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Mental strength and skill drive Anderson

Posted in England

Few would have expected James Anderson to claim 300 Test wickets when he took just five at the cost of 82.60 apiece in England’s 5-0 whitewash at the hands of Australia in 2006/07.

Many felt that rubber was the chance for Anderson to finally establish himself for his country, four years on from showing his ability on the world stage as a 20-year-old with an array of dazzling performances.

Indeed, the series - somewhat strangely considering he was just 24 - appeared to represent something of a crossroads for the Lancastrian, and it is fair to say he did not fare well.

Australia’s powerful batting line-up proved too much for a swing bowler struggling to get to grips with a changed front-on action, altered due to him having suffered stress fractures.

At the time, I worried for Anderson - whom it appeared may become one of sport's great unfulfilled talents.

The bowler on show was not the same man who famously swung the ball viciously late, at pace, against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup to claim 4-29 in a breathtaking display; his delivery to castle Mohammad Yousuf - then named Yousuf Youhana - would sit happily alongside any of Waqar Younis’ greats.

But as much as those efforts seemed a distant memory when Anderson was being dominated by Matthew Hayden et al, so to do his struggles during that dismal winter Down Under when he reached 300 Test wickets today.

James Anderson

It says a great deal for Anderson’s mental strength, as much as skill, that he has become just the fourth England man to reach a triple-century of five-day scalps.

While others would have wilted after such personal disappointment, Anderson rallied, reverted back to his more familiar action, regained a place in the England team and has since become one of his generation’s greatest bowlers.

It is perhaps fitting that his latest landmark - and most significant to date - was reached versus New Zealand, for it was against the same side that the turning point in his career came.

With England 1-0 down in a three-match series, Anderson celebrated his recall at Wellington with a 5-73 and helped the tourists emerge with a 2-1 triumph.

At the time, fans were facing a familiar questions: was this sort of display going to now become the norm, or would he revert to type and continue to prove inconsistent?

They would never ask, for Anderson was now a world-class performer rather than just a someone capable of world-class performances.

In the ensuing period, with his wickets in Wellington included and up until ousting Peter Fulton today, he had claimed 238 wickets at an average of 28.14, numbers that maybe still do not do justice to his consistency.

No longer was Anderson a man who only performed when the ball was swinging - although it usually does under his mastery - he could now effect the outcome in any conditions.

It is common at this kind of juncture to remember great performances, and there are many - particularly his quite outstanding showings as England beat Australia away for the first time since 1986/87 just over two and a half years ago, a redemption effort some might say.

Yet I remember the previous tour against the old enemy, because his memorable troubles make today all the more remarkable.

Who would have thought then that Anderson would end up having a very realistic chance of surpassing Sir Ian Botham’s long-standing mark of 383 wickets?