James Anderson deserving of GOAT status

The ‘greatest of all time’ tag gets bandied around a lot these days. From a cricketing standpoint, you could probably think up a list of five candidates in your head before you’ve finished reading this sentence. But how many would include James Anderson?

While Anderson is by no means underrated in cricketing circles, he rarely figures in discussions on the game’s greatest fast bowlers. More and more these days commentators and journalists alike are stuck focusing on McGrath, Akram, Walsh, Pollock, Hadlee and other bowlers of their ilk, completely ignoring Anderson’s equally impressive record. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact many commentators have played against these individuals. Perhaps they overlook Anderson because he is still plying his trade – although this does little to explain the ongoing obsession with Steyn. In any case, Anderson should be at the forefront of any conversation around fast bowling now that he is the most prolific test fast bowler of all time.

The criticism constantly levelled at Anderson is that he struggles outside of England. Opposition fans label him ‘Jimmy Clouderson’, taunting him for his inability to swing the ball in dry conditions. There are figures to back these claims up. For instance, with the exception of the 2010/11 Ashes series, Anderson has rather failed to master Australian conditions. But the fact still remains that he has gone past the big name fast bowlers that so often usurp him on the list of cricket’s greatest players. Wickets aren’t the only sign of a good bowler though. Averages must also be considered. That being the case, Anderson’s average of 26.93 stands up against the best of the rest.

This season could well decide how Anderson is remembered in retirement. He has been a vital member of England’s Ashes triumphs and this summer will be no exception. With two largely inexperienced batting line-ups facing off against each other, the bowlers could decide the series. That is not to say there is a shortage of experience in the batting departments of both sides; between Root, Buttler, Stokes, Smith and Warner (pending selection) there is plenty. But for every experienced player, there is a test newcomer or struggler to cancel them out.

Anderson’s bowling action is poetry in motion and his swing and seam a thing of beauty.

There is plenty of cricket to be played ahead of the Ashes, though. Anderson will line up for Lancashire this coming Thursday as they begin their season against Middlesex at Lord’s. With the World Cup to take up a large chunk of the season during May, June and July, Anderson will likely play a big role in Lancashire’s tilt at the Division Two crown – barring injury or forced rest for the Ashes.

The World Cup will also force a significant portion of County matches away from the major venues and onto the reserve grounds. Anderson bowling in Division Two is a tantalising prospect enough. But Anderson with the new ball on those wickets is a dream for lovers of swing and seam bowling.

Anderson should be at the forefront of any conversation around fast bowling

With just 80 wickets to go until he passes the 1000 mark in first class cricket, there are plenty of reasons to follow the Burnley Express this summer. He might not figure in conversations with the likes of Akram and McGrath yet, but once he has 1000 wickets under his belt, his GOAT status can be denied no longer.

Beyond statistics, Anderson has inspired a generation of young cricketers. It is such a shame the UK public has had limited access to cricket on terrestrial TV for over a decade. Had the game been readily accessible, he may have reached out to thousands more.

Anderson’s bowling action is poetry in motion and his swing and seam a thing of beauty. There is much that can be learned from his approach to the crease, gather and release for cricketers of any age and ability. Such skills are barely considered in the T20 trade where words like line and length have been replaced by knuckle balls and cutters. The art of swing and seam will be lost with the increasing saturation of T20 cricket. Anderson may be the last great exponent of the craft.

Ashes 2017 – First Test Review

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If England are to take one positive away from the first test at the Gabba, it is that they were in the contest for the best part of three days.

Many touring sides walk away from the ‘Gabbatoir’ with egos damaged, reputations tarnished and careers in tatters.

This was certainly the case in 2013/14 when England came to the Gabba and were blown away inside four days by Mitchell Johnson.

Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swan were left with psychological scars so deep they returned home, while the remainder of the English dressing room were left puzzled as to how they would go about thwarting the firebrand quick for the rest of the series.

They never recovered and went on to lose 5-0.

Years earlier Simon Jones, who had shown signs he could become a prolific wicket taker for England in the few overs he got to bowl before plugging his knee in the Gabba outfield during the first test of the 2002/03 series, was whisked off to hospital and took no further part in the tour.

England also had 350 runs put on them on that first day at the Gabba after Nasser Hussain decided he would make his bowlers toil on a wicket harder than the M1.

To no one’s surprise, England lost that series 4-1, with their only relief coming in the final test of the summer at the SCG.

The first test of this summer didn’t follow the conventional Gabba storylines.

Few England players have been left with deep psychological scars despite the fact they lost by a margin of 10 wickets and many key batsman failed to score runs – Alastair Cook being one of those.

Normally it is the quicks who leave batsmen fearing for their collective futures at the Gabba. But the first test of this Ashes summer belonged to Nathan Lyon, and you get the feeling most of the English left handers will be losing sleep over him rather than Starc and Hazlewood.

Malan and Stoneman were both dismissed in the second innings prodding at a ball that ripped and turned from the footmarks outside off stump.

They had no set plan to the off spinner and spent most of their time plonking their front foot down the line of off-stump, hoping the ball would go straight on to hit the middle of the bat.

Kevin Pietersen made mention in the aftermath of the first test that the English batsmen must go after Lyon or risk being bogged down and eventually lose their wicket without progressing the score.

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Hazlewood to Malan on Day one at the Gabba.

You sense that Lyon was able to contain the English batsmen during the first test because, to put it simply, they were scared to leave their crease.

With the ball spinning and bouncing, the risk of being stumped became far greater and so they reverted to playing with soft hands and a vertical bat.

Taking one method of dismissal out of the equation betters your chance of survival, right?

Wrong.

Nathan Lyon is the kind of bowler that will immediately find a second gear if he gets a sniff.

With many of the English batsmen new to the test arena, Lyon was able to play on their vulnerabilities and improve his chances of taking a wicket by removing the only way he is ever put off his length – the dancing feet of an opposition batsman.

When a batsmen is rooted to the crease, as the likes of Bell and Prior were back in 2013, Lyon fires.

He can build up pressure around the bat and let the rough do the talking while the batsmen push and prod in the hope of survival.

If a batsmen goes after him, as many touring sides have done in the past, he begins to drop the ball short and run scoring becomes far easier.

The sooner the English batsmen realise this, the better chance they are of scoring over 400 in Adelaide and beyond without Stokes.

Of course, there is still the quicks to contend with, but they will be far less threatening if Lyon isn’t building up pressure down the other end.

For the better part of the first innings at the Gabba, Australia’s bowlers were far too short. This could easily be blamed on the slowness of the Gabba wicket, for if it had played normally – as it did in the second innings – the shorter length may well have been effective.

But the Australian quicks, Cummins in particular, were too short too often and went looking for a mode of dismissal that was nigh on impossible during much of the first innings.

Only when the wicket quickened up did the back-of-a-length tactic pay dividends.

For the reminder of the summer, the WACA aside, the wickets will be flat, slow and might even seam from time to time.

The benefit of touring Australia is that you play on drop in wickets that are devoid of life and flatter than a pancake after a day and a half.

If England can win in Adelaide, there’s a chance they can win the series. Lose and there is no coming back with a game at the WACA to come.

Tests at the Gabba and WACA are so often seen as the games that make or break a series because the wickets at both venues play into Australia’s hands.

But Adelaide is now seen as the tie-breaker because the games at the MCG and SCG could go either way.

If England lose in Adelaide, the series is all but sewn up for Australia.

If this scenario transpires, all hell could break lose in England’s camp and we could witness a repeat of the carnage and turmoil of their last trip down under.

Australia have the upper hand but Adelaide will tell us a lot about the direction this Ashes series is headed.