Dark-red dukes ball, gloomy skies, a pitch with a tinge of green and an awaiting James Anderson: a scene we have seen far too often. And one with an inevitable result: Bamboozled batsmen. Extravagant swing. Tantalising seam. Limitless control. A supernatural display of poetry in motion. The expertise of Anderson in overcast conditions is not just swing-bowling at it’s peak, it’s wizardry.
We saw it again today, but this time, it was different. Today was special. There wasn’t a dark-red dukes ball or a pitch with a tinge of green. But instead, there was a scuffed SG ball and a ragged dust bowl of a pitch. A scenario that many have ridiculed Anderson for his ineffectiveness in. And yet he still delivered the goods. All with one over of genius.
James Anderson stood imposingly at the top of his mark, approaching his first over of the day. He eyed the young Shubman Gill. Gill had played sublimely for his 50 but his resistance was about to end. Anderson meticulously adjusted his grip on the ball. Every minute detail had to be perfect. The ball felt sparkling smooth on one side but coarse on the other, exactly how it was meant to be.
Anderson steamed in with intent. He hid his prized ball with his non-bowling arm, protecting the secrets of the delivery he was about to unleash. Anderson delivered the ball with venom. The seam was characteristically flawless yet with a subtly tilted axis that promised lavish movement. At the last moment, the ball twisted inwards but Gill was immovable. He blocked it into the legside. Anderson was quietly delighted; the ball had swerved just like he had hoped. Now his greatest ally had joined the battle, nothing could stop him.
Anderson ran in again. That magical wrist of his loaded back momentarily, like the trigger of a gun, when suddenly, it fired. The ball reversed ferociously late with searing incision. But the carnage wasn’t complete: the laser-aimed missile of a delivery deviated away from the hoping defence of Shubman Gill and cannoned into his off stump. As if the drama of the occasion was not enough, the stump cartwheeled several times before settling down into its resting place. Gill held his pose in disbelief. How could it be? This was theatre. Sheer cricketing theatre.
Rahane walked to the crease. He certainly is no stranger to crisis but is facing James Anderson with the reversing ball a crisis too far? Nevertheless, he got into his stance and awaited the haunting prospect of the world’s finest swing bowler. The ball was temptingly wide and with a smidgeon of movement. Rahane left with ease; it wasn’t an overly challenging delivery. Perhaps there would be respite? He was desperately wrong.
Anderson bowled a sensational in-ducker. Rahane was tentative. Why wouldn’t you be? When a fast bowler with 600 wickets hurls a reverse swinging beauty at you, attack is the last thing on your mind. To make matters worse, the ball kept deceivingly low. It was all too much for Rahane as the ball thumped into his front pad. England appealed. Umpire declined. England reviewed but still, Rahane survived by a matter of millimetres. Tension was mounting in the crowd less Chepauk. James Anderson was in his prime.
The off-stump cartwheeled several times before settling down into it’s resting place. James Anderson had done it again. He had bowled another sensational in-ducker, a carbon-copy of Gill’s dismissal, and Rahane was uprooted. But more than the raw movement that Anderson produced, it was the unerring accuracy. It is one thing to be able to generate reverse swing but taming it is a fine art on it’s own.
Anderson proved again today he is not the master of overcast conditions and swing but rather the master of the cricket ball itself.