James Anderson bowls
© PA Photos

Cover story

The swinger

Outswing, inswing, reverse, wobbly seam: James Anderson holds forth

Interview by Derek Pringle |

The first thing that happens, when we meet in Angus Fraser's office at Lord's before England's third Test against Sri Lanka this summer, is, I hand James Anderson a cricket ball so he can explain some of the finer details of swing. Not just any old ball you understand, but one Fraser took 8 for 75 with against West Indies in Bridgetown in 1994.

As most bowlers might, on receiving its provenance, Anderson inspects it closely, places it in his bowling hand to see how it fits before making a pronouncement. "Good seam," he says, which is bowlers' code for saying he is impressed not only with the ball but the deed.

Just as well the seam is proud, I say, Gus never swung a ball in his life. Anderson sniggers briefly, then proceeds to fiddle and fondle the ball for the remainder of the interview. A bowler and a ball - as close as any partnership in sport or nature.

Here we are at Lord's, Jimmy, a swinging ground. How does it feel to be somewhere so familiar and the No. 1 bowler in the world?
It feels really good. Being the No. 1-ranked Test bowler is not something I've achieved before, so I'm delighted to have got there. It's a nice kind of indicator of how I've been doing recently. Obviously you have to be consistent to reach No. 1 but I've been really happy with my form, and as you say, it's nice to be at Lord's, at a swinging ground.

In the past, most pace bowlers had retired by the time they were 34, the age you are now. But given you have never been No. 1 before, do you feel you are just getting better and better?
People talk about being at the peak of your sport but I'm not sure whether I've peaked yet or not. I am getting better. I feel I'm still learning stuff about the game. I'm getting better at figuring out batsmen and reading pitches, and better at assessing situations and what type of bowling is required to counter them. I'm still growing as a cricketer, so I think I have a few years left in me yet.

Speaking of Lord's, have you ever seen clips of Bob Massie's 16 wickets against England here in 1972?
I imagine I have at some stage, but they don't stick in my mind.

"If batsmen say they can see which way the seam is angled, they have extremely good eyesight"

They say the atmosphere was heavy in that match, by which I think they mean humid, a bit like today. Anyway, Massie hooped it round corners. Can you tell whether it is going to swing big?
(Thinking) I don't think you can always tell. Days like this, I knew when we walked over to the nets that it was going to hoop round corners and it did. But it's a strange one. You turn up on a cold day at Durham and it can swing, when the accepted knowledge is that cold prevents swing, and then you can get muggy days when it doesn't swing. It's not an exact science, I don't think.

I always thought the thinking was if it's cold, the ball won't swing.
I did too, but it swung at Headingley a few weeks ago and that was freezing. I don't know what it is, whether it is moisture in the ground, or whatever, that helps the ball to swing.

They said that when Massie took those wickets at Lord's he benefited from having Dennis Lillee at the other end, Dennis pushing them onto the back foot, Massie dragging them forward. Do you and Stuart Broad have a similar symbiosis?
Yeah. I think we complement each other well. We try to work together closely, especially with the new ball. You get a feeling early on if one guy is in good rhythm and causing problems. Then it just becomes the other guy's job to create pressure from the other end. We read that well and communicate effectively. It's worked well so far. I don't think Broady's as quick as Dennis Lillee, though. (He chuckles, giving away the wind-up.) Well, maybe at times he can be.

Stuart is a bit younger and ranked No. 3 in the Test rankings at present. Is there a bit of rivalry there?
There's not really, I don't think, though maybe there is subconsciously. We realise that the reason we've had success together is that we need each other. We need that partnership and we need it to work. The one needs to look out for the other. Some days it will be my day, some days it will be his, and we work that out together. We get on well.

"What the hell am I celebrating like an absolute lunatic for? It's just the emotion that comes with trying to do your job" © Getty Images

Do the two of you socialise much off the pitch?
Yeah. We spend time together, play golf together. In fact, we are golfing partners who take the other players on. I'm off [a handicap of] 8, he's off 11, and we dovetail well. When we're playing cricket, when there is a pressure situation, he's pretty good to throw the ball to, to make something happen. Same on the golf course. He's better under pressure. Anyway, we've got a good relationship off the field, which helps the one on it.

People like their tags. You're the "leader of the attack". A few years ago Stuart was "the enforcer". Do you pay much heed to such labels?
You definitely get a feel for what your role is within the team. Certainly as I've become more experienced and more settled, my role has changed. I suppose I've become more the leader of the attack - or senior bowler, as I guess they used to be called in the old days. I realise my job is to set the tone with the new ball but also I've got to try to help the younger guys coming through, try to pass on information so they can settle into Test cricket as easily as possible, because I know how difficult that can be.

