Anderson can be England’s archaic weapon in modern one-day world | Barney Ronay | Sport


If I had to draw up a top-five list of eccentric 20th-century British army officers Jack Churchill would definitely be up there, at the very least in the mix. A male model, film actor and expert archer and fencer, “Fighting Jack” was also the last British soldier to insist on marching into battle with a sword, longbow and a set of bagpipes, as he did to great effect against the mechanised might of the Third Reich.

Churchill used his bow and arrow to lead a successful ambush of a German patrol in northern France in May 1940, an act that helped him win the Military Cross. A year later, he leaped off the first landing craft in the commando raid on Norway and fought his way through the streets at sword-point. He was eventually captured in 1944, knocked unconscious by a grenade as he played “Will Ye No Come Back Again?” on his bagpipes in the face of the advancing enemy.

There is an argument the economic and military might of the United States played some small part in allied victory in the great European wars. But it is also hard to believe this kind of thing, the spirit of Fighting Jack – the twang of his bow, the whoosh of his blade – didn’t have something to do with it. At the very least, Churchill’s much-decorated military career is an excellent lesson in the value of never leaving anything behind, of using every single high-craft weapon you can lay your hands on whatever the battle.

All of which brings us, naturally, on to England cricket, next summer’s World Cup and something nobody has got round to saying just yet. But here it is, all the same. If England want to win a home World Cup they need to start picking Jimmy Anderson – who may be a pre-Bayliss dinosaur, a master of the longbow and the sabre at a time of furious modernising, but who is also the obvious missing ingredient in more ways than one.

Let’s be clear. No one thinks this is going to happen. It’s too loopy and too late, too far off the grid. And yet it should happen, should be next on the list for the agreeably punkish Ed Smith, who is no stranger to the innovative selection, even if this one is entirely logical.

Think about it. The World Cup takes place from late May to mid-July. There’s no doubt who the openers of Pakistan and Sri Lanka least want to face at Trent Bridge or Headingley at 10.30 on a juicy, nibbly early-summer morning. On the one hand, we have this lithe, sidling master of cut and swing, the greatest new-ball wicket-taker English conditions have produced. On the other, Mark Wood, who’s still trying to work out his run-up or the promising Olly Stone, who has 25 career one-day wickets and who, without a ball in his hand, resembles an eager young country police constable in a Sunday night TV drama who scratches his head and looks puzzled and searches the wrong haystack while Martin Clunes quietly solves the case.

James Anderson celebrates the wicket of Ajinkya Rahane during the fifth Test against India at the Kia Oval.

James Anderson celebrates the wicket of Ajinkya Rahane during the fifth Test against India at the Kia Oval. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

This is, of course, a different game. In one-day cricket, Anderson’s length is ripe for smacking around in the powerplay. It’s also ripe for six overs of snaking, curving destruction if the day and the mood and pitch are right. England can have six bowlers in this team. Why not make Jimmy the secret weapon. Keep him in reserve, a frightening new set of teeth lurking in the lower order and pause for thought for any captain thinking of winning the toss and batting first.

It is worth remembering Anderson’s ODI record in England is pretty good. Also that he hasn’t retired, but was simply flushed out at the start of the bold new era in the summer of 2015. Things have changed since then. The team is stable, in need only of a final gloss.

Plus Anderson has changed. He has gone up through the stratosphere, taking 102 Test wickets at 16 apiece in three home summers, a performance to match anyone anywhere in the history of international cricket. Not to pick him at home is like Sri Lanka choosing not to pick Murali or the England football team turning down the chance to pick the thirtysomething Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle, all the better to cram Some Other Doomed Blokes into the team.

No doubt this feels like over‑thinking things, the creak of the hobby horse. But England need to succeed next summer, if only to redeem the hard work and expense of the Trevor Bayliss era. The head coach will have been paid close to £2m in return for his ability to liberate England’s white-ball players, even if it has been tempting to wonder at times if simply picking the right players, placing a floppy white hat on a sad‑looking moose and teaching it to say “go for it buddy” could have had the same effect at much less cost.

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Beyond this, cricket in England just needs something to cheer. The summer game has been in retreat for so long. A World Cup win would be largely invisible to the unconverted. But its kinetic energy would be one way of trying to spread the game beyond its confines. To do so with the help of a bowler written off as a red-ball heritage act, whose old-school craft – that command of seam, longbow, sabre – speaks to the most refined cricketing skill would be doubly satisfying. Not to mention a great deal more likely.

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