At the top of his mark at Trent Bridge, there was a broken man. Jimmy Anderson had bowled and bowled and bowled, and somehow Australia still hadn’t lost. There seemed to be a limp, but maybe you just expected one. Australia failed to pass 300, but he bowled more than 50 overs in the match. As Haddin and Pattinson inched Australia to victory, he was brought back.
His physical demeanor was more like a man who had just completed 10 straight Tests, not someone in the first of ten. He took the wicket of Haddin, and won the game. It was his tenth wicket of the game. He beat Australia on his own.
Since then, he’s taken 19 wickets at 47. Since then, across both series, England are 3-2 down.
The ball at the WACA is a on a length outside offstump. George Bailey leans back and slices it past a diving slip to the third man boundary. Australia are 480 ahead.
Jimmy Anderson is no Dale Steyn. Dale Steyn fans will tell you about this for hours on end. As if Anderson should be ashamed of any good press he gets that isn’t lavished on Steyn. Dale Steyn is a god, a myth, created from a tree struck by lightning and found in a crater in small town America. Anderson is a skilful, smart bowler. There have few men ever in the entire history of our planet as good as Dale Steyn; Anderson is not one of them.
Anderson is, however, a supreme mover of the cricket ball.
Pictures of his wrist position should be X-rated. When he gets the ball to swing, it moves as if operated by a remote control. And he can bowl a ball so good that only the off stump can stop it.
The ball goes where he wants it, and when he is at his absolute best, he can move the batsmen around the crease as well. When Robin Peterson was sent out at No 3 for South Africa in the Champions Trophy semi-final, Jimmy Anderson put on a clinic of swing bowling.
Coming around the wicket to the left-handed Peterson, he bowled four straight outswingers to him. A fair skill in itself. But each was gloriously out of reach. All within a few inches of each other. The length and movement meant Peterson could only leave them. Peterson edged towards each ball, so while he started batting on leg stump, he ended up on off stump. The moment he was in front of the stumps, from around the wicket the wicket Anderson swung the ball the other way, Peterson was out lbw.
That’s not good swing bowling, that’s a supervillain.
The ball is full and lovely. George Bailey smashes it back over long off, past the rope, boundary and into the sightscreen area. Australia are 486 ahead.
Anderson had to fight his way in. He’s not built like a fast bowler. He’s built like a greyhound. He’s not massively tall, he doesn’t have the fast bowler’s big behind, and his shoulders are like that of any mortal.
His action is also unconventional. He doesn’t actually watch the ball. His head almost disappears. He’s partly front on, not fully front on or fully side on. His front foot goes off on a random angle like it is ignoring the delivery. He shouldn’t really work.
But he was fast, and had an outswinger. So he made it to the top level. That is enough to take some wickets, but pace isn’t always enough unless you’re scarily quick. And top batsmen can handle consistent outswing, and sometimes the ball doesn’t swing.
It was Troy Cooley who tried to fix Jimmy Anderson. The man who helped turn the ’05 bowling attack into a machine. But Cooley’s ways go in both directions. Mitchell Johnson produced his best deliveries under Cooley, but also lost his way. Kabir Ali never made it under Cooley despite blatantly obvious natural talent. And for Jimmy Anderson, his time with Cooley went very wrong.
With Anderson, any bowling coach could see the flaws. Some will try and fix them, some will suggest he’s doing well even with them. Cooley tried to fix them. They were afraid Anderson would end up with stress fractures in his back. They changed his action – and Anderson ended with stress fractures in his back.
It’s not that surprising that the scientific method didn’t work for him. Even now, Anderson’s run up is not done with a tape measure. It’s the same run up he has had since he was a 15 year old back in Burnley. When marking it, he starts midway between the crease and then leaps his first step, walks his next 13, and then leaps his last one. It’s about as unscientific as anything in Team England, it’s the opposite of eating kale or psychological tests.
The ball is full at leg stump. George Bailey moves his front leg and flicks it to deep backward square and scrambles back for two. Australia are 488 ahead.
