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Feature

James Anderson: Six of his greatest dismissals

From hooping swing to wobbly wonder balls, a selection of Anderson brilliance

James Anderson sent VVS Laxman's off stump cartwheeling, England v India, 4th Test, The Oval, 4th day, August 21, 2011

Very, very special: VVS Laxman's off stump goes cartwheeling at The Oval in 2011  •  Getty Images

As James Anderson prepares to bow out of Test cricket at the age of 41, we look back at an over's worth of delectable dismissals from his extensive back catalogue.

Brendon McCullum b Anderson, Trent Bridge 2008 - The Residual Streaks of a Wild Boy

I know what you're thinking: "If Aaron Redmond was the Test head coach who had decided to call time on Jimmy's career, would he be on this list instead of Brendon McCullum?" And you may be right. Redmond's dismissal might have been better. But this is no "take that, Brendon" selection just to kick off this list. He just happened to sell his like The Rock selling a "Stone Cold Stunner"...
Both angled in, moved away late - through the air first, then off the seam, because just doing one of those two things simply won't do - and sent off stump into a neighbouring postcode. Redmond's was fuller and straighter, and he was looking to play through mid-on. McCullum, though, was invested in blazing his through midwicket, front foot coming right across to ensure that by the time he is fully squared up, he is pretty much locking eyes with umpire Darrell Hair standing at square leg.
The best thing, though, is this iteration of Anderson. The action isn't as smooth, arms and legs flurrying like a kid sprinting in flip flops, to the point he almost throws himself into a different dimension upon delivery. At the same time, his head is not as low as it once was at the point of release, which used to have him sniffing the pitch, momentarily oblivious to what destruction he had caused at the other end.
Following Troy Cooley's well-intentioned remodelling of Anderson's bowling action which caused exactly the kind of back injury it was hoped to prevent, this was Anderson back to the old him, hooping at pace. He may have been on his way to refinement, but there remained this tearaway visceral urge. Like an animal on the cusp of domestication who could still recall the taste of blood.
Anderson had been in the lab. Ahead of the 2010-11 Ashes series, he and David Saker sat down to work out a delivery that would keep him in the game in Australian climes when there was no swing to work with. What they happened upon was no discovery, per se. They had merely untangled the strands of magic of a delivery Mohammad Asif had used against England in the summer of 2010.
You know it now as "the wobble ball", with its seam more casual than formal ensuring a Russian Roulette trade-off for the batter. Though Anderson would use it on that successful Ashes trip, it was during the 2011 home season that he truly had it down.
This dismissal encapsulated that. VVS Laxman's legend is adorned with silk of his own making, and yet here he was, stumbling with all the grace of a reveller disembarking a cab at 3am.
"Such is the shock of the ball suddenly taking a different path that Laxman actually turns to see his off stump beginning its descent, before staring back in front of him. The gaze of a man who thought he had the answers, now searching for meaning"
The set-up was predominantly into Laxman, at the stumps, slanting onto the pads, along with a loose delivery out wide, guided beyond gully. The India veteran almost certainly knew Anderson was looking for one to at least hold its line outside off. But as the punchline delivery angles in from the hand, seam shaking, Laxman takes a step towards Anderson to block it back.
Such is the shock of the ball suddenly taking a different path that Laxman actually turns to see his off stump beginning its descent, before staring back in front of him. His gaze is not fixed on the pitch, nor Anderson nodding with approval. Merely straight ahead, like a man who thought he had the answers, now searching for meaning in an increasingly meaningless world.
"He's not a bad one to get first ball, is he?" remarked Anderson in an interview back in 2015 when reflecting on this dismissal. It remains one of his favourites for the occasion, the execution but especially for the man, who ended up averaging 60 against him across all their battles.
England had saved the first Test of that 2010-11 Ashes tour with a remarkable show of strength in their second innings at Brisbane. A total of 517 for 1 declared did not just cover for the sins of their first effort of 260 - which Australia bettered by 221 - but showed they were no pushovers. They had to build on that a week later in Adelaide.
Ricky Ponting won the toss and opted to bat first. And though Simon Katich was run out without facing off the fourth ball of the match with the score still on zero, out strode the Australia captain ready to stand on business in his 150th Test.
The common wisdom throughout Ponting's career was susceptibility early in his innings because of a knack for thrusting bat and pad out together in a bid to own the space around him. This was true, but given he was averaging 54.71 with 39 centuries at this juncture, possessing that information was akin to knowing the best way to deter a shark is to punch it in the nose. It still has to be a decent punch.
Before the cheers welcoming Ponting to the middle of the Adelaide Oval had died down, Anderson began his approach, armed with nothing but a new Kookaburra under blue skies. Passing close enough to brush umpire Tony Hill's left shoulder, he finds just enough shape off a full length to drag Ponting outside off, and just the right amount of seam to nab the outside edge.
Ponting's bat emerges late from behind his front pad, resulting in a perilously low deflection towards a wide slip cordon. Thankfully for Anderson - and England - Graeme Swann is staggered enough ahead of first slip to dive across from second to complete a smart catch for a first-ball duck for Australia's leading man. In turn, the hosts are 0 for 2 (2 for 0 in their money) and the tourists are on their way to a 1-0 lead and a rare away Ashes series win.
Perhaps the unsexiest of Anderson's strengths is patience. Be honest now - what about waiting really does it for you? Even anticipation is rooted in restlessness, staving it off, prolonging the wait for gratification.
But Test cricket rewards such traits, and few fashioned it into a shiv to repeatedly jab English sides quite like Mahela Jayawardene. This is a man who once batted over nine and a half hours against them in Colombo and then over 10 hours in Galle in back-to-back innings. The 195 and 213 not out scored broadly academic. The real quiz was frustrating an increasingly exasperated England trying to fight back from their opening defeat at Kandy.
"Anderson serves one up that moves in late, carries on its path off the pitch while bouncing more than the previous deliveries. Jayawardene, initially planning to leave, is forced to play so late and so suddenly that his bottom hand comes off the bat. Even Strauss is taken by surprise at slip"
As such, this probably counts as some form of micro-revenge. Heavy Welsh cloud after some familiar late May rain that brought about a late start to day one of this first Test had skewed the conditions in favour of the English bowlers.
But Sri Lanka's decision to bat first was due to a Sophia Gardens pitch that was not going to offer much bounce. And with Jayawardene at the crease with a sound enough bed of 114 for 2 after 40 overs to settle into, he saw things through to stumps, eventually sleeping on 4 off 24 deliveries.
Anderson opened the next day with Jayawardene on strike and, crucially, a plan. There were 10 outswingers in a row, some bigger than others, with a couple dying on the way through to Matt Prior. Then, out of nowhere, from more or less the same position at the crease but with a slightly more upright arm, Anderson serves one up that moves in late, and carries on its path off the pitch while bouncing more than any of the previous deliveries. Sri Lanka's No. 4, initially planning to leave it well alone, is forced to play so late and so suddenly that his bottom hand comes off the bat. Even Andrew Strauss is taken by surprise at wide first slip, grabbing instinctively to his right and falling away behind second in the process.

