Beefier than Beefy!

James Anderson can now boast he is the best of British bowlers, a permanent star on the England firmament and one of the all-time outstanding quick bowlers, writes Ted Corbett.

Jimmy Anderson, inexperienced as a quick bowler, just out of his teens and rather more nervous than the average kitten, grew up very suddenly.

One minute he was on the receiving end of a tempest of abuse from his captain Nasser Hussain — who had a furious temper — for bowling a loose ball and the next he had taken his first One-Day International wicket with a peach of a delivery that caused Hussain to bellow — “You are the man!”

That was way back but it was in the first Test against West Indies recently that Anderson took his 384th wicket at the climax of a career that has been touched with greatness, has brought England a stream of successes while he has been at his peak and yet never allowed him to come within touching distance of the man he was overhauling.

How this boy has grown up even if he is nothing like the public hero of Ian Botham.

He and Big Beefy, Guy the Gorilla, the great England personality of the last 50 years, the much-troubled, failed Test captain, winner of one of the most spectacular Ashes series in 1981, knighted for his charity work on long walks, and considerable batsman with 5,000 Test runs could not be more different.

Anderson is without a nickname and sometimes looks unsure which end of the bat does what. He is a fast medium bowler supreme but from his start as a shy lad with not too much to say for himself, he has neglected what you might call the show business side of his career.

He is content to be a cricketer, to bowl day-in, day-out off a straight, unvarying run of 15 yards, with changes so subtle that the ordinary Joe in the crowd will not notice them. Outswing is his principal weapon allied to impeccable length and a line on off stump that, if he could bottle it, might bring him a fortune.

The inswinger is a late development, five years in the making, and has been the undoing of many a star batsman who must have looked on Anderson as outswing only until this new and potent addition to his armoury.

His greatest peculiarity is that he is looking at the ground as he releases the ball. “I couldn’t bowl that way,” Fred Trueman, another great fast bowler with 307 Test wickets used to say but Dennis Lillee, with a Test aggregate of 355 wickets, reminded me that his partner Jeff Thomson was looking down as he bowled.

For a long time, in contrast with all these heroes, Anderson was as quiet as a house full of mice. He simply got on with his work, content that he had established such a reputation that his name was first on the team sheet for every Test.

Of course, as a bowler establishes his reputation, he finds that backroom boys begin to shred his method and taking wickets, as Anderson has entered his 30s, has become harder. For a while he benefitted from the back-up provided by Stuart Broad and the wickets brought by Andrew Flintoff but it meant that batsmen faced him for a while with greater knowledge and increasing certainty.

The wickets dried up and, even though he was clearly going to overtake Botham — who was of course watching every ball he bowled from the commentary box — you could see from the tight expression on Anderson’s face and from the strain evident in his body that the work was getting harder.

Perhaps a little background will indicate why he has at times found the tension intolerable. Anderson began life and cricket in the little northern Lancashire town of Burnley where their concentration has always been on football. The local team told you a lot about local conditions in a mill town that no longer has many mills.

Cotton brought a fortune in the 19th century but by the time Jimmy Anderson was born in 1982 life was grimmer. Not that James — to give him his Sunday name, as they would put it in straight-laced Burnley — grew up in poverty. Instead surrounding the family were men and women who thought Burnley, the town and the football club, were looked down on.

The team now struggling in the bottom reaches of the Premier League never had enough money for South American aces, or European superstars. There was nothing else to attract the big stars to this tiny town down on its luck; the high lights of London and Manchester suited them better. Anderson had another problem. Who, in Burnley, cared if he wanted to be a cricketer?

In other words Jimmy Anderson’s chosen way of life was a struggle but once he was launched by the local Lancashire League club his way to the top was rapid in the extreme.

Lancashire snatched him away, within a year England had rushed him to Australia and there the none-too-gentle Hussain had hurried him to a glorious path which came to a natural conclusion when he took the wicket of Denesh Ramdin, West Indies wicketkeeper and captain, in his 100th Test.

It had been a long time coming from that torrid afternoon in Australia with Hussain’s words egging him on to the cloudy day in Antigua — where he joins Viv Richards and Brian Lara who both created records on the island — but now Anderson can boast he is the best of British bowlers, a permanent star on the England firmament and one of the all-time outstanding quick bowlers.