James Anderson’s double-wicket maiden in Chennai as good as any over he has bowled for England

James Anderson’s double-wicket maiden in Chennai as good as any over he has bowled for England

February 9, 2021

“I didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary,” James Anderson told reporters.

Far be it from me to disagree with England’s greatest ever bowler, especially on the subject of bowling, but I beg to differ.

The 38-year-old’s first over on day five of England’s unforgettable win over India in Chennai might well have been the very best of his Test career and looks sure to be put alongside Andrew Flintoff’s efforts against Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis as the best by an England bowler in the last 20 years.

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All five overs of the spell were of the highest quality, the numbers don’t always tell you the whole story but figures of 3-6 with three maidens illustrate the point pretty clearly on that front, the first, though, was truly special.

Joe Root had chosen to hold back his senior pace bowler in the morning session, waiting for the optimum time, when the ball was at its most receptive to reverse swing, to unleash him.

Anderson's spell was the eighth time he'd taken at least three wickets in a spell lasting five overs or less. All eight of those instances have been since 2015. #IndvEng

By that time Jack Leach had already claimed the crucial wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara but Virat Kohli had had half an hour to settle into his innings and Shubman Gill had just reached a self-assured half-century.

England’s situation was a long way from desperate but if they did not make the most of conditions and break the partnership while the ball retained some of its hardness, it was easy to envisage a situation where it could soon feel that way.

An over before drinks, it was time for Anderson. And, as he has so often in his 18-year Test career, he delivered.

Reverse swing was in evidence from ball one, a full delivery to Gill that tailed in late and was jabbed off middle and into the legside by the opener.

That was the gauge, the tester, and Anderson didn’t need another. He knew what was on offer for him and set about using it.

His second ball was a thing of beauty: the full length, pitching perfectly in the channel, the angle in to the right-hander from over the wicket, aided further by the reverse-swing and then sound of leather on wood as the ball exploded through the gate and sent the off stump cartwheeling.

Gill wore a bewildered expression as he trudged off, he had barely been troubled by the first 82 balls he faced but having left just the slightest gap between bat and pad as he went forward to defend the 83rd, his match was over.

Ajinkya Rahane took guard and, having just castled Gill with the in-swinger, Anderson tempted the new man with a full delivery outside off that held its line. The India vice-captain left it well alone, plenty of time to think about going after that sort of delivery once you’ve got yourself in.

It was back to the in-ducker next ball, a short stride from Rahane and when the ball hooped back in late, stayed low and pinned him on the front pad, England went up as one. There was no doubt the ball was cannoning into the stumps, it was only a matter of whether it hit Rahane in line.

The umpire thought not, Root politely disagreed and reviewed. Arguably they were both right, such is the nature of umpire’s call, and while ball-tracking confirmed it was hitting the stumps a third of the way up middle, it stayed with the on-field decision.

As Rahane walked off next ball have seen his off stump back-flip its way towards Jos Buttler behind the stumps, taking India’s hopes of victory with it, he could have been forgiven for thinking it might have been better, and saved everyone a bit of time, if the lbw decision had gone the other way.

Good deliveries are often described as unplayable, certainly batsmen at all levels will claim there is nothing they could have done to prevent certain dismissals, but Gill and Rahane may be rare cases where either is somewhere close to the truth.

“It’s always nice to see the stumps cartwheeling out of the ground, it doesn’t happen very often at my age so I’m really happy that it did today.”

James Anderson

All the key components of the dismissals were the same: reverse-swing back into the right-hander, ball shooting between bat and pad, off stump spinning down to fine leg. This time though, Anderson had gone slightly wider on the crease and got the ball to jag back off the pitch as much as through the air to sneak through Rahane’s defences.

It was breathless stuff, more than enough to make the England supporters who had committed to the early mornings over the past five days feel justified in their decision, and after the excitement of Anderson’s first five balls, the umpires acted in everyone’s interests and called for drinks.

For India a chance to try and regroup and figure out quite how to stop Anderson’s merciless attack on the off stump, for England the opportunity to refocus on the task of getting six more Indian wickets and for everybody a couple of minutes to let what they had just seen sink in.

Once all parties had completed their tasks – with varying degrees of success – Rishabh Pant faced up the last ball of the over. Anderson was around the wicket to the left-hander, a change of angle, a change of plan required but the same unerring accuracy with the ball zeroing in on the stumps.

“It really is (more fun than ever before). The guys we’ve got, we’re creating something really special.”

Anderson on enjoying his cricket at 38

Pant got forward to defend, slightly tentatively given what he had seen in the minutes prior, but he had survived – Anderson would be back for his wicket a couple of overs later.

England needed another six wickets and while the game was not won, it was surely in that Anderson over that India knew they were beaten.

“Jimmy is the GOAT of English cricket,” Root said after the match, and in just six balls under the clear blue Chennai skies he showed every bit of the skill, consistency and intelligence that has earned him that title.

It was anything but ordinary.

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