Vodafone Men's Ashes
Whoa, Jimmy, Jimmy! Australia and Anderson say goodbye
Across 19 years, six tours and 21 Ashes Tests in Australia, England's evergreen paceman has experienced more heartache than happiness, and despite his incredible evolution, his relationship with this country has always been somewhat strained
Walking off the Sydney Cricket Ground last week, with Stuart Broad beside him and an Ashes Test safely drawn, Jimmy Anderson wore a look of grim satisfaction. There were fleeting flashes of a smile, too, if you watched closely enough, but even those glimpses told a tale more of relief than happiness.
Though he had a bat in hand, the moment was a microcosm of Anderson's time in Australia across the back half of his exceptionally lengthy career: of attempting to salvage a shred of honour for his team; of invariably partnering Broad, his willing ally; and of picking up the slack for a batting group that had ultimately failed its task.
We know now that long walk off the SCG with Broad beside him was our last image of Anderson in Australia, with the 39-year-old a surprise omission from England's XI for this final Vodafone Ashes Test. And so it was fitting that he could finally find something to smile about; it is a strange cricketing quirk that the most prolific Test paceman of all time has had very few reasons to be cheery in this country for a long time now.
In fact, it has been more than 11 years since England won a Test on these shores – their longest drought here in Ashes history outside the two World Wars. Through that time, Anderson has played in 13 of 14 winless matches, including 11 defeats, toiling through more overs than any of his compatriots and matching his old mate Broad wicket for wicket, with 39 apiece.
Of course, for competitive types like Anderson, wickets matter little in losing causes, which is a harsh truth to consider when you have taken more of them (169) in more losses (60) than any other bowler in Test history.
A quarter of each of those figures have come in Australia. It amounts to a lot of loss, a lot of frustration, a lot of unrewarded toil. Many times has Anderson been described as brave and valiant and courageous – even remarkable and heroic – in the face of these repeated Ashes defeats.
Almost two decades after he first toured here, all that pain and suffering goes a long way to explaining why he also views Australia as the scene of perhaps his greatest triumph. And that, in turn, is one part of what makes his relationship with Australia – and Australia's with 'Jimmy' – a challenging one to quantify.
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Pink ball. Green pitch. White strip. (Forecast) grey skies. The colours seemed to have set the scene for a suitable Anderson send-off in Hobart, where conditions at Blundstone Arena are about as close to the veteran paceman's home ground of Old Trafford, Manchester as one will find in Australia.
Before a ball had been bowled, it felt like another selection misstep from England; the last time this venue hosted a Test match, in 2016, Australia were skittled for 85 on the opening day by a South Africa team inspired by Vernon Philander – the contemporary quick perhaps most comparable to Anderson in terms of skill-set.
Yet with the premier swing bowler of his generation instead consigned to the sidelines, we will be left to ponder what might have been had he finally been presented with conditions tailor-made to his craft in Australia.
Throughout Anderson's undulating 19-year adventure in this country, there have been moments, spells, even a day where the stars have aligned. More on those later. But Hobart? Well Hobart might just live on as the venue that never was for the ageless England paceman. Not an Ashes venue until now, he has played a grand total of four matches there – three largely meaningless ODIs, and a washed-out warm-up against Australia A in 2013.
One has to wind the clock back all the way to January 11, 2003 to find his most noteworthy outing at what was then Bellerive Oval. In his fourth One-Day International, and second against Australia, he bounced back from a debut hammering at the hands of Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting in Melbourne to take both their wickets, though it would be another couple of tours before he could legitimately claim bragging rights over anyone from that golden Australian era.
Ponting and Gilchrist have long since ushered themselves into the commentary box, where this summer they have offered their views on all things Anderson: surprise at his omission from the first Test in Brisbane; appreciation of his mastery in Melbourne; and admiration for both his longevity as well as his evolution as a bowler, much of which they have witnessed first-hand.
Anderson has said more than once that he would love to go back in time and bowl at those legends again with the skills he now possesses; that the sliding doors of history had overlapped more kindly for him in that regard.