At home, Anderson can monster teams. Swing bowlers from other countries drool when they think about England; Anderson had the good fortune to be born there. Whatever it is about the climate that makes the ball swing, it’s certainly helped him.
He was pretty good when he had an outswinger, but a few years in he had a killer inswinger as well. Around this time he also mastered the art of hitting the seam when he needed too. That makes you a pretty good bowler on bowler-friendly wickets.
But in recent years he’s been as good in the UAE and India. A series England lost, and one they won from behind. For a swing bowler to succeed in India or the UAE, that’s not about seam up and get it in the right areas, that’s bowling intelligence. The ability to learn new tricks, and things that will work on unresponsive pitches, is how Anderson helped England get to number one.
Anderson has even learnt from other bowlers who aren’t as good as Dale Steyn. From Stuart Clark and Mohammad Asif, he learnt the wobble ball. A ball that misbehaves because even the bowler is not sure what it is going to do. Perfect for flat pitches and boring interludes. The sort of ball that bad bowlers deliver by mistake.
From Zaheer Khan, he has learnt that sometimes on flat pitches you need to bowl faster, not slower. The modern wisdom is to bowl within yourself, with the occasional quicker ball. But Zaheer was the master of sometimes bowling as fast as his body would allow just to make something happen. For both of them, it often does.
Zaheer also bowled reverse swing. Anderson spent time watching him doing that as well. Then he learned the art himself, even adding the hide-the-ball style that Zaheer and many sub-continental masters had used before. It means that the outswing bowler can wobble one off a flat pitch, or reverse one to cause damage. He has come a long way from the young kid who just swing it away for a few overs.
When he was called the most skilful fast bowler on earth, the Steyn fans took great fun in comparing the records of him and Anderson. But Steyn is the best fast bowler on earth, by a distance. Anderson is the most skilful. One is superman, and is enhanced by the earth’s yellow sun. The other is Batman, flawed but really clever with endless resources that he uses to shield himself from the fact he’s not an alien with endless power.
The ball is a leg-stump length ball. George Bailey drop kicks it to deep backward square for a boundary. Australia are 492 ahead.
There is a theory that in Anderson can’t bowl in Australia. Reputations are hard to change. And the Ashes of 2006-7 left lasting impressions for many Australians. That was a series where Anderson found five wickets at over 80 apiece. Somehow it seemed worse than those figures suggest. They next time he stepped on a plane headed for Australia he must have paused a bit himself.
In 2010-11, he took 24 wickets at 26. There were no five-wicket hauls, although with Australian wickets falling so fast, it was hard for him to collect them all. He just spearheaded an attack, that was mostly without Broad, into completely and utterly smashing Australia consistently.
The series was 0-0 on that morning of Adelaide. The run out of Simon Katich was annoying, but it shouldn’t have meant the end of all happiness for Australia. Jimmy Anderson did. He dragged Ponting into playing the wrong shot at the wrong ball. He tempted Clarke into playing a stupid shot at a beautiful swinging ball. And he allowed Watson to find gully with a normal Watson drive. He only took one more wicket that innings, and two more in the second innings, but that start to the game was something Australia could not recover from.
In Melbourne, after England’s shock loss in Perth, he took four wickets in Australia’s series-losing 98 on Boxing Day. The wickets of Clarke, Hussey, Smith and Johnson: not a tail-ender between them. Any chance of a comeback, or even a less than embarrassing total, was gone with one Anderson spell.
But that was by far Anderson’s best against Australia, home or away. During 2009 his bowling was mute, only 12 wickets. His last Ashes had the glorious start at Trent Bridge, but England won the series with him contributing only an occasional really good spell. And this one, well, it’s been better than 2006-7, but that’s about it.
The Australians and Anderson don’t like each other. Anderson has enjoyed the good times over the Aussies, and his hand-over-mouth sledging technique gets to them. The ‘broken f*cken arm’ comment shouldn’t be looked at as a one-time thing. There is almost no time when Anderson is out on the ground when he isn’t having words with someone.
