Doctors of seam

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Shamik Chakrabarty | Updated: Jul 28 2013, 11:09am hrs
James Pattinson struggled to hold back tears when he came to know that his Ashes trip would be cut short abruptly due to stress fractures in his back. It was after the second Test and Australia were already down 0-2. It was said Pattinsons body wasnt up to managing back-to-back bowling stints, following Australias batting collapse at Lords. At 23 years, Pattinson is young and by his own admission, prone to injury lay-offs as he has a tendency to break down.

He is not alone. There have been too many injuries to fast bowlers these days despite the fact that every team has a fitness expert and a host of support staff. How can they reduce injury risks and be in top shape Here, a few words of advice from James Anderson can come in handy. Thirteen overs did Anderson bowl non-stop in extreme heat on the final day of the first Ashes Test in Trent Bridge. Alastair Cook then allowed him some rest, but he had to be brought back soon as the game became a little too tight for Englands comfort. The 30-year-old seamer answered his skippers call, removed Brad Haddin to secure victory and then fell flat in the dressing room. A picture posted on his Twitter account by Kevin Pietersen showed how Anderson was enjoying a well-deserved evening slumber. He was completely exhausted, but just in three days time, he was once again up and running for the second Test. In between, by Andersons own admission, he just slept and slept.

As a teenager, he was considered too frail to become a fast bowler. But he was too good a talent to be overlooked for long. So the Lancashire cricket academy eventually took the shy youngster on board. A phone call from the Burnley Cricket Club helped matters. Anderson came through the grades swiftly. But, as he discovered during his ODI debut against Australia in 2002-03, international cricket was a different ball game altogether.

A back problem started to hamper his progress in 2003 and by 2005, it put him completely out of the reckoning. Anderson came back with a bang two years later and gradually became Englands number 1 fast bowler. The best thing about Anderson is that he has learnt to bowl in all conditions. He was outstanding during Englands tour of India last winter, tormenting Sachin Tendulkar (the England quick has accounted for Tendulkars wicket nine times in Test cricket) and completely unsettling Virender Sehwag even on dry pitches. He was a reason England bounced back to win the series 2-1. And now, Anderson has once again become Australias enemy number 1 in the Ashes.

Former England fast bowler Mike Selvey believes he hasnt seen an England seamer with more variety. Very significant observation indeed, given that Selvey played with the likes of John Snow, Bob Willis and Sir Ian Botham, and saw Fred Truman and Brian Statham from close quarters when he was growing up. Anderson is tipped to surpass all his illustrious compatriots if he stays fit. He is in the form of his life, and greatness beckons. They call him Burnley Express. But Andersons bowling was never about raw pace. Yes, he was quicker when he broke on the scene about a decade ago, but the back injury made him cautious. He learnt to manage his body and now bowls fast-medium. But he moves the new ball both ways with immaculate control and can make the old ball talk. And he always strives for more. If I stay fit, I can play for few more years and the wickets will look after themselves. I am always trying to improve. Am always trying to get fitter to be able to bowl longer spells. I work very hard to be consistent, Anderson said in an interview before the start of the Ashes.

Apart from that career-threatening back injury, his fitness record is good. So he is expected to be in top form at least for the next two-three years. With 320 wickets from 84 Tests, he is on the verge of greatness. Also, he is a perfect role model for budding fast bowlers, both on and off the field. Anderson is yet to become the world number 1 in the ICC rankings because Dale Steyn sits pretty on the throne. The South African is 30 too and has some years of top-class cricket left in him. A tally of 332 wickets from 65 Tests speaks volumes of his quality. It was heartening to see him guide young Indian fast bowlers during his stint with the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL. But his own preparation for the matches was an education in itself.

Now that Zaheer Khans career is all but over, India need someone to fill the void and lead the attack like Anderson and Steyn. Both Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav had bad habits of picking up injuries at wrong times. The latter missed two very important Test series against England and Australia last season due to a back problem. Ishant, too, is prone to injury. India would be touring South Africa, New Zealand and England in the next 12 months. Bhuvneswar Kumar is expected to provide early breakthroughs with his natural ability to swing the ball. But Ishant and Yadav need to step up to the plate. Both are experienced and its time for them to take responsibilities. Anderson and Steyn provide perfect examples on how to do it.