Four years ago he told Wisden Cricket Monthly: "In 2010 I had some success (against Ponting), but before that I hated it – I was scared of bowling at him. I'd love to bowl at (Matthew) Hayden, Gilchrist and people like that now, because it might be a bit more of an even contest."
Instead his most absorbing Ashes battles have come against Michael Clarke and David Warner, with whom his fortunes have generally ebbed and flowed with home and away series, and Steve Smith, who has had his measure (Anderson dismissed Smith three times in the 2010-11 Ashes, but has taken his wicket only five times in 39 innings since, and just once before the Australian has reached 50).
Anderson suffered through the ignominy of the 2006-07 Ashes whitewash without having been part of England's historic triumph in 2005. He played three Tests, took just five wickets, and haemorrhaged 4.42 runs per over. Ponting savaged him in Brisbane and Adelaide, taking 104 runs off the young right-armer from 129 balls faced.
It was a series that reaffirmed the Australians' belief that Anderson was a bowler who, once on the back foot, could comfortably be kept there. Commenting on his body language in a team dossier in 2009, then Australia batting coach Justin Langer even went as far as to label Anderson a "pussy" (like Ponting and Gilchrist, he has since expressed his admiration for Anderson's career).
It is the Jimmy Anderson of these early tours who many Australians have happily fixed in their minds forevermore; the Jimmy Anderson who was routinely and dismissively dispatched by Australia's cavalcade of brilliant batting bullies. Whatever his achievements, however good he has become, there are those who have never been willing to separate their view of Anderson from that nagging undercurrent of Anglo-Australian hostility.
Perhaps it is because, in the intervening years, he hasn't engaged with the crowds in the way even England's villains like Broad and Kevin Pietersen have. Most have not been privy to his dry press conference humour, and witnessed from afar instead the fast bowler who, in his early days, appeared a little too cocksure for Australian tastes, or more recently, has sometimes presented as either arrogant or antagonistic.
Maybe it is a good thing. Maybe we need these divisive types for the Ashes to thrive. Talk to Anderson though, look at his performances, and it becomes clear that such a narrow, anachronistic framing is doing the man a disservice. He has bought into the Ashes theatre in his own way, even half-joked about 'hating' Australians, and he is funny and self-deprecating when he reflects on George Bailey, Michael Clarke, Mitchell Johnson and getting ready for a 'broken f---en arm'.
"At the time, it just made me want to dig in a bit more, and just make sure they didn't get me out – I think I got out next ball," he grins as he speaks to cricket.com.au about the events of that hot Brisbane afternoon back in November 2013, when he infamously told Bailey he would love nothing more than to punch him in the face.
"I've seen (Bailey has) added it to his after-dinner speaking repertoire, which is great.
"I understand how the game goes, especially in high-pressure situations like the Ashes. When it gets heated, things can happen, and things get said, but for me it stays on the field.
"I'm certainly not one to take grudges away from the game."
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As it turned out, Anderson was made of sterner stuff than the likes of Ponting and Langer had expected. Shrewder, too. Far from being defeated by a couple of chastening tours, he put his head down and worked on his craft, studying the world's best fast bowlers and storing snippets of advice along the way. Ironically, a key piece of wisdom that stays with him came from an Australian rival.
"One of the biggest things that helped me develop my game was hearing Glenn McGrath talk about the way he practiced," the 39-year-old says. "He practiced with a ball that didn't swing, and was just relentless with the areas that he bowled.
"Then if he got to the ground and it did swing, that was a bonus, and you try and make the most of that. But generally it's just trying to be as relentless as you can in that (top of off-stump) area."
Armed with that knowledge, and having also watched and learned from swing-bowling contemporaries Dale Steyn and Zaheer Khan, Anderson returned to Australia for a third tour in 2010-11, and produced the finest away series of his Test career.
In five Ashes Tests, he took 24 wickets at 26, including 18 at 21 in the three wins that saw England retain the urn in Australia for the first time in 24 years, and ensured Andrew Strauss's side would later be considered among the finest teams the country has produced.
Tellingly, Anderson's modest reflections highlight what has been missing in England's touring Ashes teams ever since.
"For a bowler over here, you need the batters to get runs, and you need to get big scores," he explains. "We did that in the three Test matches that we won – we got over 500 (in an innings) in all those games.
