Another iconic series in the making?

James Anderson (above) was ruled out of the fourth Test at Trent Bridge an hour or two after he strode off the field at Edgbaston, having done as much as any bowler could, along with Steve Finn, to win that match and give England a 2-1 lead in the five-match series.-REUTERS James Anderson (above) was ruled out of the fourth Test at Trent Bridge an hour or two after he strode off the field at Edgbaston, having done as much as any bowler could, along with Steve Finn, to win that match and give England a 2-1 lead in the five-match series.

Let us hope the series is capped by a dramatic James Anderson recovery, a return at the Oval and a fitting climax to an Ashes series that is already memorable, writes Ted Corbett.

James Anderson, England’s finest bowler of this era and one of their great men at fast medium in the tradition of Maurice Tate and Alec Bedser, holds the key to the Ashes 2015.

If he has torn an intercostal muscle — for the non-medical among you, that is an important part of a bowler’s action even though it is around the base of the ribs — he will not play in the final game of the series at the Oval. Those injuries are the bane of a quick bowler’s life; painful and difficult to cure without infinite patience and clever nursing.

Rest and painkillers are the only answer to the injury quick bowlers dread. It laid Ian Botham low in Australia in 1986-87 and even that hero with the magic touch had to take his time before he was fit again.

Anderson was ruled out of the fourth Test at Trent Bridge an hour or two after he strode off the field at Edgbaston, having done as much as any bowler could, along with Steve Finn, to win that match and give England a 2-1 lead in the five-match series. The cover-up which followed leaves me to guess he has intercostal trouble and that he will miss the match at the Oval. Unless Botham offers him the secret that enabled him to rush back into action.

Anderson’s injury highlights his importance to England. He is 400 Test wickets to the good, the leader of their attack, one of the brains trust, guiding the captain Alastair Cook and a menacing, bristling, glowering presence whether he is bustling to the wicket or on his toes guarding a vital fielding position.

No one since Fred Trueman has cast such a long shadow in the field, no one since Trueman put so much effort, energy and enthusiasm into an Ashes encounter. It brings out the nastiness in Anderson, just as it did in Fiery Fred.

Anderson's injury highlights his importance to England. He is 400 Test wickets to the good, the leader of their attack, one of the brains trust, guiding the captain, Alastair Cook.-AP

Now the chances are that he will be absent injured when he is most needed.

Ten years ago, a similar story had a mighty influence on the greatest of all Ashes series.

Crucially, as the second Test began, with Australia bubbling after a victory at Lord’s and England 9-1 outsiders for the next game at Edgbaston, Glenn McGrath stood on a ball during the team warm-up and was withdrawn. England won that Test by a whisker and now it looks as if the parallel with McGrath and Anderson, attack leaders for their respective sides, may give Australia an advantage 10 years down the line.

But, who knows what may happen in a series as topsy-turvy as this one?

Let me remind you. England were outsiders for this series after their whitewash in Australia 18 months ago. A feeble display by the Australians cost them the first Test and every red-blooded Englishman sprinted to the nearest bookmaker to back them for the second Test and the series.

Australia won at Lord’s by 400 runs and so the wise ones began to tip them to retain the Ashes. Nothing of the sort happened. England had the third Test in the bag by the end of the first day after dismissing the Aussies for 136 and for a while it looked as if they might win on the second day.

Now they are 2-1 in front, facing matches at homely Nottingham and the Oval in south London where they sealed their success in 2005.

Englishmen recall that series as the greatest of all time and it is possible that by the end of the 2015 summer we will be adding this year’s fluctuating contest to the list of iconic Ashes competitions.

There is a feeling that Australia depend too much on the menace of Mitchell Johnson (above), whose pace with spadefuls of aggression reduced the England middle order to a quivering shambles at Lord's.-REUTERS

There is a feeling that Australia depend too much on the menace of Mitchell Johnson, whose pace with spadefuls of aggression reduced the England middle order to a quivering shambles at Lord’s.

He has at times looked as if he might rank with Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Glenn McGrath as modern new ball bowlers with a message: “This is war not peace.”

The two balls that reared at Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes in the third Test might have captured the wickets and made the heartbeat soar of Don Bradman, Viv Richards and Barry Richards. They were all but unplayable, rocket-fuelled missiles more suited to a battle field than a sporting arena, destruction at 90 miles an hour.

Yet, I have a feeling that as he approaches his middle 30s Johnson is less than 100 per cent, that he cannot produce such a bombardment six balls an over and that there is plenty of justice in the fact that the gentle off-spin of Nathan Lyon is higher in their bowling averages. Perhaps someone will mention that fact to Johnson as they feed him his daily ration of raw meat; the reaction might be interesting. It might also encourage Michael Clarke, whose captaincy has lacked the imagination which I thought would be another Australian advantage, to give Lyon a few more overs.

By this point you will have gathered that I cannot tell who will win this intriguing series any more than I can tell you if it will go down as more memorable than 2005, the Invincible Australian triumph of 1948, the exciting Ian Botham dominated series of 1981, or the Bodyline series of 1932-33.

Of course, the Bodyline and the Invincibles series had teams packed with men whose strength of character glowed. Bradman, Larwood, Jardine in 1932-33; Bradman, Lindwall, Miller in 1948 all hinted they might have been giants in any career.

By the end of this alluring series we may think the same of Cook and Joe Root, Anderson and Broad and Finn, an attack in denial of their last performances Down Under; Johnson and his back-up bowlers, Steve Smith making his way to the top of the batting world, Clarke with one more great Test innings in his frail body.

Let us hope the series is capped by a dramatic Anderson recovery, a return at the Oval and a fitting climax to an Ashes series that is already memorable and ready to be iconic.