On a fifth day pith at the Chepauk in the first Test against India, Joe Root’s eyes and fans’ expectations were on the shoulders of spinners Dominic Bess and Jack Leach to delivery a victory for the tourists. They started the final day on a perfect note when Jack Leach got the big wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara, but very soon, they were put off their line of attack by Shubman Gill’s belligerence and Virat Kohli’s strong defence.
Joe Root sensed Indians were settling in and they might put a lot of pressure on spinners and end up saving the game, and in search of magic, went to his oldest horse--James Anderson who has been managed well like a jewel by the England team management.
What he produced in the very first over of his spell justified the level of cautions the England team management put on the workload of Anderson.
He banked on the art of reverse swing which he has mastered over the years and used sparingly to get the best for his team in the subcontinent conditions. He beat an in-form Gill in one of his strongest defensives strides with a ball that swung late to sneak through the gap between his bat and pads.
The next man in, Ajinkya Rahane looked nervous to start his innings, and Anderson breached his defence very early to put a big stumbling block on India’s chance of batting out the whole day to earn yet another escape.
Albeit he produced a match-winning spell in the first Test and picked up wickets of Gill, Rahane and Rishabh Pant, the England management went on its way of rotating players and Anderson was next on line to sit out in the second Test.
His exclusion from the second Test came under severe scrutiny from former players and some of them went on to say that the management has not been flexible enough to prioritize the big short-term achievements while planning for the distant future.
For Anderson, the break was frustrating, but he is aware of the fact that England have to play 17 Tests in this year and players have to go through the process of sitting out in order to retain fitness and ensuring a player does not go through complete burnout.
"The idea was if I missed that one, that would give me the best chance of being fit and firing for the pink-ball Test. So that's where I am at, at the minute: I am feeling good and fresh and ready to go again if called upon. It's hopefully going to keep me going for longer, and Stuart has said the same too,” Anderson said in a virtual press conference.
"I've seen the last couple of years - 2019 when I missed the Ashes, and the start of 2020, when I got an injury in South Africa when the workload goes up, and it's the same for all bowlers, not just me. Those injuries do happen.”
"We've got 17 Test matches this year and the best way of getting your best players firing for as many of those as possible is to take little rests every now and then it's just a case of trying to make sure you're not wearing someone out until they completely break in half."
The reverse swing was Anderson’s weapon of choice in Chennai and hence his exclusion raised question marks on the priorities set by the England team. Going into the third Test though, Anderson is pragmatic on the prospects of reverse swing in Ahmedabad in the Pink-Bal Test. He has said that the chance of the pink ball swinging in the air after getting old is unlikely as the seam is more pronounced and it stays harder for a longer period of time than the red ball.
"I think we will be unlikely to see the reverse. It depends on the pitch - if the pitch is really abrasive you might see a bit of reverse, but from how we've bowled it in the nets I would be very surprised if it does reverse. It may well stay a bit harder for longer. We'll have to wait and see how it reacts after 40-50 overs,” Anderson said in a virtual press conference.
"For us old guys who don't have the chance to play white-ball cricket any more, it's a chance to play under lights again. I just feel it's something a little bit different - it's quite special playing cricket under lights.
There has been a lot of controversies around the quality of pitches used so far in the series and the amount of assistance the spinners get out off the surfaces. Add to it the complexity of playing conditions in a day-night Test and the talks leading up to the third Test are cantred around the quality of the pitch and how tough it will be for batting given the pink ball is deemed to be more helpful for bowlers, especially seamers.
Anderson said that the colour of the ball will not matter much and that the pitch will for sure assist the spinners. He said that although there are grasses on the pitch at the moment and it may help seamers in getting bounce off the surface, but the red soil underneath the upper surface is bound to help spinners. He also pointed out that the different playing conditions in a day-night Test such as playing under different lighting will play on players’ mind in the third Test in Ahmedabad.
"I saw the pitch over the last couple of days and it's got a lot of grass on it but I can see a lot of red soil underneath which says to me it could well spin if they take a bit of grass off. All the seam bowlers want really is a bit of carry, which we haven't really had throughout the series. We're keeping our fingers crossed there's a bit more in it for the seamers,” Anderson added.
"There is not a difference in how it behaves as such. The difficulty will be adjusting the eyes to different lights. Twilight, the guys have said has been a bit tricky. We've found that in all the [day-night] Tests we have played, whether in England, Australia or New Zealand. It does take that bit of time to get used to as the light fades and the floodlights take over from the natural light.
Anderson is all set to walk back in the playing XI while the questions remain on his partner with the new ball in the third Test. If England persist with the rotation policy, Stuart Broad will be benched in the third Test and one among Jofra Archer and Mark Wood can come in if the tourists decide to play three frontline pacers, or else, if they show a bit of flexibility the experts are asking them to show in terms of team selection, Broad and Anderson will play together come this Wednesday.