Anderson pleasantly surprised by form
James Anderson’s consistently outstanding bowling in the Ashes has been something of a shock to himself.
The paceman is the leading wicket-taker in the series with 21, four of which came today as England dismissed Australia for 280 in the first innings at the SCG.
It could have been even better for the tourists, save for a 76-run ninth-wicket stand between Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus.
However, England were handily placed at 167 for three by stumps, thanks to half-centuries from openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook - the latter’s unbeaten.
Anderson did his job as nightwatchman after Kevin Pietersen’s late demise, but it was figures of 4-66 from 30.1 overs that gave the bowler most pleasure.
“I’ve always known I can bowl this well, but I’ve surprised myself a little bit with the consistency I’ve showed this tour,” he revealed.
“I think I’ve performed really well in all five Tests so far and I’ve got one more innings left to go to add to my tally hopefully.”
Anderson has defied his detractors, who argued he could not swing the Kookaburra ball used Down Under.
“I knew what had been said before I came away, but it didn’t bother me,” he insisted.
“I knew where my game was at and the ability I’ve got, and I’m happy that I’ve made such meaningful contributions towards the successful tour so far.”
His critics cited a return of five Test wickets at an average of more than 80 when England were whitewashed in 2006-07.
While his success on this tour is a reflection of greater skill and maturity than before, the 28-year-old has exploited more favourable bowling conditions - such as the green-tinged wicket and overcast skies in Sydney.
“I think the pitches have been a lot more helpful,” he said. “We’ve had some good overhead conditions as well to bowl in and I think all in all it’s been a lot more helpful than it was four years ago.”
The only period today when Anderson and his fellow bowlers struggled was during Johnson and Hilfenhaus’ fightback from 189 for eight when the former struck an aggressive fifty. Despite that, Anderson was satisfied to keep Australia below 300.
“It is frustrating when that happens but it does happen quite often in Test cricket, the tail wagging,” he admitted.
“It can be difficult, because certainly Johnson and Hilfenhaus had a licence and free rein to swing the bat.
“Sometimes it comes off - and it did for Hilfenhaus, who had his eyes shut for the majority of his innings.
“But if you’d given us 280 when they chose to bat on that pitch we’d have taken it, so we were pretty happy with our couple of days’ work as bowlers.
“The momentum had swung towards Australia, so ‘Cookie’ and ‘Straussy’ took it back for us.”
Cook and Strauss, the latter in particular, rapidly undid Johnson and Hilfenhaus’ good work with a 98-run alliance that punished wayward bowling from the Australian duo.
Cook’s 61 not out gives him a series aggregate of 638 and Anderson believes the opener’s value to the team is at least equal to the likes of Kevin Pietersen.
“He’s got 600, 650 runs in the series - so it’s pretty obvious he’s talented,” Anderson said. “He’s probably more talented than a KP.
“KP’s so naturally gifted with the shots he’s got - and Cookie’s not got that. He relies on the shots that he has got, and his mental toughness to get him through. He’s shown how talented he is this trip.”
Cook, like Anderson, endured criticism prior to this series - primarily during a barren summer by his high standards. However, Anderson believes the opener has rubbished that.
“He’s been fantastic,” Anderson added. “Considering people were questioning his spot during the summer, I think he’s shown exactly what a player he is.
“He’s got huge character, huge talent - and there were no doubts in our dressing room that he was going to perform when he came out here.”
Cook enjoyed a moment of fortune on 46 when he lofted debutant spinner Michael Beer to mid-on, only for umpire Billy Bowden to call for a replay which showed a no-ball.
Anderson approves of such umpire referrals with the technology now quickly available.
“I think it’s good cricket, because the correct decision comes out at the end of the day,” he said.
“I think they should do it more often. I don’t think they use it enough. A no-ball is a no-ball, and you should get the correct decision when he’s bowled one.”
Anderson joined Cook for the last 4.4 overs and again found himself jousting with Johnson.
“It was a tough couple of overs. He was obviously running in hard and striving to get me out,” he recalled.
“It was just nice to get through that bit and do my job for the team and hopefully I can come out tomorrow and score some runs.”
He added: “It’s an important role for the team and I do enjoy the challenge of it and I enjoyed walking back at the end there with ‘Cookie’ having done my job.”
While his initial responsibility tomorrow is with the bat, Anderson is also looking forward to having ball in hand once more.
“We’ve got a really important first couple of hours tomorrow,” he concluded.
“We really need to dig in and get up to their 280 and then, if we can do that, hopefully we can get a decent lead and bowl as well as we have done the rest of the trip.”