Double trouble!

The tradition of fast bowlers hunting in pairs has found its finest exponents in these current times through James Anderson and Stuart Broad. The two, who are sneaking up England’s highest wicket-taker list, have forged an alliance that inflicts insomnia on opening batsmen and the top-order, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

There is a certain primitive instinct in fast bowlers. Perhaps among cricketers, they are the only ones who carry forward that distant genetic trait when men left their wives and children inside caves and went out for a hunt. Being together and attacking as a unit were all intrinsic to their survival besides getting the needed food for the waiting families.

Civilisations, modernity, rules, the ‘burden’ of playing a gentleman’s game, have caused evolutionary changes in men at large and more specifically in speedsters but certain things remain. Pacers continue to attack in pairs or when riches abound like they did for the West Indies in the 1970s and 1980s, they step in as quartets.

They are the alpha males and a strong self-belief ripples through them. Recently over dinner, Michael Holding, one of the high priests of Caribbean’s fast and furious band, said: “We never needed the second new ball maan, usually by then we had got them out!” Think about these merchants of the mean yorker, the menacing bouncer and the seductive out-swinger (to name a few skills) and what springs to mind instantly are the duos that enriched cricket.

Right from the vintage Fred Trueman-Brian Statham and Ray Lindwall-Keith Miller combines to the post-modern warriors like Dennis Lillee-Jeff Thomson, Michael Holding-Andy Roberts, Joel Garner-Malcolm Marshall, Imran Khan-Sarfraz Nawaz, Ian Botham-Bob Willis, Kapil Dev-Manoj Prabhakar, Wasim Akram-Waqar Younis, Curtly Ambrose-Courtney Walsh, Allan Donald-Shaun Pollock and Glenn McGrath-Jason Gillespie, Javagal Srinath-Venkatesh Prasad, the men, who hurled the red cherry, struck more when they had a partner.

That tradition has found its finest exponents in these current times through James Anderson and Stuart Broad. The two, who are sneaking up England’s highest wicket-taker list, have forged an alliance that inflicts insomnia on opening batsmen and the top-order. Individually in Tests, Anderson (376) and Broad (261) have a combined tally of 637 wickets but critically for England and ominously for its rivals, the two, together, have nailed more than 500 wickets. It is a tribute to their talent, longevity and the manner in which they complement each other.

Anderson, the lad from Burnley, and Broad, emerging from Nottingham, had diverse paths before enmeshing together to bruise willow wielders. If there were initial speculations about Broad’s entitlement (his father Chris is a former England opener besides his later stints as ICC match referee) and grudging respect for Anderson’s emergence, all those were shed aside once they got the most important numbers in the score-sheets: wickets.

They carved their identities and along the way, found each other. Like many outfits that squared against them, India too has been hurt by the two. In the current series at the time of going to press, Anderson (21 wickets) and Broad (16) have inflicted deep gashes in the Indian line-up and consequently England leads 2-1.

Anderson, with his movement, metronomic accuracy around off-stump and a mastery of reverse swing has found an equally mean bowling mate in Broad, whose extra height lends itself to zip off the pitch. If Anderson loves his caught behinds and exultant slip fielders, Broad prefers to hit the top of off-stump. Both enjoy selling the dummy — a string of out-swingers followed by the one that nips back.

They don’t hesitate to bounce and also dislike leaking runs. But at times when they get hit, like it happens in limited overs cricket (remember Yuvraj Singh’s six sixes off Broad), they lose their head.

In the initial part of India’s current tour, former England skippers Michael Atherton and Andrew Strauss spoke about how the duo at times get obsessed with their economy rates so much that they negate their scalping skills.

Ever quick to learn, Anderson and Broad did a course-correction midway, bowled the fuller length, allowed the ball to express its malevolent intentions in its flight and suckered batsmen into edging and walking away in shock. The two, especially Anderson, have to watch out for fatigue because the spearheads have bowled more balls than other bowlers in recent times.

Off the field, Anderson and Broad have begun to hang out together. If Graeme Swann was primarily Anderson’s mate, once the off-spinner retired, the speedster has bonded more with Broad over a beer after a day’s play. There is mutual respect and an understanding that without the other exerting equal pressure, wickets would be hard to garner.

Aggression defines them but there are differences too, a truth that gets its maximum illumination in press conferences. Anderson is reticent, mumbles a few words, smiles a lot and would rather be left alone. Broad loves to talk, his sentences are long and seems much more rounded.

The contrast is equally startling on the field, both do sledge but relatively, Broad keeps it within limits while Anderson literally suffers from white-line fever! The mild-mannered man becomes a foul-mouthed dispenser of words once he steps onto the turf. Cricinfo’s England editor David Hopps rightly termed Anderson as a ‘guilty pleasure.’

Anderson’s run-in and alleged pushing of Ravindra Jadeja at Nottingham’s Trent Bridge, falls into that pattern of the big bully flexing his muscles. The England management though insist that Anderson needs that aggro on field to wind himself up.

At 32, Anderson has fewer cricketing years ahead of him unlike Broad, who is 28, but in their own inimitable ways they should end up right on top of the England bowlers’ pile. It is only a matter of time before Anderson skips past Sir Ian Botham’s tally of 383 and recently the legendary all-rounder said on air: “Keep the champagne ready Jimmy!”

If Broad remains injury-free (he has a knee-surgery lined up), someday he will go past Anderson but right now as a pair, they force batsmen to mutter prayers and seek aspirin.