Less than 24 hours after asking tough questions to the Indian bowlers at the Rose Bowl, the third Test Man of the Match, James Anderson, was at the Grand Harbour conference hall to answer a few uncomfortable queries himself.
A couple of days after his 32nd birthday, the world’s premier swing bowler, who is just 13 wickets away from overtaking Ian Botham as England’s most successful bowler ever, was one of the central characters in a kind of row that’s more common between unruly kindergarten kids in queue during bathroom recess than international cricketers at lunch break.
“He abused me, he pushed me,” complains one. “But he was the one who provoked me,” replies another.
The arguments that school teachers deal with everyday were being vehemently discussed by high-profile lawyers quoting complex disciplinary clauses in front of a giant screen installed in a Southampton hotel that in turn was wired to a judicial commissioner sitting 10,000 miles away in Australia.
Couldn’t this seemingly juvenile issue be sorted out in a mature way? Wouldn’t a pulled ear here or a rap on the knuckles there have ended this unwanted drama that is smudging this engrossing series? Actually, the ICC had tried its best to defuse this crisis with backroom parleys. That’s the reason the incident remained under wraps as the world body tried convincing the BCCI and the ECB to move on.
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It was only on July 15 when the teams reached Lord’s for the second Test that the July 10 — second day of the Test — altercation between the players came to light. This was also because of the ECB media statement that had expressed disappointment about the Indian board slapping Anderson with a Level-3 violation of the ICC Code of Conduct. Out of the blue, the story had moved without the introductory first chapter.
The reason the ICC-BCCI-ECB efforts failed is because Mahendra Singh Dhoni was very keen on pressing charges against Anderson. By doing so, he was merely giving an official voice to the murmurs in the Indian dressing room and making public the talk on the cricket circuit around the world. He had the support of the manager on this tour, Sunil Dev.
Regulars in the Indian team, those who have faced-off against Anderson in the 2011 away series, World Cup, the 2013 home series and now, call him a habitual sly sledger. For a man who had just one Code of Conduct violation against him, Anderson has perfected the art of instigating his rivals without being seen or heard.
His constant chatter with his hand on the mouth, hiding the lip movement that scores of cameras covering the game catch, is as much a part of his arsenal as his breathtaking swing, deadly seam movement and the surprise bouncer.
Mean and wily
They say, Anderson is mean and wily in every sense of the word. After years of practising his art without being caught or pulled up, it has become increasingly tough for him to kick the habit. Even a couple of days before the hearing, the fourth day of the Test, Anderson was at it again. With India’s last recognised pair of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane at the crease, the England pace spearhead’s tongue lashing was on.
It has emerged from the Indian dressing room that he had even stood in way of the batsmen when they were taking a run. Rahane made it a point to bring the pacer’s act to the attention of the field umpire, Rod Tucker.
Anderson and India have a past too. It is also learnt that during the last series in 2011, he had said something to Rahul Dravid that didn’t go down well with the Indian team. Once again, this was done shrewdly, avoiding the cameras or any other attention.
Similar was the case during the last Ashes in Australia. The world heard Clarke’s now famous “Get ready for a broken f—— arm” sledge when Anderson came to bat but not what provoked the Aussie captain. That is till Shane Warne, tuned in to Channel 9 stump mikes while on air and gave the complete the picture. After Clarke was pulled up, Warne tweeted: “@MClarke23 [Clarke’s twitter name] stuck up for his debutant Bailey as he should have as capt after Anderson said he wanted to punch Bailey in the face!”
There is this growing feeling among the Indians that Anderson gets away lightly as the field umpires don’t intervene strongly. This was the case when Jadeja complained to the umpires during the post-lunch session at Trent Bridge and even Rahane did the same at stumps on Day 4 at Southampton.
The English too should take the blame for spoiling their star. They indulgently call him ‘grumpy’ and treat him like an erring blue-eyed infant whenever he crosses the line.
“Oh Jimmy, oh Jimmy, why do you do that?” they would coo from the stands as Anderson continued to be Anderson on his birthday at Southampton despite the threat of a ban looming over his head. After play Joe Root was asked about the Rahane-Anderson incident. “He’s more grumpy because he is a year older,” Root said.
Last year, Anderson was asked about his responsibility as a role model and he had replied saying “at the end of the day we are trying to win a game of cricket”. He would follow this by saying, “Cooky (Alastair Cook) did tell me once that if I’m grumpy at breakfast then he knows that I’m going to bowl well that day.”