England head coach Chris Silverwood has admitted he could rip up the team's winning formula by resting James Anderson for the crucial second Test against India.
Anderson took three for six in a match-winning five-over spell on the final day of the first Test, dismissing Shubman Gill and Ajinkya Rahane in the same over.
But it is understood that Anderson is set to be replaced by Stuart Broad for the second Test - one of two likely changes with Ben Foakes poised to keep wicket in place of Jos Buttler, who has flown home as part of England’s rest and rotation policy.
Silverwood admitted Anderson is in the “shape of his life” at 38 and could physically handle back-to-back Tests. But in a year that could feature 17 Tests, England have planned to rotate their bowlers, meaning Anderson is likely to not play on Saturday especially as Silverwood is tempted to pick both his veteran fast bowlers for the third Test, which will be played under floodlights.
“Jimmy is a class act but Broady didn’t play in the last game and we’ve many bowlers here who we could play at any given point,” said Silverwood. “I am not reluctant to change a winning team if it's the best thing to do for the players and the team and our longevity over a long period.”
Anderson only bowled 27 overs in the match with the spin bowlers doing most of the work and said after the game he does not want to be left out when bowling so well. Joe Root described him afterwards as England’s “GOAT [greatest of all time]” and with the second Test played on the same venue as the first, it is clear reverse swing will be important again. “He blew the game open for us, it was quite remarkable to watch. He went a long way to helping us win that game. For aspiring young fast bowlers to see an over like that is inspirational” said Silverwood. “He is in the best shape of his life and that hasn’t gone unnoticed. He has worked extremely hard on his fitness and is bowling beautifully.”
The first real Test of England's new selection policy
Anderson will return to practice on Thursday in Chennai trying to put his “name in the hat” for the second Test but England’s rigid rotation policy means he will likely be a spectator.
Silverwood said he “hoped” people will see the bigger picture if Anderson does not play despite his form and the second Test being played on the same venue as the first where his reverse swing knocked the stuffing out of India’s top order.
“It is hard [to leave Anderson out], he is a class act. But you’ll have to wait and see,” said Silverwood. “Stuart Broad didn’t play in the last game and we’ve many bowlers here who we could play at any given point. I’m not reluctant to change a winning team now if it’s the best thing to do for the players, the team and the longevity of it.”
Anderson has 11 wickets for 99 runs from 54 overs in two Tests this year and an average of 9.90, including his best ever figures overseas. His economy-rate is 1.85 and he has a strike rate of a wicket every 32 balls. His three for 17 in the second innings and use of reverse swing was why India could not even bat out two sessions on the final day.
He played four Tests in a row last summer and only bowled 37 overs against India. Silverwood admitted Anderson is in “the best shape of life” and wants to play.
“Yes, of course [I want to play]," Anderson said at the end of the match. "When a batsman gets in rhythm and form they just want to keep batting and it's the same for a bowler - you want to keep that going as much as possible.”
Anderson is “very aware” of the tight schedule as well as the unrelenting conditions in India for seamers and in Broad England have a replacement in the form of his life.
Broad was England’s best bowler last summer taking 38 wickets at 14.76 and his potency against left-handers will be a new challenge for Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar, the two top scorers in India’s first innings.
England will want to pick both for the third Test played under lights in Ahmedabad where swing bowling will be more relevant so resting Anderson now will keep him fresh. It is a dilemma caused by the luxury of having a 38 year-old fast bowler. No other team has been in this position because great fast bowlers do not last as long as Anderson.
Broad, like all top quality bowlers, can reverse the ball effectively. He has bowled a fuller, more attacking length over the past two years but his height and bounce make him less likely to threaten the stumps like Anderson, crucial for reverse swing. Length is important because the ball needs further to travel through the air for reverse swing to take effect. Ben Stokes is also a good reverse swing bowler because of his high action but it is unlikely he will bowl more than ten overs an innings due to various niggles.
Sachin Tendulkar recently described Anderson as someone he rated “very very highly” for his reverse swing skills speaking almost with awe about how he kids batsmen with a double bluff. Tendulkar, who was dismissed nine times by Anderson, said he holds the ball as if setting up for a reverse swing outswinger but flicks his wrist to replicate moving it back in only for the ball to actually still swing away from the outside edge.
“What I experienced, over a period of time, is he would hold the ball as if he was bowling [a reverse] outswinger, but at the release point, he would try and bring the ball back in. A number of batters would look at the wrist position, and what he has actually done, he's shown you that he's bowling inswing, but the imbalance between both sides of the ball would take the ball away from you,” he told the 100MB app.
“He's got you to commit to play, for an [inswinger], and the ball, after covering almost three-fourths of the length of the pitch, starts leaving you. But you had already committed, because you've seen that inswing position, and that is something which was new to me. Nobody had done that.”
India will ask for the pitch for the second Test to be more spin friendly. They were not happy the pitch was so flat for three days of the first Test. Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri want pitches at home to turn early so the games are not decided on the toss of a coin. Kohli and Ravichandran Ashwin also complained about the durability of the SG ball which fell apart quickly playing to England’s strengths with Anderson saying he thought it showed signs of reversing after only four overs of the second innings.
“Both teams got it to reverse, and quite early at times, because of the abrasive nature of the pitch and the wickets we played on and the nature of the ball,” said Silverwood. “So it will play a key part. Jimmy being as skilful and accurate as he is made the best use of the ball when it was reverse swinging. It will be a key component for the seamers.”
England will definitely make one change with Jos Buttler going home on Wednesday and Ben Foakes taking over as wicket-keeper. Anderson is almost certain to step aside for Broad but it is likely Dom Bess will retain his place. He bowled poorly on the final day and is flattered by his 17 wickets this winter at 22.41 but this is an invaluable finishing school for a young spinner learning the game and England want to keep encouraging his development.
“I am not worried. I had a chat with him afterwards and he’s still in good spirits – everybody has a bad day and I can accept that,” said Silverwood. “It’s not through lack of effort – for me we get to the nets tomorrow working hard again and find him some rhythm and I am sure he will be fine.”