James Anderson bowls
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The art of Anderson

Jimmy A talks us through how he does what he does

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan  |  

Scorecards record what happened. Television shows us how. Commentators and analysts try and get to the why. They throw light on field placements, the set-up and the kind of delivery. We are told that the batsman was in perfect position. Or that he was caught off guard. Each delivery carries a story, and most stories a verdict. Was it a good ball or a bad ball? Was the shot "on" or was the batsman lucky? Every ball bowled is followed by an outcome. And these outcomes invariably beget a range of judgements.

Players tend to see these mini-stories differently. For one, they are armed with more information - on the vagaries of the pitch, on atmospheric conditions, on the state of the ball, on the opposition - all of which makes it harder for them to deal in certainties. There are simply too many permutations for them to juggle.

Players are also generally reluctant to see each ball as a discrete event. They understand that a good field setting doesn't become a bad one if a nick flies through a gap; that a terrific spell of bowling can produce a raft of runs and no wickets. They grasp the role of randomness. That on some overcast days the ball won't swing, that on some chilly days it will hoop around like never before. Many players are comfortable accepting that some events are beyond explanation.

Which is probably why some of the best cricketers prioritise procedures over results. Opening bowlers can be fastidious about picking the right ball from the set the umpires hand them. Many bowlers have favourite ends. Some love to run upwind. Some obsess over shine, relying on their team-mates to "take care" of the ball. They are precise about fields. They pay attention to rhythm, to what their body tells them, and to repeating the same routine over and over. The canny ones make minor adjustments to confuse the batsmen.

Players are armed with more information, which makes it harder for them to deal in certainties. There are simply too many permutations for them to juggle

At some point, the stars align. The polish on either side of the ball is just right. So is the state of the pitch and the dampness in the air. The feet land in the optimal spots on the crease. The fingers grasp the seam at a perfect angle. The wrist cocks. The ball finds a length… and kisses the bat's edge. A fielder is alert. A wicket falls. This is no standalone event, yet it is the wicket that is in the scorecard. And often the detail that endures most in memory.

Our cover story this month - a chat between former England swing bowler turned cricket writer Derek Pringle and swing bowler turned leading England wicket-taker, James Anderson - deals less with what happened and more with the how. The focus is not so much on Anderson's spells and his record haul of wickets; that is enshrined in the record books. Pringle is more interested in exploring the craft of swing bowling - in wobbly seams, in bowling dry, in maximising a helpful pitch, in adjusting to different conditions, and best of all, on sussing out batsmen. The answers are all Anderson's, of course, but it is clear that the questions are from an old hand, one who understands the joys and challenges of swinging the ball and getting it to talk.

There are more delights in store in the August issue, which also marks the Cricket Monthly's second anniversary. We return to 2004, when Muttiah Muralitharan went out to prove that his action was indeed legit; we rewind to 1992, when Wasim Akram and Co conquered all before them in England; and we head further back to 1976 to assess the "grovel" series and its subtext. Elsewhere, two writers debate the possibility of cricket being an Olympic sport. And another tells us of the trap that cricket fans routinely fall into: ignoring randomness and probability at each stage of a game.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a writer based in the USA