The Australians probably enjoy it; they just enjoy it more when they’re winning. As Anderson does.
The ball is very full and very straight. George Bailey slogs it into the first few rows of the crowd with a slap. Australia are 498 ahead.
If Anderson were to retire now, which is unlikely given his age of 31, he would retire with a bowling average of 30. It seems very high for a bowler who at times has beheaded Michael Clarke’s off stumps with balls that were as deadly as anything ever bowled.
Like his team, he is a player with a decent record which does not really convey how good he could be at his best. Like his team, he’s a bit flawed, but gets through it through bloody-mindedness and determination. Like his team, he was skilful and smart.
Like his team, he looks tired.
It would be stupid to write off England and Anderson right now. With South Africa having a great team, and India a team of greats, England still rose to the top of the world. They did it with a spearhead with an average average, a splayed front foot and a head that yanks the wrong way. They did it when no one really expected England to be as good as they were, and no one really expected Anderson to do as much as he has.
James Anderson has more Test wickets than every English cricketer other than Ian Botham. From the same amount of Tests, he has more than Willis. That skinny frame and dodgy action has got him there. There is something special about him. Even if he did have the misfortune to be more mortal than Botham or Steyn.
Anderson, and England, can come back. If not now, then one day.
The ball tails in at very nearly yorker length. George Bailey hits it onto the sightscreen covered seats with ease. Australia are 504 ahead.
Anderson bowled a quality delivery to Chris Rogers that went off the edge towards Prior and Cook. Prior never moved. Cook jumped violently but couldn’t hold on. Anderson went back to his mark as the catch was trickling slowly behind them. Australia already had a big lead for no wickets, Broad was off the ground, the birds were gathering above England’s heads waiting for them to fall over.
Anderson should have just kept walking past his mark and into the member’s bar.
Instead he kept bowling, 19 overs in all. His first 18 went for 77. His 19th conceded 28.
After Bailey’s 28th run, Michael Clarke holds his hand up. He doesn’t call the team in with the familiar captaincy gesture where you gesture for them to come in. He just holds his hand up like a police officer stopping traffic. Stop. You’ve done enough.
It was quite clear, for now at least, Anderson and England were done.
It’s not a long walk from either team hotel to the WACA. For the Australians, they have one hill to climb, and then are pretty much at the ground. For England it’s even closer. It would be an idyllic walk through the heavenly Queen’s Gardens.
But if you’re a player, you don’t walk to a Test cricket ground. You’re driven. You just arrive to play some cricket. The WACA isn’t like other grounds. Perth, like Chennai and Dubai, seems to be closer to the sun than other places. It feels like you are part of some alien child’s magnifying-glass torture experiment. The Fremantle doctor seems like a myth most of the time, lazily mentioned by commentators from their air conditioned booths. People think tall bowlers are picked here because of the bounce, but it’s mostly so the batsmen have some shade.
The ground is a throw back to the old Australia; hard, but fair. The footpaths are stained as you walk in. Weird liquids drip on you in old buildings. The toilets are concreted bunkers that smell like a short ball from Mitchell Johnson. The temporary stand near the scoreboard had temporary chairs, and was banned years ago by the Geneva convention. Even the grass banks are too hot for human use on days like this. The entire place was built to test the spectators as much as the players. If there was a Caribbean-style pool at the WACA, it would boil people.
On the field you have the WACA pitch. Which carry by carry, crack by crack is trying to get back to its glory days. One ball from Peter Siddle just jumped away. Johnson’s deliveries tended to punch Brad Haddin’s hands. It’s the same pitch on which Rod Marsh kept wicket with steak in his gloves. Today, that very steak would have cooked after minutes.
Then there are the cracks. Before the Test, the WACA looks virginal, by the end of day two it looks like it’s turning tricks to pay for its habit. The ball has barely kissed anything at the moment. But everyone has seen the Youtube clip of Curtly Ambrose sending a ball under Greg Blewett’s stumps, or even worse, the second XI game where David Warner and Daniel Smith were almost killed.