"Firstly (that) gives you a break as a bowler, allows you to put your feet up and recover, and secondly, it puts pressure on the opposition batters, and that's what we really played on, and to add to that pressure we then bowled well."
Anderson's point bears out in the numbers. In Australia, England haven't reached 500 in an innings since. In 27 innings, they've posted more than 350 just thrice, and 300 six times. Sixteen times they have been bowled out for less than 250.
It was a point more blatantly underlined by Broad this summer when he reflected on his own non-selection in the first Test at the Gabba: "It doesn't matter what bowlers you play if you get bowled out for 140," he said. "That might be a bit brutal, but that's the truth in Test cricket."
Having known only defeat in Australia since, Anderson savours his memories of that golden 2010-11 summer. The smiles come when he recalls moments and details. Ask him about his favourite wickets in Australia and he has no problem bringing to mind events from one fine Adelaide morning more than 11 years ago.
"Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting," he smiles. "We'd just got away with a draw from the Gabba, which not many teams do, certainly not many England teams have done, so it was a huge result for us.
"We wanted to start well in Adelaide, and there was a bit of swing, bit of seam movement early and we got a run-out first over – Simon Katich got run out.
"And then I got Ponting and Clarke in (three) balls, both caught at slip, which for me was absolutely huge.
"They were their two best players at the time, and as a bowler you want to get the best players out, so they really stand out for me."
Looking back, those two wickets also offer a reminder of what Anderson has brought to the game. A pair of delicious, full, hooping outswingers that teased and then tormented two of the great batters of the modern era and lit up the opening throes of a Test match morning.
Australians have tried hard to forget it, but his pièce de résistance came at the end of that same month in Melbourne, where he was the architect of one of the most sobering days in this country's modern cricket history.
With the series at one-all, Anderson made an overcast, rain-marred Boxing Day his own, taking 4-44 (two left-handers, two right, all four edging to the wicketkeeper) as the hosts crumbled to 98 all out. It was a stunning performance from a man who had been treated with contempt just four years earlier, and dismissed as being ill-equipped for Australian conditions.
When England later went to stumps at 0-157, the visitors had completed what Anderson describes as "right up there for me as one of the best days that I've had on a cricket field".
"An hour after tea, I remember lots of people had left the ground already and it was pretty much just the Barmy Army left, which never really happens over here," he says. "We were just delighted with that."
Throughout, in the mould of McGrath, his game plan remained deceptively simple, and far less reliant on finding swing than his critics might have considered.
"I didn't really focus on swinging the ball too much that series," he says. "It was about trying to put the ball in the right area, create as much pressure as I could, and I knew that I'd get the wickets if I could just keep building that pressure.
"That's all I focused on. There were times when it swung – Adelaide swung a little bit, Sydney reversed a little bit – but generally it was just about being relentless with the areas that we bowled.
"That's something that you try and do pretty much everywhere in the world, but if you add that on to the weight of runs that we got, that's a big reason why we won that series."
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No-one this century has done as much for swing bowling as Anderson. Though never quite the dying art that leg-spin was once considered to be, the sometimes-subtle skill has often taken a back seat in the 21st century amid the proliferation of white-ball cricket and the changes to the game it has wrought.
While he has been a student of swing bowling since he was a child, Anderson hasn't felt compelled to investigate its mysteries. Instead he revels in its secrets, content through his 19 years and more than 46,000 deliveries as an international cricketer to let the ball retain its unknowable magic.
"I've certainly not studied the science, because I don't think it's an exact science," he offers. "People have theories about it: it's going to swing on a certain day, whether it's cloud cover, or humidity, or whatever it is.
"People think it's this or that, but then I've turned up in April in England, playing county cricket when it's seven degrees, and it's swung, and I've played in places where it's been cloudy, and it's been humid, and it's not swung.
"There's so many variables in it … I think it'd be boring if it just swung every day, or it didn't swing every day – if it was always the same.
"I think that's what makes cricket really interesting – the way each ground is different, each pitch is different, pitches deteriorate in different ways. That's what creates exciting Test matches to watch.
