Of all the roles James Anderson has donned for his country in his glorious career—swing and seam virtuoso, leader, mentor, slips-man and lower-order entertainer—it’s that of a provocateur that has been in the focus for the best part of this series.
With the hooping ball, he has tormented the best of India’s batsmen this century, from Sachin Tendulkar to Virat Kohli, and as if this was not enough, he had instigated flare-ups — with fiery characters, no less, like Ravindra Jadeja and Virat Kohli — that have gone onto fire up contests. India-England encounters have seldom matched the vitriol levels of their duels with Australia. But Anderson’s altercations with Kohli and Bumrah could infuse a skittish, brazen edge to what has historically been an incident-free fixture.
It began with the involvement of generally the least confrontational of characters–the ever-smiling Jasprit Bumrah at the backend of the third day. In a 10-ball over, thanks to four no-balls, Bumrah went ballistic to soften up England’s No. 11 batsman. By the end of it, Anderson was visibly shaken.
The first ball was a bouncer that blasted onto Anderson’s face, which the latter tried to fend but the helmet took a dent. Rib-music followed and the ball hit the target. The third ball, too, was aimed at Anderson’s ribs and somehow the batsman managed to get a slice of wood on it. Then, after bowling a searing yorker, Bumrah yet again went back to the short-ball mode. It riled Anderson.
It was not the first time Anderson had copped such treatment–Mitchell Johnson had famously done that in the 2013-14 series, not just at Anderson but the entire lower order. In the same series, he had expressed his discontent at the tactic and had even complained to the umpire in vain. “I don’t know what constitutes dangerous bowling. It’s the umpire’s personal take on it,” he told BBC. Root though defended the ploy. “It’s Test cricket. As a lower-order player against an attack like that you’ve got to expect traffic in that area and make sure you deal with it,” he said
Unlike Johnson, though, Bumrah is one of the quietest players in the Indian team and from that perspective, his duel with Anderson came out of the blue. Then again, he was just following his captain’s command. At the end of England’s innings, Bumrah approached Anderson and patted him on the back. But he was unimpressed and mouthed a few words to the Indian quick. After the Test, Ravichandran Ashwin divulged the details of the conversation on his YouTube channel.
“The thing was, Jimmy was like, ‘Hey mate! Why are you bowling so fast? Am I doing the same to you?’ The beauty about that is, looks like Jimmy had told Boom (Bumrah), ‘All this while, you were bowling in 80 mph; suddenly on seeing me, why are you bowling in 90 mph?” Ashwin told the Indian team fielding coach R Sridhar.
The senior off-spinner was surprised at Anderson’s reaction. “What was surprising to me was that kind of question. I agree, maybe he was shaken. Getting hit on the helmet is definitely not easy and I empathise with him, but still, that kind of a statement coming from Jimmy was a surprise to me,” Ashwin said.
In an attritional Test match, Kohli showed tactical nous to target the opponents’ biggest match-winner and succeeded spectacularly. Not only was Anderson shaken, his captain Joe Root, who had exposed the No. 11 to a short-ball barrage, took the assault personally and lost it tactically when Bumrah walked out to bat during India’s second innings.
India actually took a leaf out of the old Aussie book – target the captain and the team will surrender. While Root’s batting brilliance could save England, the hosts’ chances of victory enhance drastically when Anderson makes the ball talk. So Kohli and company just changed their line of attack and went after Anderson, through bumpers and verbals.
When it came to giving some lip to England’s best bowler, Kohli expectedly was at the forefront. “You swearing at me again are you? This isn’t your fu**ing backyard. Chirp chirp chirp. This is what old age makes you,” the India captain had a go at Anderson when India batted in the second innings. Slowly but surely the tourists were getting under the skin of their opponents, which would eventually result in an England meltdown on the final day of the Test.
The days of India’s captains addressing their English counterparts with a Mr prefix are long gone. New India emerged when Sourav Ganguly took off his shirt and waved it at the Lord’s balcony. Kohli comes from the Ganguly school of captaincy, which has upset some current and former England players.
Stuart Broad, out of the series owing to a calf injury, criticised Kohli and backed his new-ball ally. Former England opener Nick Compton called Kohli “the most foul-mouthed individual” via a tweet. It’s a different matter that Compton never played against Australia and faced ‘mental disintegration, but Root’s England played into their rivals’ hands by letting India’s aggression affect them.
Anderson is no saint. He has a history of on-field spats with opposition team players. In 2014, on the second day of the first Test at Trent Bridge, as the players were returning for lunch, Anderson allegedly turned aggressive towards Jadeja who paid him back in his own coin. It became the talking point of the series.
During the 2013-14 Ashes Down Under, it became feisty between the England fast bowler and Australia’s Michael Clarke, with the stump mic picking up Clarke telling Anderson: “Get ready for a broken f***ing arm”. The 2013-14 Ashes showed how England retreated, when Australian launched a frontal attack through Mitchell Johnson’s pace and on-field verbals.
Coming to the ethical question of fast bowlers refraining from bowling bouncers at each other, it has been a thing of the past. Until the early or mid-1980s, batsmen barely had any protection and tail-enders could hardly bat. Now batsmen are protected from head to toe and lower-order batting has improved considerably. Anderson has over 1,200 Test runs and a fifty. Also, Indian tail-enders never got kind treatments from rival pacers.
In 1976, then West Indies captain Clive Lloyd ordered a “bloodbath” at Sabina Park, knowing full well that India couldn’t retaliate with pace. Former India wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani still recalls how Michael Holding hurled two successive beamers at him at Chepauk in 1983, for the bowler was unhappy with an umpiring decision.
Returning to the present, Root’s ‘tit for tat’ approach at Lord’s saw Mark Wood spray Bumrah and Shami with bouncers, with six fielders in the deep. Bumrah was hit on the helmet and he responded with a stinging four. Both Bumrah and Shami were happy to face the short-pitched bowling during their match-winning unbroken 89-run partnership. Root’s ploy cancelled out bowled and leg-before threats. Later, the England captain would confess that he lost the plot.
The biggest gain from India’s victory was that they bullied England into submission, forcing the home team to carry the mental scars for the next three games. How England would respond (or retaliate) and whether India would continue employing this tactic in this series will be an intriguing narrative. Either way, it has heated up what has traditionally been a lukewarm (controversy-wise) contest.
The many confrontations of Anderson
The England fast bowler revealed in his memoir that he had clashed with Michael Clarke in the dressing-room after the 2006 Ashes Test in Adelaide.·
During the 2013 Ashes Test in Brisbane, umpires had to intervene, as Anderson and Clarke got involved in a heated exchange. “Get ready for a broken f***ing arm,” stump mic caught Clarke telling the England pacer and the former was docked 20 per cent of his match fee. But Shane Warne, who as a commentator had access to all stump mic recordings, tweeted that Anderson had threatened debutant George Bailey with a punch to the face.·
In 2014, during lunch break on the second day of the first Test at Trent Bridge, Anderson got involved in an altercation with Ravindra Jadeja and the matter went to the extent of the ICC appointing a judicial commissioner, who exonerated the quick. But India rued the lack of video and match referee David Boon docking 50 per cent of Jadeja’s match fee.·
During England’s first innings at Lord’s, Anderson didn’t take kindly to Jasprit Bumrah’s bouncer barrage and snapped back at the Indian fast bowler after the innings was over. He told Bumrah: “Hey mate! Why are you bowling so fast? Am I doing the same to you? All this while, you were bowling in 80 mph; suddenly on seeing me, why are you bowling in 90 mph?”
Later, Kohli told him: “You swearing at me again are you? This isn’t your fu**ing backyard.