Is setting that tone an unwanted pressure or a source of pride?
A bit of both. The way I see it, I look back to when I first started and it was quite difficult as I wasn't getting a lot of feedback from any of the players. It wasn't an easy period for English cricket, the early 2000s, and I found it tough. That's why we try to create an open environment where everyone can say what they want and the senior players' job is to try to pass on information. The hope is to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible and the new players settle in as quickly as possible.

So are the younger bowlers queuing up for tips from you, or doesn't it work like that?
No, it doesn't really work like that. We socialise quite a lot, so that's where we talk about cricket most. I've spent a bit of time with Steve Finn chatting about stuff like his struggles over the last two or three years with run-up changes and the like. Because I feel like I went through something similar in the middle of my career when Troy Cooley [England's bowling coach in the mid-2000s] tried to get me to change my action. I've tried to pass on anything that I can to help him. Then, when we are in the nets, all the bowlers just chat away about how we are going to bowl at whoever we are playing that week. It's just a nice way to do things, there's nothing forced about it, which would be the case if they felt they had to ask me questions.

"People talk about being at the peak of your sport, but I'm not sure whether I've peaked yet or not. I am getting better"

Still on the Bob Massie theme. He bowled at about 77-80mph. Do you have to be quicker as a swinger these days, given that protective equipment makes batsmen bolder and more likely to come forward to balls their predecessors might have hesitated over?
Not necessarily. I think if you are very precise and accurate, you can get away with being 80mph. It does help, though, if you have enough pace to bowl a good bouncer. It doesn't have to be 90mph to get someone on the back foot, it just has to be well targeted. For me, batsmen tend to get on the front foot looking for the swing either way, so I quite enjoy pushing them back with a bouncer.

In your experience, do batsmen pick up the ball quicker these days? Do they train to pick it up sooner and see which way it might swing more quickly now? And if so, does that in turn push you to bowl quicker?
I reckon it is very difficult for batsmen to pick up conventional swing, with the new ball, and know which way it will move. If they say they can see which way the seam is angled, they have extremely good eyesight. I can see them being able to do that more often when there is a bit of contrast on the ball, with shine on one side and rough on the other, or when you have the colour differences between the damp/smooth and dry sides for reverse swing, but generally if you can swing it at between 82-86mph, you should be able to keep the batsman guessing.

Looking back to the start of your career, in the Duncan Fletcher era was there a pressure to bowl quicker, because he was an advocate of pace?
Definitely. It was quite clear that Duncan wanted 90mph bowlers in his attack. It was why the likes of Saj Mahmood and Liam Plunkett got picked. Obviously it wasn't the only reason - they are both good bowlers, but their pace was a big plus. That was why I was encouraged to change my action to try to get that extra 3-5mph. Then everything I'd learned about swinging the ball went out of the window. Things like wrist position. When you are trying to bowl 90mph, your wrist position takes a back seat.

So the pursuit of extra pace tends to be at the expense of technique, especially if you are a conventional swing bowler?
When you are trying to strain for that extra few mph, your action can go out of sync and that's what happened with me. I still think I've got enough pace now to be effective. It's frustrating looking back that I went through that period but it definitely helped me as well.

Burnley Idol: James Anderson was the poster boy of English cricket in his debut international season

Burnley Idol: James Anderson was the poster boy of English cricket in his debut international season © Getty Images

In what way?
It helped me learn about my game. It made me realise I was not a fast bowler, that's not me. I was raw and quick as a 19-year-old, but unless you are an impact bowler who comes on for three or four overs to take a wicket, it's not possible, with the amount of cricket we play now, to be a quick bowler day in day out. So you have to be a bit smarter about it and my light-bulb moment was to be a swing bowler.

You played under four coaches, did you get on with any of them especially well?
Coaches haven't really been an issue for me. I think if you have a good work ethic then coaches generally like you. I've always had that and so have generally got on well with the coaches I've had.

I'll flip it then. Were any of them frustrating to work with?
In what way?

Well, like Duncan Fletcher's obsession with pace as being the answer to everything.
Well, at the time I just thought that's how things were. I was in my early twenties and if the coach asked you to bowl quicker, you did it. I got on reasonably well with Duncan and did not have an issue with him.

Knowing what you do now, would you encourage younger bowlers to perhaps be a bit more stubborn if they are asked to adopt changes they don't feel suits them?
(Sharp intake of breath as he chooses his answer carefully) It depends on the individuals. Some guys are naturally stubborn, but some need guidance. I'd send a message more to the coaches than the players. The coaches have got to be more flexible. You've got to try to get the best out of someone but if it is not their natural thing, you shouldn't interfere too much. Find out what their talent is and improve it, don't change it.

Troy Cooley tried to get you to change your action, just as David Saker tried to get Steven Finn to change his run-up. In light of your experience with Troy what advice have you given Finn?
Finny has had a lot of coaches in his ear the past few years. He's not a young lad any more so it's down to him now. He needs to figure it out for himself: what do I need to do? He's had all this information, now he's got to try to process it. He's got to decide where he wants to go as a bowler. Do I want to swing it, do I want to bowl quick, do I want to nip it? It's down to him.

