James Anderson's show of early-season hostility for Lancashire offers boost for England

Scyld Berry
James Anderson - Rex Features

 Lancashire (319 and 114-1) lead Essex (159) by 274 runs

A big summer awaits James Anderson. To defeat South Africa in the four-Test series, England need Anderson back to his best after he took not a single wicket in his last two Tests in India. Personally, he will become the first England bowler to reach 500 Test wickets if he can take 33 more.

Many people therefore - though not Essex’s batsmen - could breathe with relief after Anderson took three wickets with much of his familiar hostility. His first spell of the day was steady, his second distinctly sharp, as he combined with two southern Africans to show Essex they will have to make substantial changes in their batting techniques and attitudes if they are to survive in the First Division.

But whether a big winter awaits Anderson is a completely different question. He bowled well in the Visakhapatnam Test when he flew out after injury and immediately re-joined the Test team. But then... well, nothing really. He had a slip catch dropped in Mumbai, but otherwise his 44 overs were fruitless, and he was in effect dropped for the last Test in Chennai as the official reason was merely “body soreness” - no specific injury.

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What was most disturbing in India was how Anderson disappeared in the field, instead of leading the attack as he has done so valiantly for a whole decade. Partly this was due to England’s strategic mistake: they thought the SG ball in India would, when aged, reverse-swing as the Kookaburra had in Bangladesh.

Cook gave his opening bowlers short spells - bringing on a spinner as early as the seventh over - and conserved them for reverse-swing, which never materialised. So England’s pace bowlers failed to maximise the new ball and the swing that was to be briefly had, and were all out-bowled by Mohammed Shami.

When Essex resumed at 39 for two, however, Anderson’s appetite was revived. He had already played in a university game which was nominally first-class, helping himself to six wickets for 15 runs. He chose here to bowl towards the river Chelmer and therefore had a bit of uneven bounce to exploit, and having dismissed the nightwatchman on Friday evening, he took a wicket in each of his two spells.

James Anderson celebrates taking the wicket of Tom Westley Credit: REX FEATURES

Lancashire’s pace combination - of Anderson along with Kyle Jarvis, the best seamer Zimbabwe have produced after Heath Streak, and the still-zestful Ryan McLaren - overwhelmed Essex. In the Second Division, their batsmen had been able to wait for bad balls. Back in the First Division, they found a trio of Test bowlers who did not bowl any, and they neglected the basics of looking for singles and rotating the strike to reduce that pressure.

Thus tied down, Varun Chopra succumbed to a wild slash; Tom Westley was static, intent only on defence, and added only three runs off 38 balls before the inevitable good one; Dan Lawrence was at least busy but he starts with a very open stance, then plants his front foot on middle stump, making him vulnerable to the ball that leaves him.

In Lawrence’s case it was a spinner from the improved left-armer Steven Parry which left him and had him caught at slip. As a quicker ball then pinned Adam Wheater, Parry booked himself in from the river end and kept the runs down, without being attacked, which allowed Anderson, Jarvis and McLaren to rest and rotate from the other end. Essex were doomed once Ravi Bopara had clipped Anderson to midwicket.

Ravi Bopara the only Essex batsman to make an impact Credit: REX FEATURES

Before the close of day two, Lancashire extended their lead from 160 to 274. As another step in his cricket education, while Alex Davies was dropped three times, Haseeb Hameed faced a bouncer barrage from Neil Wagner round the wicket. In his 45, Hameed needed fortune to survive, but it was that of the brave as he took Wagner on by hooking as well as ducking and defending, after which he surfaced with a cheeky grin, just like the young Joe Root.

Which leaves the question of Anderson to be resolved in the course of this summer. On English pitches he is still, as this match has proved, masterful. But he is 34 and his last two overseas tours have been marred by injury and lack of success, in South Africa as well as India.

No ending would be worse for Anderson than to tour Australia, only to be broken there, as Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann and Matt Prior were last time. Nothing could be worse for the England team either, because the moment one player betrays weakness, all Australia crows with delight and England are destined for the downward spiral. It was by parading invincibility that they won in 2010-11, thanks in large part to Anderson in his pomp.

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