England Men's Tour of Australia
England hopes to rest on Anderson
Spearhead enjoys productive outing in Ashes warm-up despite early struggles for rest of England attack
Chris Stocks at WACA ground
5 November 2017, 10:38 PM AEST
If England are to stand any chance in the upcoming Magellan Ashes series then James Anderson is probably going to have to continue the sensational form of a northern summer during which he became only the sixth man in history to pass 500 Test wickets.
Anderson, now 35, has enjoyed a tremendous year, taking 39 wickets at an average of 14.10 during seven home Tests against South Africa and West Indies.
He may be regarded as having a suspect record in Australia, but the early indications from England’s opening tour match against a Western Australia XI at the WACA this weekend are that Anderson has every chance of continuing that fine form into the southern summer.
There is a reason why Anderson is his country’s all-time leading wicket-taker – his tally now standing at 506 – and it’s because he is a master manipulator of the cricket ball.
In English conditions, with the far more responsive Dukes ball, the Lancastrian can be virtually unplayable.
But the years of experience he has built up over 129 Tests means he is usually quick to adapt overseas.
That’s exactly what happened in Perth this weekend, with Anderson taking four wickets in his second and third spells after blowing away the cobwebs during an unproductive five overs at the start of the day.
What will please England most is that the leader of their attack made the old Kookaburra ball talk – Anderson managing to extract reverse swing by the time the WA innings was in the 37th over.
Anderson struck twice in three balls in his first over back after lunch.
He got two in four with the even older ball at the start of a third spell that consisted of three maidens.
If he works out a way to make the new ball talk in England’s remaining two tour matches in Adelaide and Townville, Australia’s batsmen could be in for a hard time.
“I didn’t have much rhythm first up,” admitted Anderson. “It didn't feel great, and there wasn’t much swing either with the new ball.
“But then I thought I got better as the day went on. Hopefully I can pick up from where I left off in the [English] summer.
“It’s very different to English lengths here – so you can’t be as full – and I thought they played pretty well, and put pressure on us.
“But once we got into the day, and got our fields right, we bowled pretty well and reverse-swing came into the game later in the afternoon.”
It’s true that Anderson’s record in Australia is not brilliant. Over three previous Ashes tours, he averages 38.44 compared to his career mark of 27.39.
He did have one decent series, though, in 2010-11, where his 24 wickets at 26.04 proved crucial to England’s first away Ashes win in 24 years.
This tour, which will surely be Anderson’s last in Australia, could go the same way if he can carry on his fine recent form.
He will, though, need help from the rest of the attack.
Stuart Broad, Anderson’s new-ball partner and No2 on England’s all-time list of Test wicket-takers, had a poor game in Perth.
Broad’s 13 overs proved expensive and his inability to find the right length – or any swing - cost him dearly. He did improve as the day went on, picking up a wicket in the final hour. He’ll hope to improve, though, before the Ashes get underway in Brisbane on November 23.
In the race for the fourth seamer’s slot in England’s attack – open because of the absence of star all-rounder Ben Stokes – Jake Ball must be ahead of Craig Overton on the evidence of this match.
Ball has only played three Tests in England but he outperformed Overton at the WACA even though he took one fewer wicket, taking 1-31 during his 12 overs compared to his rival’s 2-70.
However, Anderson is sure England will get into their groove in time for the Gabba and he believes the series against Steve Smith’s men will be close.
“I think on paper it looks very even at the moment, but it all depends on which team deals with the pressure best in that first Test match,” he said.
“We’re going to make sure that the next couple of weeks we prepare well enough so that when we come to Brisbane we're ready to go.”
If Anderson’s ready then England may just have a chance.