"Patience is vital for a swing bowler, so you might have to bowl a long spell, which makes fitness important"

It seems obvious from where I'm sitting that he needs to bowl fast. England have you, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes to do mid-80s mph. Finn needs to be 90mph-plus - an impact bowler who hits the deck hard from an awkward height.
We try telling him that. We say to him: "Why were you so successful early in your international career? It's because you bowled quick, hit the seam, and nipped the ball with pace and bounce." He caused the best in the world problems. He still averages 28 in Tests, and for me he's a dangerous bowler. But I see a lot of myself in him, he's a perfectionist. He wants everything to be right, his rhythm to be perfect, and to be hitting the crease spot on. But it doesn't happen like that.

It's one of the things bowlers learn when they get older, that a bit like batsmen making ugly runs, they still have to…
... find ways to be effective, exactly.

What else do you think makes a modern swing bowler? In terms of approach, specific fitness, tactics, techniques etc.
I think for a swing bowler it's important to work batsmen out, then set them up. Figure out if they are struggling to pick and play the outswinger, things like that. Patience is vital, so you might have to bowl a long spell, which makes fitness important. And just figuring out certain pitches, like those you might have to bowl fuller on. I mean, you might have to concede a couple of boundaries to get that edge. Which can be a difficult thing to do when you are a stubborn bowler who doesn't want to go for runs, but that's the nature of the game.

When as a bowler did you start to get your field over the captain's, or do you still not get what you want?
Cooky tries to encourage bowlers to think about their bowling and to set fields themselves. It's very rare that I set a field and Cooky doesn't like it. You've got to work closely with the captain, though, which is why I like to field in the slips to the other bowlers so I can chat to him all the time about fields and tactics. It's a good way to get ideas off your chest and to bounce them around.

"I've always enjoyed one-day cricket, though perhaps not anymore with teams now scoring 400-odd like they used to make 250" © Getty Images

When did an England captain first trust you to set your own field?
I suppose it was Straussy in about 2010. I felt really comfortable with my game and comfortable enough with Strauss, with whom I enjoyed a good working relationship.

When it's hooping around, is there a pressure to cash in? I remember my days in county cricket and if you said to a spinner, "That deck is going to turn square", they'd get all anxious as everyone would expect them to take stacks of wickets. Do you get fearful of that added expectation or do you think, "Bring it on"?
I absolutely love it when the ball is swinging. It's fun. It's what I love doing, showing off what skills I've got. I mean, there is no better place to do it than in front of a full house at Lord's, where the ball tends to swing anyway. There is obviously pressure to take wickets, but as a new-ball bowler that is always there anyway.

Can anyone be taught to swing a cricket ball conventionally?
Yeah, definitely.

You don't need a special aptitude or feel for it?
I was taught, but some people do pick it up naturally.

I think it's well known that you were taught how to swing it by Mike "Winker" Watkinson, Lancashire allrounder and later director of cricket at the club. But he ended up being a cutter/spin bowler, presumably because he lost faith in his ability to swing the ball.
I think as he got a bit older, and slower, he just thought, "I'll turn to offspin." I think it's down to the individual and how hard they want to work at being a swing bowler. When Winker was teaching me, I was working pretty much every day in the Lancs 2nd XI trying to bowl an outswinger until I perfected it. Same with the inswinger - just doing it and doing it until you have perfected it.

"It's not possible with the amount of cricket we play now, to be a quick bowler day in day out"

Did those new-found powers of swing excite you?
Oh yes, I was excited by it. But I was fortunate in my early career at Lancs to play with Warren Hegg, Neil Fairbrother and David Byas. They were experienced and assessed the conditions for me. If they felt it might swing, they'd tell me to try that. If not, they'd say just go back to bowling as fast as you can and hit the pitch hard. It was very helpful and a vital learning curve for me. I've always messed around with balls from a young age (he's still doing it as we speak with the Fraser relic). As a kid I'd bowl left-arm spin on our drive because I couldn't bowl legbreaks and I wanted to turn the ball away from my right-handed mates. So I've kind of always just fiddled around with stuff, seeing what worked. But having wise heads helping me to apply different skills. That was so valuable.

When you started swinging it was there anyone you sought to emulate?
Yeah, Digger [Lancashire and England bowler Peter Martin] and Glen Chapple [Lancashire stalwart]. I was a Lancashire fan as a kid and I loved watching them bowl when one-day cricket was still played with a red ball. I went to a Lord's final to see them as well. As a young bowler Chappie [Chapple] absolutely hooped it, and I couldn't get enough of watching him do that. Digger wasn't a big swing bowler but I just loved his action and that shape he got towards the slips.