"So, for me, obviously I enjoy it when it swings, but I also enjoy the challenges of when it doesn't."
Such was the case in Melbourne last month. A day after England had been bowled out for 185, and precisely 11 years and one day after his Boxing Day carnage, Anderson produced a spell to match, taking 4-33 from 23 overs – including a period of 2-10 from 14 overs – to drag the visitors back into the contest.
Pitching the ball up and relying on seam movement in the absence of swing, Anderson said afterward that at one point he'd felt as if he was going to take a wicket every ball. Mitchell Starc, who took two wickets late that same day as England's batters again undid their bowlers' excellent work, said he too had searched for seam movement instead of swing after watching Anderson closely.
"The way we put it last night was that if Jimmy's not swinging it here," Starc said, "then I certainly can't swing it here."
It was a performance that showcased another phase in his evolution; some 19 years after being pasted all over the MCG by Ponting and Gilchrist, it stands as the high point of what is currently the most economical Test series of his record-breaking career.
Anderson has refined his game through experience and smarts, while his one-format focus has also paid sizeable dividends; since he played his final ODI in March 2015, he has collected 260 Test wickets at an average of 21.99 and a strike-rate of 54.9.
That period includes England's two most recent Ashes tours, during which they have lost seven Tests and drawn two. Anderson has taken 25 wickets at 26.40 in that time, conceding just 2.01 runs per over. Broad, with 18 wickets at 42.05, ranks a rather distant second.
It is intriguing too that of the nine visiting pace bowlers to have taken 50 Test wickets in Australia since WWII, Anderson's record (68 wickets at 34.01, SR 72.7) is most comparable to that of West Indies great Courtney Walsh (72 at 34.33, SR 74.2).
Like Anderson, Walsh played five Test series in Australia, though he played all five matches on each occasion. The Windies legend never dominated a series as Anderson did in 2010-11, with his best return of 19 wickets at 31.15 coming in a 3-2 defeat in 1996-97.
The comparison is notable in that, while Walsh was part of a battery of fast-bowling superstars among whom wickets had to be shared, the West Indian's legacy in this country is devoid of the question marks that obscure Anderson's.
Ironically, it was England captain Joe Root who called out his veteran paceman's ever-improving record ahead of the first Ashes Test in Brisbane when asked if he would be selected at the Gabba – statistically his least preferred venue in Australia.
"You look at Jimmy's record over the last couple of years, and it's got better and better and better," Root told cricket.com.au, around a week before the paceman was overlooked in a move that "staggered" Ponting.
"He might be getting older, but he's still bowling just as well, if not better. So you can look at what's happened before (at the Gabba, but) he's a different player now to what he was then – he's got more experience, more wickets, more knowledge about his own body and how he wants to play his cricket.
"Ultimately, we want to play our best team, and Jimmy Anderson is one of the best bowlers in the world."
Anderson bowling on a helpful Gabba pitch under overcast skies would have made for fascinating viewing. For England fans, and the neutrals, it was perhaps the big disappointment of this Ashes series that it never happened. Four years ago in Brisbane, he took match figures of 2-77 from 40 overs to show a far greater understanding of how he needed to bowl in the conditions.
"There's plenty of grounds around the world where I've not got great stats, but I've still played," he explained ahead of that Gabba omission. "And there are times where you do figure things out, and you have success.
"That's what I try and do … try and make sure I've got the skills to cope with each challenge that we come up against."
And that has been Anderson's enduring quality. His willingness to learn and evolve, his ability to figure things out, both in terms of his craft and his conditioning, has provided the platform for 927 international wickets. Had he played in Brisbane and Hobart, that tally would surely have climbed that bit closer towards McGrath's pace-bowling mark of 949.
Whether he will play beyond the Ashes is already the subject of media speculation, but for now, instead of what worrying what might come, we would do well to reflect on his time in Australia – the good, the bad and the ugly – with a smile.
Vodafone Men's Ashes
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith (vc), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Sam Billings, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
First Test: Australia won by nine wickets
Second Test: Australia won by 275 runs
Third Test: Australia won by an innings and 14 runs
Fourth Test: Match drawn
Fifth Test: January 14-18, Blundstone Arena