Jimmy.

Jimmy Anderson – the England ‘quickie’ – has a whole lot going for him. An authentically dashing pseudonym (arguably two?) a talent so poetically/sensually indivisible from biomechanical foreplay it may need a watershed… and just the right amount of chest hair. In addition, the ‘Burnley Express’ can like really bowl too.

On a weekend dominated by that flashier but frankly less beautiful exponent of the slinging art – Broad – #Jimmy produced a moment of such stunning quality that for me it quietly outshone even the lanky one’s seven wicket haul. Like a ruby amongst Fool’s Gold. Broad brought blonde bombshell-shock, total disorder, to a Black Cap batting line-up which may even have fancied its chances at the change of innings. Jimmy meanwhile brought that whiff of the unbuyable, the uncoachable. Though apparently just getting on with it, he brought seduction – the guile of the artist. So whilst player after player was flummoxed by a rare outbreak of fullish length bowling from the coltish giant’s ‘hitting of his straps’, Anderson purred in and pressed his sable from t’other end.

Close investigation, supported in the eye-poppingly High Definition era by revelatory (but now standard) camerawork, confirms it’s not just his further experience that exempts Jimmy from the need for shit-or-bust pitch-hitting. There’s that other dimension going on. What the northern maestro does with the ball really is rather different to the stuff his comparatively one-dimensional new-ball partner serves up. It’s richer. There really is a kind of genius in there. Anderson steps outside the everyday.

Speaking as a member of the Pretty Decent and (Formerly) Occasionally Swiftish Bowler’s Union and now a coach, I can opine on these matters with what I feel to be meaningful closeness – even if much of this proximity may, in truth, have occurred during hours of darkness. Well… sleeping. I do know kindof how Jimmy does it; and it really all is about seam position. Allow me to indulge in something close to an explanation… which will only flirt briefly, I promise, with the prosaic.

Watch Anderson bowl and you may well be struck with the consistency – one might stretch to the word ‘purity’ here – of his seam position. Meaning that effortlessly and rhythmically and consistently the ball is (yes the word is…) delivered at the batsman with the seam skewed that crucial touch either towards the slips (for an away swinger to the right-hander) or towards fine-leg for one that will duck in. For this latter delivery – and it’s this one, the one that flared and snorted and pretty much unzipped Brownlie in the second innings, before he was actually out the next ball – that we’re obsessing ’bout here, right? This delivery, with the shiny side to off and the matt or worn hemisphere to leg had us jolting from our armchairs, did it not? Because its giggle or gag-inducing flight, absurdly challenging as it was for Brownlie, was both an extreme and a perfect expression of mouth-wateringly special co-ordinated brilliance. So much so that it defies the explanation I seek. It was a wonder ball.

Jimmy was seeking to get one to swing in. Late, ideally. So he subtly programmed in (probably) a minor cock of the wrist to shape that seam towards leg. A little. Then he may have just offered a wee tweak on release to impart a touch of clockwise rotation; to increase the likelihood of cut off the pitch (probably) but also (maybe) to exacerbate that swing and duck through the air. Key was and is that keeping your shape and not over-cooking the emphasis. Maybe there is a minor adjustment in timing or opening/closing of the torso but when you know the ball is swinging, present it and hold… and let the chanceful/wonderful airiness of the moment take over. Like it did; how it did!

The ball appeared to shift from well… Lords to somewhere in Belgium in the last four feet of its flight. It landed and kept heading east. It was a truly unplayable delivery; the kind that as a bowler you cannot baleeeeeve has failed to get you a wicket. You are tempted to pretend you’re on telly and milk your own grievous ill-luck. Jimmy gathered, strode back and nailed him next ball with one that went the other way.

Unbeleeeevably, I failed to find this delivery on youtube/similar for your edification and delight. You may find it or you may just take my words for it. Totally bewitching.

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Unweighting

Hey look there’s no point in pretending life/business/relationships/quality of backhand are islands of independence from each other; no point. On the contrary, as I am about to prove, even if your nature is to quietly shriek pallid protest against activity in all its wondrous forms – ya wuss – you cannot deny the power of sport and the need to be ready.