England chose this surface, and this ground, to play their must-win innings. They did that through constant bad play. Kill or be killed is sort of perfect here. With Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook at the crease, it was jumper-punch Test cricket.
Pietersen refused to play a shot. Pietersen refused to run silly singles. Pietersen was stopped from scoring. Cook played Cook. Had a bell rung every time he used the middle of the bat, you would’ve heard it once an hour. The inside of his bat had a magnet, the outside of his bat was in full squirting mode. It wasn’t the non-sweating, lizard god Cook of 2010-11, it was the battling captain trying to save his team.
They toughed, grinded, stuck and ducked. Balls barely missed the outside edge. Near chances veered off the open face through gaps. Catches almost carried. Run-outs seemed only a pause away. Mis-hits dangled in the air. Late swing provided strange noises from fielders. There was saliva dribbling off the chins of the slips.
But they kept fighting. The showman and the office manager. The men who beat India. The players who can change a session, day or Test. The two men who will soon be first and second on England’s all-time scoring list.
Against them was a swarm of bowlers suited to the surface. Johnson eats batsmen here. Ryan Harris finds a good length and strangles it. Siddle, who will run in to bowl through razor wire. And Watson’s gentle-looking dangerous swing.
Clarke used them like it was a T20 game. Changing them at will. Keeping them all fresh, seemingly all the time. To mock England more, the pitch gave seam movement, and the hard cloudless sky still allowed some swing. When the sun, pitch and opposition weren’t enough, Clarke egged the crowd to get behind Johnson as he ran in. Forty-three degrees, 15,000 screaming fans and Mitch’s moustache. It’s a lot to take in.
KP and Cook survived. One playing against muscle memory, the other playing a teeth grinder. It seemed like England had finally won a big battle. Cook was set, KP was in. Maybe the hollow sounding “We’re gonna win 3-2″ chants were right.
Then Nathan Lyon came on. It should have been a break, instead it was the end of the partnership. If you are wondering why so many stupid-looking shots are played at the WACA, it’s because you don’t understand the sun, the ground and the pitch. Cook didn’t play the cut shot badly through stupidity or hubris, he did it because of everything that went before it. Not the humiliation at the Gabba or the crushing loss in Adelaide, but 212 minutes of standing out there and playing this in-form, carnivorous side in this mood, in this climate.
Soon after Pietersen was stopped, mocked and changed by Australia, the WACA seemed to get him out as well. When Siddle finally took his wicket he howled like a savage dog over a fresh corpse. That was the WACA scream. Had England survived, had they prospered, had they even just held their own, Siddle would have screamed the same way, but for a different reason.
England thought they had Australia’s measure coming into this series. They were right to think so. This series has been the very opposite of a lovely stroll in the park for England. It’s been a limp through an abattoir being chased by an English-hating, axe-wielding maniac.
Today their best men, trying their hardest, fought as hard as they could. England still lost the day. Tomorrow they walk out into the WACA heat once again.
Alastair Cook tweeting about his surprise wedding and putting up a picture of him leading his new bride on a white stallion would seem odd. As would a picture of Michael Clarke dressed in military fatigues or with a dead deer at his feet. Cook isn’t about to make much of his body a canvas or become an underwear model. Clarke isn’t likely to wear gumboots and tend to his livestock before dawn. Clarke and Cook are two very different human beings.
A Google image search of Michael Clarke will come back with a man who has posed for as many cameras as any wannabe starlet. Red carpets, underwear shots, shoots for GQ, he has done them all. If you’re an Australian cricket fan under 20, you could be forgiven for thinking Michael Clarke has spent your entire life staring back at you in a sultry way or with a painted on smile.