Can you explain what happens technically, when you swing a cricket ball conventionally?
Yep. Kind of.

Show us how you grip the ball.

Anderson places two fingers not along the seam but slightly adjacent to it so it runs diagonally beneath them. The shiny side, still discernible on this 22-year-old ball, is on his right. His right index finger is pressing up against the outside edge of the seam. His thumb, more or less pointing forward, supports from below but rests right under the apex of the stitching. The grip is elegantly firm rather than tight and purposeful.

So you have the thumb right along the seam at the bottom?
Yeah. When I look to bowl the outswinger, I try to release the ball with this finger (the index finger on his right hand) coming off the ball last. When it comes off that finger, I feel I can push it in to the right-hander and it will swing away later. And the same principle with the inswinger, I can push it wide of off stump with the middle finger and hopefully it will come in later.

"Straussy was the best captain I ever played under because he just knew how to speak to each player" © AFP

Can you control the lateness of any swing?
I don't know if I can, but that's the feeling I get when I bowl that way. That's what I want to feel, get that angle going in, then move it away.

When I tried to swing it, I'd put pressure on the seam with one finger more than the other, usually the middle one. That guaranteed good backwards rotation, which I think you'll agree is vital for conventional swing.
Yeah.

I guess when it doesn't swing, you cock your wrist back more, shorten your length a tad, and hit the deck harder, to find other ways of taking wickets?
Yup. But when I try to bowl wobble seam I don't cock the wrist as much. I just try to let it come out almost neutral, if that makes sense, without too much action on it.

I changed grips several times during my career in pursuit of swing. Have you changed yours at all?
Yes. Something I picked up in my early days at Lancashire, so I probably got it off Digger, was about seam position. My start position was probably there (he holds Fraser's ball with seam angled slightly towards first slip to a right-hander). But he would get me to experiment by moving it a bit one way or the other (canting it towards second slip or even straighter, at the wicketkeeper), to see how much it would affect any swing there might have been. It's trial and error but you quickly get a sense of what works on any particular day.

What type of ball, not in terms of make but in terms of age, brand new versus one with the shine developed on one side, do you think swings the most? I tended to swing the brand new ball most.
I find with the Dukes ball that once the lacquer is off, and if it is in good condition, it can swing more than a new ball. That certainly happened in the first Test against Sri Lanka at Leeds. The new ball didn't swing much there at all. But in my second spell, with the lacquer off, it swung much more. If conditions are good and the ball stays in decent nick, I find a 20-over-old ball will swing more for me.

And when you bowl your inswinger, do you just let the wrist fall over a bit more to the left? I mean you bowl the inner [inswinger] with a brand new ball, so it cannot be where you position the shine.
I try not to think about it too much. I just make sure I get my middle finger coming off the seam last. My thumb stays in a similar position.

"The coaches have got to be more flexible. You've got to try to get the best out of someone, but if it is not their natural thing you shouldn't interfere too much"

Well, you must think about it a little bit because the line is so different.
Yeah, but... (trails off as he screws his face up, suggesting that I'm overcomplicating a process which is obviously second nature to him now)

What about arm position? Higher for the inswinger than the outswinger?
Higher and maybe even tilted beyond the vertical a bit.

What about wind direction and strength for helping or hindering swing? What's the optimum for you?
The ideal is a gentle breeze to run into. I'd like the wind to come at me a bit, but not too much that it blows me off course. I think the ball swings more into the wind.

I agree with you. Probably the most I swung a ball, that wasn't a 1989 Reader (which had a seam like a rope), was against West Indies at Edgbaston in 1991 and there was a light zephyr coming at me from third man. I reckon it helped to keep the seam upright and stable.
Yeah, that would be good. It's better than a crosswind, from right to left, which tends to make the outswinger go early while making the inswinger more difficult to bowl. Bowling downwind doesn't give the ball anything to work against, and therefore doesn't allow it to swing as much as it might.

Do built-up stadiums have an effect? If nothing else they must cut down the amount of wind. The MCG is so built up now, a breeze can't get in.
Maybe. Can't really remember. There's only a limited amount of really big stadiums we play at. So for instance Durham is quite open, there was a strong breeze at Headingley. Australia and India are the only places where you get those big grounds with high stands.

What about rhythm? Can you tell after just a few balls whether it is good and whether it is going to be a good day for you because of it?
Not necessarily. I don't think about the first few balls too much. All I think about is the line I'm bowling, as I want the batsman to play at the ball. Then, if I'm not landing right on the crease I'll think about whether I need to pick my legs up more running in. To me, the most I think about rhythm is pumping my legs, especially later in the day. If my legs are pumping well, I normally get to the crease well in decent rhythm.

