NOT since the halcyon days of Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff or for those of an older hue, Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham, has an English cricketer dominated a session to such an extent that he singlehandedly forced the opportunity of an improbable victory.
Well, James ‘Jimmy’ Anderson did just that yesterday morning with a hand in all six wickets to fall in the opening session and, if this was an Ashes series, he would be the king of the talk-show circuit.
First, he did his primary role of bowling superbly with the new ball. England needed to utilise that to its utmost if they were to stop this game from slipping to a draw and it was Anderson that did it with some brilliant bowling.
The pitch is still flatter than a coalition election rally and yet Anderson delivered a rearing bouncer to centurion Kraigg Braithwaite that was caught in the gully by Joe Root, followed by Shivnarine Chanderpual and Marlon Samuels edging behind. The three were dismissed in seven overs for 15 runs and suddenly the game was alive.
And Anderson’s energy and effort were infectious as Chanderpaul’s dismissal owed plenty to the razor- sharp reactions of Alastair Cook who was swift enough to complete a one handed catch after Ian Bell had dropped it at second slip.
It was instinctive and brilliant and England must hope a sign that the captain is regaining his mojo.
But Anderson was not finished. A shocked and reeling West Indies suffered more as, first, Jermaine Blackwood picked out Anderson at mid-off off Chris Jordan and then a mix-up in the running allowed a gleeful Anderson to sprint round at mid-off, collect the ball and, despite being off-balance, throw the bowler’s stumps down with Jason Holder yards from safety.
It left West Indies 95 ahead but seven wickets down with well over two sessions remaining. They needed calm heads to get through to lunch to allow the pace of momentum in the game to change.
Instead Kemar Roach reacted to being pressured by a vibrant England and lofted Moeen Ali to mid off. Who was there to take the catch? Anderson.
How he must have enjoyed his lunch, but for the cricket lover it was a saving grace that finally some excellent cricket took over this Test match as the first four days were only noteworthy for the extra dollars ringing in Grenada government’s tills and the an unseemly spat between Samuels and Ben Stokes.
Cricket deserves better than Samuel’s childish antics and his saluting of Stokes from the field when dismissed was as puerile as his fracas with Shane Warne in the Big Bash league a couple of winters ago.
Not that England cared as Moeen Ali completed the work of Anderson by dismissing the final two batters in successive balls. Both were lbw after review and it left England the relatively simple task of 143 runs to win in 59 overs.
Not that the fact two hours of brilliance by Anderson forcing a result should deflect attention from the dreadful cricket pitch offered by Grenada. Good cricketers of all persuasions need pace, bounce and general life in a wicket.
Not only does it help the better players, but it helps them provide an interesting, often compelling, spectacle and the administrators around the globe should not forget that cricket is part of a huge entertainment industry. If it offers dull fare, it will wither and die.
No chief executive’s short-termism of ensuring a game lasts five days, often a curse in England when the grounds have paid too much for hosting rights, or getting tourists on an island, the sole reason England are in Grenada, will protect the sport. At least those who follow England should have some cheer. It has been a pretty dismal 12 months for England cricket, but the younger players will grow in confidence if England can string a few wins together..
Joe Root is a superb cricketer and is fast developing into a senior hand, but England’s future depend on the likes of Ali, Jordan and Gary Ballance becoming entrenched as international cricketers.
There will be harder challenges, most notably New Zealand and Australia this summer, but wins, especially those of an improbable nature, can only boost them. They will not be able to rely on Anderson forever.