Two faces of a pace ace

Fiery on the pitch and calm off it, James Anderson triggers different feelings in different people

Two faces of a pace ace

A train journey to Burnley from Manchester takes little more than an hour. But the landscape changes quite dramatically.

Manchester is all about Victorian-style houses built with red bricks and other contemporary amenities, while greenery and well-tiled buildings completes the topography of Burnely.

The contradiction co-exists peacefully within 28 miles. It is so evident in the two major sporting centres of these cities. The Old Trafford Cricket Ground, the second oldest cricketing venue in England, has embraced modernity. Perhaps, it’s even more modern than the Lord’s.

Burnley Cricket Club, which celebrated its 180th anniversary this year, still has a charming, rustic air about it that you instantly feel welcomed.

Inside the modest interiors, it’s hard to miss a board that lists the cricketers who represented Burnley CC, and Michael Brown, chairman of the club, proudly points to a name: James Anderson. He is their biggest star, and Brown knows him from close quarters having interacted with Anderson from the age of 12.

“I first saw him at the age of 12 when he used to come to the club along with his father, who then was the captain of our second XI. He was a shy boy, but once on the field there was no better competitor,” says Brown. So was he a snarling, swearing kid? “Not at all,” exclaims Brown.

“He was just competitive. He wanted to take wicket with every ball. It was really surprising for us to hear some of the news of Jimmy’s involvement in sledging. He never used to talk. Perhaps, he later added it as a method to rattle the opponents. But in his heart, he’s a gent,” asserts Brown, who played county cricket for Lancashire, Surrey and Hampshire.

The Indian cricket team might think otherwise after the controversy also involving Ravindra Jadeja in this series. The pacer revealed an ugly side of him when he allegedly pushed and abused Jadeja during the Trent Bridge Test over a month ago.

However, just like in the character of those two aforementioned adjoining cities, the paradox rests serenely in Anderson. The grim competitor that we are familiar with morphs into a large-hearted man of charity outside a cricket ground. There’s, in fact, not even a trace of cricketer in him. He is passionate about music, loves going for a cinema with his friends, and he likes movies so much that he has formed a club within the England team consisting Stuart Broad, Steve Finn, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior and Jonny Bairstow.

When together, the group does not miss the chance for a quick jaunt to see the latest flick in town. “Anderson is quite serious about movies. He loves watching them.

Probably, it helps him to relax ahead of a match or it helps him to reserve all the energies for the match coming his way. Or else, he finds some time to do Xbox and other gaming stuff. On the field, he just turns into a grumpy competitor,” says Swann, who retired from international cricket mid-way through the Ashes last year.
Like watching movies, the Lancastrian also enjoys his quite evenings at the Burnley CC, despite outgrowing the small city. 

“Off the field, he is a top fellow, quite and almost shy. We had a few dinners together and I can’t remember him getting into any sort of arguments ever. The best part about him is that he has never forgotten Burnley. Now, he’s one of our sponsors, and the reason is that he wants to put some money back into junior cricket and helps the club from where he came up to this level.

“And he regularly attends our fund-raising programmes, time permiting of course. If he’s around, then Anderson ensures that he drops in at the club on Sundays for a speech and interaction with members and upcoming players. It’s lovely to see a busy international cricketer like him has not forgotten his roots,” says Brown.

Being a part of England’s Test and one-day squad has made Andesron’s life hectic. He has to devote countless hours for training, travel to one country to another and needs to attend to all other commitments of a professional sportsperson.

The constant and high-pressure search for wickets and success, as England skipper Alastair Cook explained, might be preventing Anderson from showing his nicer side on the field. But even amidst that draining scramble, Anderson has not lost the eye for those who need the help.

Anderson visited Nordoff Robbins during 2012, his Benefit Year with the England and Wales Cricket Board. Since then he has been associated with Nordoff Robbins, a music therapy charity for changing the lives of vulnerable children and adults who have challenges of autism, dementia, depression and learning disabilities. Anderson has no such disorders, but those close to Anderson say that the pace bowler has extreme mood swings that can last for just few hours or for the whole day.

Music, they say, is Anderson’s preferred medium of relief. Rolling Stones, The Doors, Aerosmith, OMD and their anti-war song Enola Gay, and New Order – bands ranging from late 60’s to early 80s – feature in his chart toppers. Being such a music addict, it was easy for Anderson to associate himself with the work of Nordoff Robbins.

Jo Carter, one of the directors at Nordoff Robbins, explained the alliance. “He met us in 2012 during his Benefit Year, and he was immediately drawn to our work because he himself was interested in music. Since then he maintained regular touch with us, and even got the Nordoff Robbins logo printed in the kit of Burnley CC, his parent club. It was his initiative, and he wanted to join us because of his belief that he can contribute to charity as a sportsperson,” says Carter.

Carter asserts that Anderson’s involvement doesn’t limit to mere lip service. According to Carter, Anderson, who has more than 600 international wickets, is an active presence in their fund raising programmes across various institutions like schools, care homes, centre for differently abled, hospitals etc.

Carter sights the example of Eduardo, an autistic child getting treatment at Nordoff Robbins. “He has taken time out of his busy schedule to meet this lad, and spent time with him. Eduardo likes him a lot, but he has not realised how big a star Anderson is in England. I am not sure whether he knows that Anderson is a cricketer, but he has become more social and happier after each meeting.”

We also have not understood the person behind that uncompromising, at times overstepping cricketer. Perhaps, we never will. But Anderson is a compelling person and sportsman, always dividing our opinions.

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