Can you control the extent a ball swings? Going wide on the crease just plays with the batsman's perception and angles, rather than altering the amount of swing. What interests me is whether the amount of swing can be altered at will.
I don't try to control how much the ball swings. I'm not sure you can, or I'm not good enough to do so. So I'll play with the crease, over and round, especially round to left-handers. If I'm swinging it away from them I find using the crease crucial. For me that is the only way of changing the perception of how much the ball is swinging.

I'm going to test your memory now. Can you recall some of your better spells in detail? Let's start with your Test debut here at Lord's against Zimbabwe in 2003, where I think you took five for 70 odd…
Five for 73.

Cockatoo: the red tint of 2003

Cockatoo: the red tint of 2003 © PA Photos

Good, you remember it clearly then?
That was one of the days it didn't really swing at Lord's with the new ball but swung later in the game. I think I went for 16 or 17 off my first over.

I made a little note that you got Mark Vermeulen, Zimbabwe's opener, early on, then mopped up the tail.
Yeah. Vermeulen missed a ball that went gun-barrel straight and then all the others were swung out.

At that point, you had blond frosting in your hair, one of several tints you courted in those early days.
Yup.

Later in the summer, when you took five against South Africa at Trent Bridge, you had red tints.
Yup. And now I'm going for the grey tint.

There was a story that your aunt was a hairdresser and that she rang the changes.
Yes, she did it all. I came up with the ideas and she just did it for me.

It was certainly the talk of the media. I recall John Woodcock doing one of his huffier pieces about Anderson's hair tints. His line went something like, "If he insists on looking like a cockatoo there's a danger of him bowling like one too."

That five-fer against South Africa must have been satisfying, including as it did Jacques Kallis? Also, three of your victims were bowled.
I remember that game well-ish. Kallis left one that came back a bit and was bowled. Neil McKenzie nicked an inswinger. So you could say neither of those dismissals were particularly planned in that way. But I'll take them.

What about the 5 for 63 against South Africa in Cape Town in January 2010, your first five-wicket haul not in English-style conditions.
That was the drawn Test when Graham Onions hung on at the end.

"I see a lot of myself in him. He's a perfectionist, he wants everything to be right, his rhythm to be perfect, and to be hitting the crease spot on" On Steven Finn

My memory is that the pitch was pretty flat.
I remember it now, the Kookaburra ball swung after lunch on the first day. It was flat but it swung a bit and the ball carried. Yeah, I did bowl well. I got Graeme Smith caught behind with an outswinger that went across him, and then cleaned up the tail. (he smiles, then laughs at the false modesty)

Then there was 5 for 72 against Sri Lanka in Galle in 2012. Hot as Hades, humid as a sauna, a slow, flat pitch, and Mahela Jayawardene gets 180. Not bad figures.
That was probably the first time I felt I enjoyed bowling in those conditions. I got it reverse swinging, and apart from Mahela, who I got with the second new ball, I took all the other wickets with reverse swing. I think I started to hide the ball in my hand as well. That was the first time, not where I'd got the better of those sorts of conditions, but where I'd figured out how to get wickets in those conditions.

What about the Tests in India during the 2012-13 tour? You took 12 wickets, including six in Kolkata, which included Sachin and Kohli. You must have had good plans there?
That whole tour was a good one and we had good plans. We practised a lot of reverse swing. I think we played two seamers that series [they did in all but the first Test, where they played three and lost], because Monty [Panesar] and Swanny [Graeme Swann] played together. Bowling in a two-man seam attack was not something I'd done much of, so it was a good experience, but it wasn't that daunting following on as it did from that Sri Lanka Test we've just mentioned. In the first half of my career I'd have struggled just figuring out ways to take wickets on pitches like those.

On Stuart Broad:

On Stuart Broad: "We've got a good relationship off the field, which helps the one on it" © PA Photos

Did you not get anxious at all? It would be easy to think as one half of a two-man seam attack that if it doesn't turn there's nobody to do the bowling.
I guess so, yeah (chuckles a bit). But you've got to trust the plans you come up with. What we've got so much better at in recent years is to stop having thoughts like that and to actually have plans B and C. If the pitch is flat and they are playing well, let's set a defensive field, whether 7-2 or 8-1 off-side field and hang in for a bit.

To bowl dry?
Exactly. We've got better at figuring out when to do it. Sometimes it works and gets you wickets.

Does bowling dry give you confidence in overseas conditions, which can be traditionally tough on seam and swing bowlers?
I think knowing you have got that option definitely helps. Knowing that you can do it. Of course it's all well and good bowling to a 7-2 off-side field, but if you bowl cut balls and drive balls, they are still going to score. The extra protection doesn't mean you can relax. You still have to hit your length. It took a while for me to perfect it but you can create chances using it.

What about individual batsmen? You got Sachin out in that Kolkata Test. What were your plans for him?
Whenever I bowled at Sachin I always felt I could get him out lbw or bowled [Anderson dismissed Tendulkar nine times in 14 Tests, five of them bowled or lbw]. Whether it was in England, by shaping a few away then running one back into him, or in India, where it reverses. Either way the plan was generally away, away, away with the odd one coming back in. With someone like him, you don't mind him playing a few nice straight drives, because there is always the chance you might get through.

