England’s all-time leading wicket-taker encountered another escalation of brickbats and innuendo around cricket’s oldest and highest-profile rivalry during the drawn Boxing Day Test.
Speaking for the first time about the furore over broadcast frames of him cleaning mud off the ball – in full view of the umpires, and with their approval – he described the incident as “ridiculous”.
England’s Australian coach Trevor Bayliss referred to mis-informed over-reaction as “Pommie-bashing”, and it was swiftly and universally acknowledged Anderson had done nothing wrong.
It was another example of Ashes overblow, though, and nothing new for 35-year-old Anderson.
He is no longer surprised, even if he does find it wearing.
Recalling the fleeting controversy in Melbourne, he said: “It escalated quite quickly, didn’t it?
“Ridiculous – but what we’ve come to expect … crazy really.”
Trevor Bayliss has seen the footage and says why it shows James Anderson was not tampering with the ball.
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) December 29, 2017
Anderson’s default reaction these days, to criticism or apparent crisis, is to turn the sound down.
“I think you’ve got to have a thick skin, definitely.
“If you start worrying about ex-players or whoever, whether they are opposition ex-players or even English ex-players … you’ve got to try to block them out.
“We know as a group how well we are doing as a team – or not well.
“I think that’s the most important thing – what we think.”
In Australia, intensity encompasses the entire two-month event which concludes with the Sydney Test, and England hoping to break this winter’s duck from 3-0 down.
Anderson has had good and bad encounters amid the hype – including one which raised a smile and, he reckons, must have been delivered from the “alcohol-free zone” of the MCG.
“There was a guy shouting at me (the other day): ‘You can’t bowl with a Kookaburra.’
“I said: ‘You might have a point there …'”
Asked if it has become more all-pervasive over the course of his four Ashes tours, Anderson said: “Possibly, yes.
“It doesn’t get any less. It’s just something that we’ve got to put up with. It does get boring at times.”
Before the Melbourne Test even started, he found himself under the microscope after noting that aside from Australia’s three outstanding first-choice bowlers there was no evident depth in the home seam resources.
The observation did not go down well.
“I wasn’t trying to have a dig at anyone, trying to slag them off or anything like that … I just spoke my mind,” said Anderson, who soon decided it was time to switch off the feedback again.
“If people want to get het up about some pretty dull comment I made about their bowling attack, it’s fine.
“I don’t really care.”
Melbourne ✈️ Sydney 🏙 pic.twitter.com/3KWuULofyW
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) December 31, 2017
He does care, though, about what happens on the field in Sydney – where his dearest wish is tangible reward for England’s efforts to soothe this winter’s disappointments.
“It’s a horrible situation, because we thought we had a good chance of winning this series.
“Obviously, it’s not turned out that way but we’ll just keep working hard and try to … have one last push … (and) get a result in Sydney.
“We’ve got a really strong group, a strong core of players, good management as well but it’s just not worked.
“I’d feel disappointed for this group if we didn’t get a win on this trip, because we’ve worked so hard.”
Ben Stokes will be replaced by Dawid Malan in England’s one-day international squad to face Australia.
Stokes was named in the squad last month, even though he remains unavailable for international selection as he waits to see if he will be charged with causing actual bodily harm following a fracas outside a Bristol nightclub on September 25.
The England and Wales cricket Board has updated its plans and announced Malan, already in Australia for the Ashes campaign, will remain there – and Stokes will therefore not fly out for a five-match series which starts on January 14.
In a brief statement, the governing body also confirmed Stokes has been granted a no objection certificate to enter the lucrative Indian Premier League auction at the end of this month.
It read: “England’s selectors have added Dawid Malan to the one-day international squad for the series against Australia, starting on January 14.
“Ben Stokes will not travel with the group of players leaving the UK on January 2, pending CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) advice on the incident in Bristol in September.
“Should ECB receive formal confirmation that he has either, a) been charged or, b) will face no charges, the ECB board would convene within 48 hours to make a decision on his availability to represent England at that stage.
“ECB can also confirm that Ben Stokes has been given approval to enter the IPL draft and granted a no objection certificate (NOC).”
Stokes’ situation will become clearer only when the CPS, which began considering his case at the end of last month, advises police whether to charge him.
Only after the criminal case is concluded will a cricket Discipline Commission rule on any further penalty for Stokes, who has not represented his country since September 24.
The 26-year-old played a starring role in his maiden campaign for Rising Pune Supergiant last year, after signing a £1.7million deal.
Malan, meanwhile, is uncapped in ODI cricket but made a fine impression on his Twenty20 debut last summer and has since gone on to establish himself in England’s Test team – including with a maiden century in Perth, where Joe Root’s tourists nonetheless lost by an innings as Australia regained the Ashes.
They conclude their Ashes campaign in Sydney this week and go into the final match 3-0 down after drawing the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
England’s squad for the Twenty 20 tri-series, starting on February 3 against Australia and New Zealand, will be confirmed next week.
The squad for the spring Test series against New Zealand will be announced after the fifth Ashes Test.
Dawid Malan 🔥🔥
— Ben Stokes (@benstokes38) December 14, 2017
“AB is a great friend of mine, I respect the way he plays the game and I’ve always respected him as a person as well,” Kohli said at India’s arrival press conference. “But when you’re playing against each other it’s just about wanting to get AB out and I’m sure the opposition would want the same when I play or (Ajinkya) Rahane plays or (Cheteshwar) Pujara plays as well.”
While Rahane and Pujara may be high-quality players – in the same way that Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla are for South Africa – no player on either side can match the aura created by Kohli and De Villiers, whose thrilling stroke play can change the course of a match.
Kohli is India’s most glamorous and best-performing batsman since Sachin Tendulkar while De Villiers has the rare distinction for a foreigner of having star appeal in India.
When South Africa toured India two seasons ago, crowds put aside their passionate support for the home side and chanted “ABD, ABD” whenever De Villiers walked out to bat.
It could even be argued that De Villiers contributed to South Africa’s downfall in the Test matches which followed a one-day series dominated by his dazzling batting.
De Villiers slammed three centuries in five matches, leading South Africa to a series victory which had Ravi Shastri, India’s team director (now coach), grumbling about conditions which suited the visitors.
It seemed no coincidence that the four Test matches were played on spin-friendly dust bowls and were dominated by Indian spin bowlers Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
It brought De Villiers down to earth, although he was still South Africa’s best batsman, scoring 258 runs at an average of 36.85. Even Kohli struggled in the conditions, restricted to 200 runs at 33.33.
Kohli has only played in two other Tests against South Africa, when India toured in 2013/14, but showed his ability to handle the pace and bounce of South African pitches by making 119 and 96 in the first Test in Johannesburg.
De Villiers has played 17 Tests against India and his average of 40.10 against them is modest compared to his career average of 50.47. But he has enjoyed some big successes – 217 not out in an innings win in Ahmedabad in 2007/08 and South Africa’s fastest Test century, off 75 balls, in Centurion in 2010/11.
Kohli is coming off a spectacular 2017, during which he hit three double centuries in compiling 1059 Test runs at an average of 75.64, while because of injury followed by a break from Test cricket De Villiers has only played in one Test – scoring 53 in the two-day rout of Zimbabwe – since January 2016.
De Villiers professed his excitement about being back on the big stage. Kohli, in speaking of the hunger in the Indian team, noted that he couldn’t speak for the opposition and that “AB hasn’t played much Test cricket since he played against us, and he’s coming back after a while.”
What seems certain when the world’s two top-ranked Test teams square up is that there will be extra excitement and anticipation every time Kohli and De Villiers walk out to bat.