James eyes Lord's Test
James Anderson has known some dramatic peaks and troughs during his five-year England career, and his recent tour of New Zealand provided a perfect microcosm. He was recalled for the second Test in Wellington and starred with five first-innings wickets en route to a series-turning victory, but one match later in Napier his form had fallen away, and he was dispatched for more than six an over by Stephen Fleming in the first innings and Matthew Bell in the second.
"It was very frustrating, and I can't really put my finger on why it happened," said Anderson during the launch of Adidas's new England kit at Lord's. "It's just the way it goes I guess. The pitch was flatter in Napier, but in both innings I started off reasonably well and it was coming out quite nicely. Then I had one bad over, and I tried to chase it from there."
Bad overs are a bit of a feature of Anderson's game. In Kandy before Christmas, he was clubbed for six fours in consecutive balls by Sanath Jayasuriya, and in Napier, he suffered arguably a greater ignominy, as Bell -- a batsman who had failed to pass 30 all series -- hurtled towards a half-century with four blows in a row of increasing authority.
The impression is that Anderson's head drops as soon as a batsman gets after him, but the man himself disagreed with that suggestion. "It's not getting down on myself, but when you've gone for 30 off five, you have got to pull it back from there," he said. "My thought process is to bowl maidens, and I want to be pretty economical, keeping the run-rate below three. I was probably chasing it a bit too hard rather than being patient and letting the rhythm do it like I did in Wellington."
"I call myself a strike bowler, and the way I see myself is getting wickets," he said. "But when you play against a team like New Zealand, who want to hit boundaries, you want to stop them doing that. Sometimes that might be about bowling maidens to get that pressure."
Anderson suffered an injury setback during the Wellington Test, when he twisted his ankle in a warm-down game of football, but by and large, he said he felt as comfortable in his run-up and action as he has been for several years. There was a period around 2004-05 when Anderson's action, which involves an awkward dipping of the head at point of delivery, was completely deconstructed by the England coaching staff. But all that, he believes, is now behind him.
"I think I have gone full circle now," he said. "I have played for five years now, and I think technically and physically my action is as good as it is going to get. I am comfortable now it feels really natural, and I don't think there is an awful lot more I can do with it. When I first started, my leading arm was somewhere behind the back of my head. Now it is somewhere where it feels comfortable."
Anderson returns to competitive action for Lancashire next week, but the countdown is already on for the first Test of the rematch against New Zealand at Lord's on May 15. It is a venue at which Anderson enjoys bowling, and against India last summer, he picked up his second five-wicket haul in three visits.
"It's a nice place to bowl -- there is a nice slope, and it generally swings here," said Anderson. "My mentality might change if the ball is swinging. Like in Wellington, I might bowl more attacking lines and I might be happier going for more runs than I would do if it wasn't swinging. I just think you do better at some grounds than others. I don't up my game when I play here, it just happens."
There is no guarantee that Anderson will feature in the first Test, however. His poor showing in Napier has given hope of a recall to Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison, the men who made way for his Wellington comeback, and also looming on the horizon is Anderson's Lancashire teammate, Andrew Flintoff, who has completed 28 overs in his comeback match at Surrey -- his heaviest workload since the Brisbane Test in November 2006.
"It's going to be a real battle for places. No-one's place is set in stone," said Anderson. "We have all got to perform in the first couple of games of the season. Hoggy and Harmy are going to be fighting like mad to try and get their places back, then you have got the other guys like Chris Tremlett, Liam Plunkett and Saj (Mahmood) at Lancashire too. There are a lot of people in the hat."
As for Flintoff, Anderson was cautiously optimistic that -- after four ankle operations -- he might this time get back to his best form. "Every time he has an operation he has come back strong," said Anderson. "So it is just whether this time it is for good. He has always been pretty fit, and his bowling always seems to look after itself. He gets it down at good speeds when he needs to."
From his own point of view, Anderson knows what he needs to do to cement his place in the England team. "Fitness wise I am fine, so the only issue is mental," he said. "I know I can bowl that well, it is just about figuring out what went wrong in that game (at Napier). A lot of it is about rhythm and just being relaxed, and not trying to fight myself and bowl quicker when it is not going so well."