New Delhi, Feb 9 When pace bowler James Anderson was getting rid of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar in quick succession in the third Test in Mumbai to help England script a series-levelling win in 2006, Rishabh Pant, the last of his three victims on Tuesday, was still eight years old and over two years away from joining an academy to learn the basics of cricket.
Anderson, now 38, has a made it a habit of striking at the heart of Indian batting in India and allowing his other teammates to walk away with the glory and man of the match awards.
He took six wickets (four and two) in the Mumbai Test of 2006 and then returned in 2012-13 to again take six (three and three) key wickets in the third Test at Kolkata, getting rid of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli and applying pressure to dent India's middle-order. India conceded a lead and lost the game. The then captain MS Dhoni admitted that Anderson was the difference.
On Tuesday, with Shubman Gill and Virat Kohli looking to cement a partnership, Anderson took three quick wickets Gill, Ajinkya Rahane and Pant to put England on road to victory which they eventually achieved.
"He is a world-class bowler. I would say he is the best bowler in the world. At the moment, no one is better than him. [That is because] he can bowl at will. If reverse swing starts, he can become unplayable on any wicket," said former India pace bowler Manoj Prabhakar, an exponent of reverse swing.
Like previous games, Anderson didn't take wickets by the bagful. He scalped five in the just-concluded first Test at Chennai two in first innings and three in second.
While the Indian team has been blaming the flat wicket, Anderson has removed that factor. He got Gill and Rahane in identical fashion the ball snaking in late through the air and beating defence of the batsmen.
Then he deceived Pant with one that straightened and the left-handed batsman gave a simple catch to short cover.
"I certainly think I have benefitted from playing quite a bit of cricket out here. Now I can look back on that experience and it helps me in the games I am playing," Anderson admitted that experience has helped him while speaking to the media.
"Back then (in 2006) I relied on swing and reverse swing. Now I am a very different bowler. Have got a lot more skills. I feel like I can perform on a variation of surfaces. Back then I relied heavily on swing or reverse swing. Now I have got cutters and other things to help me on different pitches," he added.
Skipper Virat Kohli was asked by if he missed any one of Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami, who have the ability to use the old ball.
"We have a set of players who we think can do the job for us. In one game, if the execution [of plans] has not happened doesn't mean it will happen again," said Kohli.
While Ishant did manage a couple of wickets on the second day with his reverse swing, they came too late in the day and none of the other seamers were able to build on it. India expected those skills constantly from Ishant, who is playing his 98th Test and has the ability.
Bumrah had pointed out the difficulty of bowling reverse after ICC banned the use of salvia post-Covid.
However, Anderson's success may force India to look at it again.
As Prabhakar says, "The reverse takes place in the air. The wicket doesn't have anything to do with it."
The wicket was abrasive enough to scuff up the ball but it seems Anderson was far more skilful at bringing reverse swing into play.
( With inputs from IANS )
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