy Cagney shoving a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face in The Public Enemy.
“It's just part of my natural game,” he said. “It really gets me fired up if the time's right. I don't always do it and I pick the players as well as I possibly can.
“I don't really have a target. It's mainly players not to pick — so someone like Ponting because if you get under his skin, as we've found in the past, he's more likely to dig in because he likes the contest. We might stay away from him. I try and pick my moments well.
“In the past it was just an emotional thing but in the last couple of years I've learned to control it much better. Certainly, whatever goes on when I've bowled a ball, I know I'm 100 per cent focused on what I'm about to do. It's a real spur of the moment thing and part of my natural character.”
He goes to Sydney for the Fifth Test on Monday (“we want to win the series even if we know the Ashes are going home”) as a fast bowler in his pomp.
Anderson burst on to the scene as an English cricketer, his case promoted by appearing in a couple of televised county matches for Lancashire late in 2002 when he was barely 20. He looked the real deal and when he popped up in
Australia that winter, the great white hope, he bowled a memorable spell in a one-day international at Adelaide, 10 overs for 12 runs. A month after that he bowled out Pakistan in a World Cup match on a balmy night in Cape Town with the ball swinging round corners.
The first year went by in a haze of success but then it started to go wrong. His action was fiddled with, he became less effective. Getting back to the old action helped but it is also noticeable that becoming a husband and father has transformed him as well.
“I always knew I had a lot more ability and skill than I showed in my early career,” he said. “But I've improved a hell of a lot. But I also knew I could do it because that's what I did when I first started. I just thought that if I could try and improve as much as I could and work hard at my game, I'd be performing well for England.”
Anderson has become such a downright cunning bowler — a proper swing bowler who can manipulate the ball to his will.
“I think in 2008 Peter Moores wanted me to lead the attack and gave me more responsibility,” he said. “We were in New Zealand and Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison got dropped and me and Stuart Broad came in. He put a lot of faith in us and gave us a lot of responsibility and I think that's boosted my confidence.”
The increased versatility has come from practice and watching other manipulative bowlers like Mohammad Asif in England last summer and Zaheer Khan in India two winters ago. During this series, Anderson became the 13th England bowler to take 200 Test wickets and he could easily become only the fourth to take 300. Batsmen will know he is there.