Just after Duncan Fletcher took over as England coach in 1999, England’s tail reached its nadir. Caddick, Mullally, Tufnell, and Giddens. A tail with Tufnell at number ten is something poor indeed.
That stung Fletcher into action. England’s tail got slowly better, not least with use of the buddy system in which throughout Fletcher’s tenure as coach, top order batsmen were paired with tail-enders, to give them throwdowns, coach them, and eke every little bit of batting talent out them.
Paul Collingwood nudged Monty Panesar to a couple of match saving innings. Marcus Trescothick coached Matthew Hoggard into a man who, with Ashley Giles, saw England through to an Ashes Test win.
Who was Jimmy Anderson’s batting buddy? For a while it was a man who, if you squint, looks remarkably similar as a batsman, and a man who hasn’t scored as many as Anderson did at Trent Bridge since 24th May last year against New Zealand. If you hadn’t guessed yet, it’s Alastair Cook.
It must be a little bittersweet for Cook to look on. All those years of coaching Anderson and he would have some pride in his protégé, but even if he wouldn’t admit it to himself, there would jealousy that a man with not even half the batting talent of himself could show up his shortcomings even more.
Still, the two ‘broke up’ as batting buddies nearly four years ago, so this recent success can’t be credited much to Cook.
Duncan Fletcher, in his guise as tail-ender coaxer, would have a rueful grin that his system, and his emphasis on tail-end batting, while it helped India, it also benefited England even more. But, if he was watching as a neutral, he would have been proud to see that he had been part of the game that set a whole host of records for tail-end batting, including the most runs ever by 10th wicket partnerships in a match.
Anderson eventually departed nineteen short of his hundred, caught driving at Kumar, by Shikhar Dhawan at first slip. That made it two innings in a row ending in disappointment. The disappointment of departing for a 55-ball duck to lose a match with a ball to go, and missing out on becoming the first number eleven to score a Test century aren’t exactly comparable though.
Jimmy Anderson might have had a pang of disappointment on missing out, but unlike last time, there were no tears.