James Anderson and Steve Smith have words

All sneer, no cheer? That's our Jimmy

© Getty Images

Hate to Love

There's something about Jimmy

Anderson is like that girl you know you shouldn't like, but do anyway

Pranay Sanklecha  |  

My name's Pranay, and I like James Anderson.

It wasn't always like this. At one point I was actually indifferent to him. Couldn't care less. Hard to imagine now, but it's true. I mean, sure, I knew of him, knew who he was. Some kid with streaks in his hair who'd bowled well against Pakistan in a World Cup game. Hyped up by the English press in their usual awkward way. You know, like how when you're young, you blurt out to some girl that you love her, and then you immediately say you were joking. And then you buy her flowers.

Shit, I think they even tried to make him cricket's Beckham.

(Lol. They actually did.)

I can't remember when he first started mattering. Maybe in 2007, when he kept getting Sachin Tendulkar out? Or 2009, when he batted out the draw in Cardiff with Monty Panesar? I don't know. What I do know is that as soon as he began mattering enough for me to feel emotion towards him, the principal emotion I felt was dislike.

He's very easy to dislike, too, isn't he? Snarling, sledging all and sundry, and then complaining when he's sledged back. Bullying opposition, bullying even his own fielders. The confrontation with Ravindra Jadeja. Churlish comments about the opposition, like when he refused to say that Virat Kohli had improved as a batsman and instead ascribed his success against England in India to the conditions. Even Rahul Dravid is willing to say a bad word about him. Possibly worst of all, that bromance with Graeme Swann. The banter, oh god the banter.

When he was Becks redux

When he was Becks redux Stu Forster / © Getty Images

When Michael Clarke told him to get ready for a broken f*****n' arm, I can't have been the only one to feel a little thrill of delight. And when Mitchell Johnson gave him that stare after cleaning him up, that was fun too.

Oh, and fine, I'll admit it. You know that game against Sri Lanka when he and Moeen Ali batted for ages to save it, and then he got out on the penultimate ball? I'm sorry, but you would have needed a heart of stone not to laugh. I do not have a heart of stone. I laughed.

"The opposite of love is not hate," said Elie Wiesel, "but indifference." Or in different language - if you hate your ex, you ain't over her, man. I wish I'd thought of that when it was still possible to change course. Because the other day, there I was on my sofa, watching him bowl that frustratingly short length, when he blurred into soft-focus and the sound of Ian Botham demanding eight slips and four gullies dissolved into the heavenly music of the spheres.

Shit, I thought. I need a new TV. And, I like Jimmy Anderson.

Naturally, I wondered why.

It comes down to beauty. Anderson, late-career Anderson, is a beautiful bowler. The curves he draws with the dark Dukes ball, each delivery shimmering with purpose and languid conviction, the curiously sinuous way in which his deliveries move, the passive-aggressive menace of his regular length (not for him the direct aggression of deliveries as vulgar as the bouncer or the yorker, or even the drive-ball)… I could watch him bowl all day regardless of the situation of the match, the batsmen, or any other condition.

Not quite skunk-on-head but not much better either

Not quite skunk-on-head but not much better either © PA Photos/Getty Images

Central to his aesthetic is the context in which I most often watch him bowl, which is also the context in which I most enjoy him. I mean Test cricket in England. He has learned to bowl overseas, and he has sometimes done it magnificently: the 2010-11 Ashes and 2012-13 in India spring immediately to mind. But he doesn't belong there. He belongs to lush green outfields and dank skies, to cable-knit sweaters and a fingerspinner bowling the over before lunch, to the undulating boozy hum of an English crowd as it drifts from drowsiness to rowdiness and back again. He is the direct descendant of Barnes and Bedser, the expression of an entire tradition of cricket brought not to its culmination but to one of its periodic flowerings. And there is something deeply, inexpressibly satisfying about seeing something so authentically true to its myth of itself, to its history and its place; if Anderson did not exist, Neville Cardus would have had to invent him.

The only other bowler I feel the same way about is Shane Warne. And of course, Anderson and Warne are mythical twins; the same bowler, the same tune in different keys. Take a moment to recall Warne, and now imagine he was born in the north of England. He'd bowl swing and seam, wouldn't he? With the same devious mastery, with the same magical deception. And what about the aggression, the larrikin streak, the sheer exuberance? Well, transpose them to a country where it never stops raining, a culture where politeness is a deadly weapon and enthusiasm the original sin, and what do you get? Surliness, moaning, passive-aggressiveness, a pervading air of subtle malevolence. James Anderson on a cricket field, in other words.

And it is with Warne as it is with Anderson - to beauty is not only much given, but also much forgiven. Sometimes, I find myself even liking, or at least not minding, Anderson's grumpiness and anger. It's just part of his act, I tell myself, part of what he thinks he needs to be to bowl as he does. His stubbornness amuses me - sorry, I've taken 500 Test wickets, I'll bang it out short of a good length for however long I like.

But one of the most expensive lessons life has taught me is to not confuse beauty with virtue. I'm not blind to Anderson's faults, even if I sometimes feel like writing them off. There's an ugliness to his behaviour (sometimes) that's hard to square with the beauty of his bowling. But what can you do? He's like that girl you know you shouldn't like, but do anyway - and you thank God someone else is married to her.

Pranay Sanklecha is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Graz. He's currently working on a book about the meaning of life, for which he welcomes editorial inquiries