Cook’s image search is mostly made up on him looking stern or pensive. Generally on the field, or at a press conference. There are very few shots of him doing anything fun (painting nude girls and holding up a cricket bat in a naked shoot are the exceptions, not the rule). On the occasion he does pose, you often get a look at his hypnotising eyes, eyes that seem to trap you, and which would be better used by a dystopian dictator looking to instill fear into the population.
Clarke’s image and game has been sharpened and pushed by a series of well-meaning people. Some who have made much money and great reputations from a stylish batsman. Like many working-class kids who find money and fame early on, he made the most of it. He bought showy cars, lived in the flashy part of town, ate at the cafes where the paparazzi hung out, and dated a C-grade celebrity.
Slowly he grew out of that. At its worst, his hometown paper called him a tosser, he felt the need to tweet an apology for not walking, and he was booed at the SCG in his first Test as captain.
Cook’s life has always been a bit more straightforward. He went to Bedford, a school with Nobel Laureates, Olympians and the school attended by Sir George Arthur Harwin Branson, Richard Branson’s grandfather. He was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral School. Two-and-a half years into his international career he had his first book out. In it he tried hard to distance himself from his middle class background, but a few paragraphs later talked of how his family often skied.
He is barely seen off the cricket field, isn’t the face of many products and almost unbelievably for a professional sportsman of his age, isn’t on twitter. Cook left his wedding in a tractor.
The off-field images of them are also pretty accurate of the way they play.
Cook looks after himself, does what he has to do, isn’t always stylish or pretty, but is damn effective. Leads from the front at No. 1. Takes few chances. It has been written that if he had to, Alastair Cook would give birth. It wouldn’t be pretty, but he would get it done. Robotic and efficient, at his best he makes massive scores without a bead of sweat. The sort of leader his country has always respected.
Clarke is stylish on and off the field (I’m sure that line has been used in the thousands of lifestyle pieces on him). When he started he was brash and aggressive, now he is smooth and reliable. Bats down the order, in part, to shield himself from the swinging ball. Willing to gamble, but never as much as people say. A nervous starter with pretty feet who once set, especially in his home country, is almost impossible to dislodge. A new leader for a changing country.
But Cook and Clarke have had amazingly similar cricket careers. They even both married women they knew before they could realistically be presumed to be future Test captains.
Clarke started in Bangalore with a blazing hundred. Baggy green on his head, he was the symbol for Australia winning their final frontier in India. Cook started in Nagpur, holding England’s top order together with a half century in the first innings. Then making a hundred in the second dig to push the game beyond India’s reach.
Both had major obstacles to overcome once they had been in the side for a few years. Cook’s technique had never been textbook, but with a stagnating career average (it was roughly 42 for 30 Tests), and a sudden angled bat that kept nicking off, Cook had to do something just to get on the tour to Australia in 10/11. In the second innings of a game Pakistan were dominating, Cook made 110. Two Tests later he would play Australia at the Gabba.
Clarke was the golden boy of Australian cricket. He had won in India. Taken on the English bowlers. And seemed indestructible. But he got trapped in a vicious cycle as the boy who didn’t want to be dropped. The worse his form got, the more the press talked about this once in a generation boy not being the missing link. It seemed like he could think of little else. Eventually he was dropped. But thanks to a gift that has happened to many Australian batsmen (a Shane Watson injury) Clarke was brought back, cleaned up his game, kept the ball on the ground and made lots of runs.
They both know what it’s like to play in one of their countries’ most successful teams. Clarke came into the team in 2004, has won a World Cup, and enjoyed everything that goes with being the number one Test team in the world. Cook was a major part of England becoming number one, and producing a new, if albeit brief, golden era for English cricket.
Both were also the apprentices for the top job well before they got it. Despite much psychological testing, a thorough interview process and England’s endeavour to do things by the book, Alastair Cook was only not getting the job if he shot Giles Clarke in a hunting accident.
In the modern era no new Australian captain has been as hated as Michael Clarke was. Yet, there simply was not another option when Ricky Ponting stepped down. Strauss and Cook would appear far more similar than Ponting and Clarke, but the “break your arm” comment would suggest that both men learn from their seniors.