Preparation? Everywhere. Man in sport there’s a spooky amount, an industry – an absolutely sexsational amount of ‘ready positions’ like, for starters. Tennis the currently obvious one; receiver with knees bent, weight slightly forward, hands in front, gusset slightly exposed. Rugby (backs); hands out in front, attracting the ball, offering a target, inviting that moment of caress, of possession.

The talk in coaching is deliciously loaded with this stuff. And the transferability of these sopping metaphors is meaning frankly Frankie, you ain’t got no escape; not in the office, not in ‘sales’, not in bed, much less out-on-the-park. And yet, amongst the daft-punk dribbles, the cod-psychology… there’s some really byoodifull stuff man.

Take fast bowling. It’s an admittedly staccato dance that grippingly, thrillingly transcends its technically-heavy brief. (Sheesh – did I nick that from Ronay?) Whatever, lately think Anderson ‘when it’s coming out nicely’. Jimmy – aka The Burnley Express – in his pomp, does deal in majestic simplicities; purring in, expressing repeatedly creamy smooth bursts; simples.

Simples but superceded surely, by the intoxicating Michael Holding at his peak, ‘pace’ being then at that perfect moment where something beyond words was, really, momentarily described. And during that alarmingly fluent Caribbean blur, amidst the ecstatic barrage from Marshall, Walsh, Garner et al, we strain for … sentences like that last one… where words transparently fail. Or maybe we simply concede, smiling, and not a little awestruck, (that) that was bloody unplayable.

And now we find ourselves marking out the run-up to some truth; particularly if we think of the batter .

Take my word for it here that when you face fast bowling you are shitting your pants. No question. For maybe only a few minutes, but parping like a good’un, nonetheless. So, with apologies to Jessica Oosit Parker in “Sex and The City” mode, if, say Michael Holding is that challenging, that much of an extreme test; How do you get ready for that?

Unweighting. Ian Chappell – yes! Aussie skipper and general arse.

Extraordinarily (and, sharing a birthday with I.T.Botham, I ask no forgiveness for the implied anti-antipodeanism here) Ian Chappell formulated the following really rather beautiful and insightful concept.

Simply put, unweighting is a process necessary for a batsman to enable ‘survival’ against quick bowling. So this usually happens most – and most obviously – at the beginning of an innings, or when the dreaded or lusted after new ball is taken. (See what I mean? Sopping). Pre-delivery or ‘trigger’ movements occur in the batsman, either consciously or not, in order to facilitate, to cope, to avoid getting hurt or out. Because the ball may come down fucking hard and fast. Batters may open their eyes wider/crouch intently whilst setting their neck/flex their knees/give up and dollop one.

Generally coaches identify two movements of the bat before hitting the ball, at that crucial heart-thumping moment when (godforbid), Holding is unleashing. There is bat-lift and then bat-swing; the former involving simply raising the bat from the ground, the latter the judgement and immediate subsequent execution of how much or little you’re going to swing the bat. The minutiae of both can naturally – and I use the word advisedly – vary from player to player but Chappell’s view has been that these ripples of the wrist or micro-steps or other habitual or rehearsed or coached movements are key. Likewise the momentum or freedom engendered by the transfer of weight from one foot to another. Unweighting.

Thus, sagacious reader, the batter’s ready position against extreme pace has to be an exquisitely timed and balanced and consistent and fluent and enabling stance for that which may be unplayable. So can you move instantly (in a balanced etc. etc. way) forward or back? Can you withdraw from the stroke? Can you duck? Can you look in control and not give the bowler and the infield signs of encouragement? Are you, in these milliseconds, rhythmical and composed and absolutely at the top of your game? Man it’s a wonderful, frightening test.

And how do we transfer its richness, its poetry and its latent dynamism to work… to life… to relations(hips)… to bed?!?

Can you find it, this unweighted state? Are you ready? Are you?

June 24th 2011.