Then there are the 24 wickets you took in the 2010-11 Ashes in Australia. Was that your most satisfying moment as a bowler, especially abroad?
It's alongside that India series I think. Obviously I'd not had an enjoyable time in Australia the tour before. But I was a better, more experienced bowler on that trip, with better plans. I'd sort of learnt how to wobble the ball, so I could nip it off the seam rather than just rely on swing.

Never seems to swing for too long in Australia.
No, not with Kookaburra balls. We were very fortunate that series that most of the pitches had a little bit of something in them. The MCG did, Adelaide did first day. So we got lucky with the conditions.

Show me how you bowl wobble seam.
If that's my normal grip to bowl an outswinger [as described earlier] I just widen my index and middle finger so they are off the seam. Same sort of pressure from those fingers and thumb on the ball, but then I try not to cock my wrist back. Then hopefully when I bowl, the ball just sort of comes out loosely without too much action on it.

"Cooky [Alastair Cook] tries to encourage bowlers to think about their bowling and to set fields themselves. It's very rare that I set a field and Cooky doesn't like it"

Kissing the top of the pitch as they used to say.
Exactly.

That's interesting because the perceived wisdom on the hard pitches you tend to get abroad, especially in Australia, was that you need to hit the deck hard with the ball.
Sometimes you can let the pitch do it all for you.

What do you consider to be your best spell or performance?
My best performance in a match was Trent Bridge 2013 against Australia.

It wasn't conventional Trent Bridge, lush, with the ball hooping around, was it?
No. In that last innings the pitch was dry. I was bowling cutters with catchers in front on the drive. I think I got Chris Rogers out caught at midwicket with an offcutter. And yet with the game getting tight and it becoming a pressure situation, it was probably the best I've bowled, especially as I had a 13-over spell at one stage in their second innings.

I remember Cook dropping Peter Siddle at a crucial stage on the last day.
Not for the first time…

As a journalist great spells can pass you by when you are stuck behind glass in the press box, but not that one. The spellbinding drama of the match, coupled with Anderson's mammoth spell, really confirmed him as the leader of England's attack. That was the moment a woolly abstraction was given sharp focus.

"Whenever I bowled at Sachin I always felt I could get him out lbw or bowled" © Getty Images

Bowling swing can be a very elusive, will-o'-the-wisp skill, here one moment gone the next. There have been those like Richard Ellison, even Ian Botham, who've been king of the swingers one minute and then unable to bend it at all the next. When did it become apparent to you that you needed alternative ways of bowling?
I suppose it was just before the Ashes tour of 2010-11. We watched Mohammad Asif bowl here at Lord's, and the seam was just wobbling in the air a bit but it was moving either way off the seam when it pitched. So I went in the nets with David Saker and just tried to figure out with my grip how to get the ball to do what he was doing with it. So we got the video camera to focus on the seam to see what it was doing and just went from there.

What about reverse swing? When were you first able to harness that?
I suppose I got a taste of it at the start of my career with Lancashire. Old Trafford used to be dry and quick, so it was quite important to figure out there how to bowl it. Again, Digger and Chappie were helpful with that [and they] in turn would have been helped by Wasim Akram a few years before that. Then on trips abroad to India and the like. As strange as it sounds, it's difficult to bowl reverse swing. I feel I have to use a completely different action and a different release to conventional swing.

I don't know if you would agree but I always say that conventional swing requires good technique from the bowler, while reverse requires good technique on the ball.
Definitely. (The knowing smile on Anderson's face perhaps giving away the illegality some of those techniques entail.)

But can that good technique on the ball be achieved within the laws of the game?
Of course it can.

What, you just have to wait longer for the ball to abrade?
Yeah. Sometimes we just need to wait longer, but you can hasten the process by bowling cross-seam to rough it up. Or by throwing it in short of the keeper so it scuffs up on the square. The difficulty for us in places like India, Sri Lanka and Dubai, certainly in the past, is that it has generally been hot and humid and everyone's dripping wet. And if you get any moisture on the ball then all the work you have put in to prepare it for reverse swing goes out the window.

"I've always messed around with balls from a young age. As a kid I'd bowl left-arm spin on our drive because I couldn't bowl legbreaks and I wanted to turn the ball away from my right-handed mates"

So that's why the ball always goes to Cook because he, allegedly, doesn't sweat?
Yes.

They say you have to bowl reverse a bit quicker to make it go properly, 80mph probably won't cut it. Do you agree?
Yeah. I remember Colly [Paul Collingwood] bowling with a ball we'd got reversing and he'd swing it conventionally.