As captains, both men have averaged more than their career average. Cook even managing to do so without the very constant daddy hundreds he made under Strauss. His overall average should still be higher, but despite this he will retire England’s highest-ever scoring Test batsman, unless a giant anvil lands on him within the next two years. Clarke is averaging a staggering 63 as captain despite the fact he took over after one of the worst summers of his career. In the summer of 2010/11 Clarke averaged 17 in seven Tests. Suddenly being called a tosser and booed wasn’t his biggest problem.
They both changed their careers, and public perceptions, with Everest runs. Before Cook’s innings at the Gabba last Ashes, he was seen as a one-dimensional plodder who could score handy runs but wasn’t a game or series changer. That one innings, followed up with Adelaide, changed how everyone saw him. In two series against India he did it again. And suddenly the plodder became a batting monolith.
Clarke had taken over as full-time captain for tours to Sri Lanka and South Africa. As is often the way, Australian tours, Ashes aside, are not really poured over the same way. Instead of 20 to 40 press in the box, it’s two to four. Instead of free to air, it’s cable. So, even though Clarke played one of his greatest innings in South Africa and drew an away series with a heavyweight, few noticed.
They did notice when Australia managed only to draw a home series against New Zealand. So in his next series, against a rapidly declining India, he had to win, and win grand. The winning took care of itself when at Sydney he changed his public perception (probably forever) with a triple century whilst wearing the baggy green. Tosser pretty boy was gone; true Australian hero was born.
As captains, both men lead much as they play. Clarke is attacking and stylish, yet still flawed. He’s not the tactical genius he gets credit for, nor the terrible man manager everyone assumed. He has survived two coaches being sacked, stood down from his selectorial duties and is currently running a team much in his own image. Not for the first time Australian cricket looks like it could be getting something right, but it’s fallen hard on its face in recent times after good series. Whether they are playing well or not, Australia still seems one massive collapse from a disaster, something Clarke’s batting will try to hold together.
Cook’s captaincy is well thought out, predictable and safe. He took over a machine that had just started to show some wear and tear. Strauss, Hugh Morris and Geoff Miller are all gone or going, Andy Flower is the only one who remains from England’s amazing two years. When Cook took over, he fixed the broken Pietersen situation, defeated India from behind and then won the Ashes. He was on a roll.
Now his team has run into Mitchell Johnson, every flaw they had has been opened up. His team currently look a bit like him, out of answers, and unable to capture the magic they had previously. But they are still the team that made it to number one, with most of the original playing parts still here. Cook and his team can still turn this around.
Somehow these two men with similar cricket histories and vastly different personalities have ended up playing their 100th Tests together. Thanks to Mitchell Johnson, the news is not really about them. And with Sachin clocking up 200, and many other players passing 150, 100 Tests is no longer the number played by the only the iron men of cricket. Clarke has brought his up in under 10 years, Cook in under eight.
You could argue who is greater and who has achieved more, but such conversations are mostly useless and should be kept in bars or 2am twitter fights where they belong. They’re both pretty damn good. And they both have interesting futures as leaders.
Clarke will hope this isn’t a fluke and Australia is finally back. Cook will be trying to work out what has caused this decline, and what to do next.
Before this series Clarke had the Ashes loss and Ricky Ponting’s book to contend with. People had openly started questioning whether he was the right man to lead Australia forward. Mike Hussey’s book brought back the Clarke/Katich rift, and even the Hussey/Clarke rift, even if in both cases Hussey was trying to be nice. Alastair Cook just tended to his sheep and gave the occasional positive press conference.
There are still many photos to be taken of them in their careers, or even in this series. Clarke’s current twitter avatar is one of him looking disappointed in the rain of Old Trafford. The promotional photos for the Ashes before the series have Cook with an easy smile on his face, next to a stern Michael Clarke. Right now, those photos could be reversed.
Click here for two men still sounding a bit stunned after Adelaide.