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John Stern: Maturing Anderson has reason to smile

May 19th, 2009 by John Stern in England, Test cricket, The Ashes

James Anderson still speaks publicly with all the animated enthusiasm of Kevin the Teenager but his bowling is considerably more expressive.

The ball that removed Sulieman Benn in West Indies’ second innings at Chester-le-Street – a wicked late away-swinger from around the wicket that demolished the left-hander’s off stump – told us more eloquently than the man himself could have done how far Anderson’s bowling has come.

Let us dare to dream that the left-hander on the receiving end was not a West Indian No.8 but, say, Phillip Hughes, Simon Katich, Mike Hussey, Marcus North or Mitchell Johnson. Australia’s top eight against South Africa at Johannesburg in February contained five left-handers.

There are not many bowlers who can regularly swing the ball conventionally both ways without an obvious change of action but Anderson is one. And his bowling to left-handers was outstanding, whether pushing the ball across and swinging it late further towards the slips or, as he did for Benn, angling in from around the wicket and swinging it away.

With the addition of his reverse-swing capability, he has all the weapons and in Stuart Broad he has a willing and complementary junior partner. The two are friends and, as Broad says in the forthcoming issue of TWC, that enhances their on-field combination.

Anderson’s record is nothing to write home about – yet – but it is going in the right direction, his heroics in Durham lifting him inside the world’s top ten bowlers for the first time. His overall Test bowling average is 34, too high for a Test opening bowler, but given the batsman-dominated times in which we live, not as bad as it seems. In 21 Tests since the start of England’s home series against India in July 2007, he has taken 82 wickets at 31 with four five-wicket hauls. Forty-seven of those wickets have come against New Zealand and West Indies but 33 of them have come against tougher opponents in South Africa and India.

It is so tempting to get wildly excited about our Ashes prospects on the back of Anderson’s performance, which would be foolish.

But after the fanfare of 2003 and the unbearable burden of expectation, he has matured and developed gradually to the point where he is one good series from being a world-class bowler. He might even smile if we won the Ashes.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes | 4 Comments »

Telford Vice: It could be a Russian novel

May 19th, 2009 by telford vice in IPL

Wilkin Mota steps up to bowl the 18th over for the Deccan Chargers against the Kings XI Punjab in Johannesburg on Sunday. That prompts those of us with pretensions to journalism to hark back to the basics of the craft: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

The Chargers need 43 off 18 balls. Rohit Sharma has that lean and hungry look in his backlift. Yuvraj Singh could, should, choose another victim. Instead, perhaps still dizzy in the dazzle of his second hat-trick, Yuvraj picks on a man who hasn’t bowled a ball all day, a bits-and-pieces cricketer who struggles to hold down a place in Mumbai’s first class side, whose most notable feat is a gritty 33 in 102 minutes in the 2007 Ranji Trophy final.

Mota’s first two balls are decent: yorker length and straight. Squeezed singles are all that accrue. Then the wheels fall off in the shape of two full tosses – both of them smote over midwicket for six by Sharma, who angles the sixth ball to the fine leg boundary for four. The pathos is palpable as Mota collects his cap and slinks into the shadows.

Enter Brett Lee to bowl a furious over of quasi-bouncers which costs 14 runs, but also brings the run out of Ravi Teja.

Eleven needed from the last over, and Irfan Pathan to bowl it. Sharma takes two off the first, and thick edges the second to the third man fence. The third is an ugly wide. Then Pathan spears Sharma’s guard. Bowled him! Leg stump! Two balls later, Pathan gets under RP Singh’s skied hoik … and takes the catch. Four required from the last ball.

Into the cauldron plops one Jaskaran Singh, aged 19 years and 255 days. Again: Who? What? Why? Where? When? In his only previous biggish match, a Vijay Hazare Trophy North Zone game at Una in February, Jaskaran retired hurt after scoring 28 for the Punjab against Haryana.

And now this. But there’s a modicum of mercy – the batsmen crossed and Ryan Harris will face the last ball. Harris? An Aussie who has an ODI and 35 first-class caps to his credit. He makes a manful effort to slap it through the covers, but the fielding is done and the Kings XI win by one run. Bathos blips benignly in the afternoon sun.

It could be a Russian novel. It isn’t. It’s the IPL.

Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa who writes regularly for The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in IPL | 1 Comment »

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