Are you still England's ball-chooser before Tests?
We've got more relaxed with that, so me and Broady take, not exactly turns to choose it, but if I've just been batting and he's got his bowling boots on, the third umpire will come into the dressing room with the balls and he'll make the choice. Or if Broady has just been batting, I'll choose. We both know what we are looking for.

What are you looking for?
Small, dark, ball with a big seam, ideally.

Not much has changed. I used to choose the ball for Essex and when I played Tests, for England too, and that is exactly what I went for. However, according to a couple of umpires, Kapil Dev used to choose the biggest ball on offer, using the ring calipers to make that choice. His theory was that if he swung it, batsmen used to play and miss a lot and that a bigger ball might just take the edge instead.

What makes a good red-ball bowler as opposed to a good white-ball bowler?
The obvious one is the stamina and patience thing and the realisation that in red-ball cricket you might have to bowl 25 overs in a day. You need to be able to come back in your third and fourth spells and still have good pace and be a threat. But the roles are similar. You've constantly got to be thinking on your feet about the batsmen and your field positions. Maybe that sort of thing is easier in Test cricket, as batsmen generally aren't looking to smack you out of the park all the time.

Swinging at Lord's: Anderson took 5 for 73 on Test debut

Swinging at Lord's: Anderson took 5 for 73 on Test debut © PA Photos

These days, someone like you, whose strengths are accuracy, hitting a good length, seem to be at a disadvantage in one-dayers because the batsman is bent on hitting the ball hard and he knows where to look for it. It's a bit like Michael Vaughan and batting. What made him a great Test player made him a predictable, and therefore less good, one-day batsman.
(Thinks a while before answering) If you are predictable in one-day cricket you are going to struggle with bat or ball. When I started one-day cricket most batsmen would still get themselves in during the first ten overs, so accuracy kept the runs down. But if white-ball cricket keeps going the way it is, with totals going ever upwards, there is no place for predictability.

There are those who feel you are less interested in playing white-ball cricket. Is that true?
No. I've always loved playing one-day cricket. I find it a nice change. I like the pace of it and the fielding aspect of it, charging round the outfield trying to save runs. I've always enjoyed it, though perhaps not anymore with teams now scoring 400-odd like they used to make 250.

Who is your best mate in cricket?
Probably Cooky or Broady, I'd say.

Not Swanny? I mean he and you used to knock around a bit when you played together. You must miss him?
We still keep in touch, but he's doing his thing now and trying to stay busy so we don't speak as much as we used to.

Did his departure force you to be a slightly different person or to change your approach to playing at all?
I had to start talking to other people in the dressing room.

"I'm quite light on my feet, and I think I have a high pain threshold as well. I've played through quite a few niggles"

But when someone close to you suddenly retires, it can be like a family bereavement.
Luckily, I get on well with most of the lads in the team. It's just part and parcel of the game that you and your mates are going to retire at some stage.

Has you wife Danielle had any influence on the way you've played the game? Does she and your two daughters even like cricket?
No. They don't like cricket because it usually means that I'm going away. They come and watch for about half an hour at a time, and they are really supportive. But I wouldn't say they are massive fans.

When you look at it closely, playing cricket is a very selfish way of making a living.
Completely.

But then if you are good at it and earning well, would the wife and family settle for something less in order to see more of you? I'm not so sure.
Yeah. Would you be living in that house and driving that car? My wife realises it is not going to be forever and she's really supportive, for which I'm very grateful. And it is really selfish of me. I'm very aware of that.

Apart from one period, you haven't missed much cricket. What's the secret to your fitness? You're not a yoga man like Ryan Giggs, are you?
No, I'm not. I think I'm just very lucky that I have a slight frame with very little weight going through my body when I bowl. I'm quite light on my feet, and I think I have a high pain threshold as well. I've played through quite a few niggles. I do work hard in the gym, trying to stay as robust as possible.

On his five-for in Galle, 2012:

On his five-for in Galle, 2012: "That was the first time I'd figured out how to get wickets in those conditions" © Getty Images

Do you think that T20 is eroding batsmen's techniques and bowlers like you, who are skilful and move the ball, can cash in when they play red-ball cricket?
Quite possibly, yeah.

Well, it just seems to me that when the red ball does something these days in England you are looking at a three-day Test.
It's a tricky one. There is the possibility that T20 affects players' techniques. At the same time does it affect bowlers' actions in that they try to bowl quicker in one-day cricket, lose their actions, and batsmen find it easier to score off them as a result? It could have an effect on everyone. But then you see guys like Joe Root - his transition through each format of the game is just so smooth. It's finding that balance, which I believe is more a mental thing than anything.

Have you ever been really despondent as a cricketer? I'm thinking of how down you looked in Johannesburg in 2004-05, when you came in as a late replacement for Simon Jones and couldn't seem to stop bowling wides.
I didn't really know where the ball was going. Up until then I'd just been bowling in the nets and at a stump for four weeks, so there was no consistency. I just wasn't in a good place really. Having that bad day, then hearing that Jon Lewis had been brought into the squad for the next game, which meant I got eased straight back out. That was a low point, definitely, though I did get two wickets - one caught at cover, one at third man, both off wide long hops.