Michael Clarke b Anderson, Trent Bridge 2013 - A Tap on the Shoulder of Off Stump

Arguably the most dramatic dismissal on this list, with a backstory to match.
In October 2012, Jimmy: My Story, Anderson's first autobiography, caught the attention of the Australian public with a story from the aftermath of England's defeat in Adelaide on the 2006-07 tour. Among the post-match fraternising was an aloof Michael Clarke and a bristling Anderson, armed with a pad and fuelled by a couple of cold ones.
Our man did not think much of Clarke's posturing while all other guards were down, and wondered aloud about wrapping said pad "around his head". Damien Martyn, Clarke's team-mate at the time, encouraged him - twice - and Anderson duly obliged. "What the f*** ya doing?" came the response from Clarke once the sound from the almighty thud had cleared the air.
Clarke would deny the story two years later, but the ill-feeling between the two was now out in the open. And as much as it underpinned the battle these two would embark upon in, starting with this first Test of the 2013 series ahead of the "broken fucken arm" leg later that winter, Clarke's own stellar form added an extra layer to this feud.
The Australia captain was undoubtedly the standout batter in world cricket when he strode to the crease on that day one evening, averaging 85.21 since the start of 2012. England had been dismissed for 215 and the visitors were 19 for 2 in dwindling light. Six balls and no runs later, he was done.
Tight to the stumps, Anderson hoops one in, just full of a good length. Clarke, implored to play, offers the straightest of blades, maker's name on show, fully committed to the defensive shot. So committed, in fact, that the lack of impact has the right-hander falling forward. Upon pitching, the ball jags off the seam, somehow picking up more pace than it had upon arrival to the surface.
You'd swear Clarke knows he's done before he is, bowing his head like a samurai offering courtesy in his final moments. There is no death rattle, more a kiss of death as off stump is pecked with just enough pucker to dislodge the bail.
The celebrations are wild. Anderson gallops through looking to meet Clarke's eye as the batter turns sharply towards the pavilion, but satiates his carnal urge to gloat by pointing furiously at the wrecked stumps as he sprints past his nemesis.
If you were waiting for a reverse-swing dismissal, here it is. Sorry, it had to be the last one on the list.
Anderson's relationship with reverse swing has Indian groundings. Zaheer Khan piqued his interest after tying England in knots in 2007. Five years later, having workshopped it successfully on a tour of Sri Lanka, he would finish 2012 out-reversing Zaheer as England secured their first Test series win in India since 1985.
The journey in between was full of trial and error. Initially, Anderson could only conjure reverse swing with a different action, which made it difficult to hoodwink batters, which is sort of the point. But after hours of working away with pre-scuffed balls, he was able to achieve that devastating movement with what in real-time looked identical to his usual set-up.
Translating that from the nets to the middle took time. But Anderson sussed out quickly that reverse in England was about finding the nicks, whereas on subcontinental pitches, you needed to attack the stumps. All of this brings us neatly to February 9, 2021 - day five of the first Test in Chennai.
With the SG ball showing signs it might tail having primarily been in the hands of spinners Jack Leach and Dom Bess, Anderson was reintroduced into the attack in the 27th over of India's second innings with a nominal target of 420 on the table. Two balls in, he had breached the defence of Shubman Gill, taking out the half-centurion's off stump.
The shocking nature of the dismissal meant Ajinkya Rahane knew what he was up against when he walked out. Forward he went as Anderson bent one into off stump, meeting the ball with his front pad in the "umpire's call" zone to uphold Nitin Menon's "not out" call on the field.
Unperturbed, Anderson repeats the trick, this time slightly wider and fuller, finding even more movement to bypass the pad and uproot the same stump once more. Turns out he still had that taste for blood all along.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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