How do captains get the best out of you? Or is it just a question of self-motivation?
No, I think a captain is really important. I think they need to understand their players individually. I always say Straussy was the best captain I ever played under because he just knew how to speak to each player. He knew exactly what to say at the right time. Whether they needed lifting up or calming down, he used to get it spot on and always did it in the right manner. Obviously he was tactically very good as well. I like people who get to know me and speak to me and understand what makes me tick. I think most players do.

"The ideal is a gentle breeze to run into. I'll like the wind to come at me a bit, but not too much that it blows me off course"

Is it true that your favourite World Cup kit is England's 1992 kit?
Yes it is. I think because coloured clothing had not been around that long, or certainly not in England. I was ten at the time and asked for it for my birthday present and got it. I loved it. I actually saw that final. Not many people had Sky in Burnley at the time, but my dad's mate had it so we sat and watched the final at about 3.30 in the morning.

When you are bowling, you obviously have plans for each batsman, but how quickly would you move away from that plan? Or are you stubborn and stick with it?
It's down to gut feel and talking to the captain. I'm always talking to Cooky so I can bounce ideas off him, like should I come round [the wicket] to this guy or should I have an extra cover from third slip and bowl a bit fuller. If a plan is working and you are beating the bat, and you are forcing some false shots, you stick with it. But you can tell quite quickly if something is not working.

Is what motivated the young Jimmy Anderson the same thing that motivates the world's No. 1 Test bowler?
I think it's the same - I just love playing cricket. If I wasn't playing for England then I'd be playing for a weekend side somewhere. I just love playing the game, I love taking wickets and the feeling I get from that. I had that when I started and that's what motivates me now. It's a nice thing to have, being No. 1 in the world, but it's not something that has driven me on. I just really enjoy playing cricket for this England team and winning games of cricket.

Have you drilled down to why taking wickets brings you so much pleasure? You might argue there is a hint of sadism there, given it causes batsmen so much angst to be dismissed.
Definitely. But I think it's a combination of things. Having thought up a plan before the game, then having that plan come off. There is nothing better than bowling three outswingers then an inswinger that goes through the gate and knocks out middle stump. Mind you, I don't mind how the wickets come. Also, getting a wicket in a pressure situation when the captain has thrown you the ball, and then you deliver - that is an amazing feeling.

In his book, Kevin Pietersen suggested that bowlers, especially you and Broad, were tyrannical towards the fielders. Did he have a point?
Yeah. But I wouldn't say tyrannical. When you are working hard to get a wicket, it is difficult. You might be in your 20th over and you finally get that edge and it goes down. You know the guy doesn't mean to do it but in the same way when you get a wicket, you celebrate, and you might look back and think, "What the hell am I celebrating like an absolute lunatic for?" It's just the emotion that comes with trying to do your job. So when that catch goes down and your emotions are boiling, it doesn't always come out as politely as it should.

On his young family:

On his young family: "They don't like cricket because it usually means that I'm going away. They come and watch for about half an hour at a time" © PA Photos

Like a Tourette's outburst?
Yeah. But I wouldn't have a direct volley at someone. I'd maybe sulk for an over or two, which is not ideal, I know that. But it's the frustration. But we didn't really volley anyone, it was… I don't know…

Kevin getting a book out of it?
Batsmen being precious.

You're the No. 1 Test bowler and England hold the Ashes. Are you content or is there unfinished business?
I'm content. I'm happy with what I've achieved, definitely. But I still feel like I've got overs in me and I've got wickets in me. So I want to keep going. We've got an exciting challenge in India and then the Ashes, so there's lots to play for.

Does being the No. 1 Test team mean much to you?
No, but for us I think it will take a while. We need to become more consistent, which we are slowly doing. Whether we can get there in the next 12 to 18 months I'm not sure. But we are definitely trying to do that. For me, though, it's more that we are building a platform for the future now, with players like Ben Stokes and Joe Root. They are the cricketers, with Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler, who I think will keep England at No. 1 for five to ten years. It's frightening the amount of talent we have in the dressing room.

How many more miles in those legs?
I don't know. I feel fit at the moment, I feel fresh. I feel like I can bowl long spells. I'm happy with what I'm doing and I want to keep doing the same things. I know it sounds boring but I plan to keep working hard in the gym and the nets, then make sure everything is in working order two days out from a Test.

They say you are a long time retired, Jimmy.
Yes, that's what everyone keeps telling me.

With that we conclude and Anderson, a little begrudgingly, hands back Fraser's ball.

Derek Pringle is a freelance journalist currently writing a column for The Cricket Paper

 

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