For a long time England have relied very heavily on James Anderson. He is already the leading wicket-taker for England in Test cricket, and only injury will prevent him from being the third seam bowler to go past 500 Test wickets. But he isn't fit and will be unavailable for at least the first two Tests of the tour of India. He may well miss the whole series.
His absence in Bangladesh gave us a glimpse of a world post an Anderson retirement, and it isn't a pretty one. His record in Asia is remarkable – he has 147 wickets at an average of 28 – and with him missing, there will be real pressure on those who are talked of as his long-term replacement.
One of those who could take Anderson's place in the team, and the one that replaced him in the squad, is 25-year-old Jake Ball. The Nottinghamshire bowler had a very good 2016. He made his Test debut at Lord's against Pakistan when Anderson was struggling with the same shoulder injury that is preventing him from playing in the first few Tests of this upcoming series.
Ball claimed a solitary wicket at Lord's – that of Azhar Ali who was dismissed LBW in the first innings. While there wasn't a hatful of wickets, Ball did not look out of place in Test cricket and showed that the faith shown in him was justified, but it would be ridiculous to expect him to do what Anderson can, it took years for the leader of England's pace attack to become the bowler that he is today.
The year 2016 also represented the best year for Ball in first-class cricket; he picked up 54 victims at 23.27, most of those coming for Nottinghamshire who struggled badly in the first division of the County Championship, finished dead last and were relegated.
While 2016 was Ball's best year to date, it was 2015 that was his breakthrough season. He claimed 39 Championship wickets, and 41 in all first class cricket. It was good enough to earn Ball a spot on England's fast bowler development programme that winter and then a spot in the England Lions squad for the tour of the UAE to play Pakistan A. He only played one first-class match on that tour, claiming three wickets, but he did enough to be in England's thoughts when they were looking for someone to step in when Anderson was injured.
Ball was selected for both the ODI and Test legs of the Bangladesh tour, and while he didn't add to his solitary Test cap, he did make his ODI debut, playing in all three matches. He took a five-wicket haul in his first one-day match for England. Coming back into the attack when it seemed that Bangladesh were going to secure victory, he took three wickets for 16 runs in a spell of five overs in brutal humidity to win England the match.
When Ball made his England debut Alastair Cook said that he "had wicket-taking balls in him", and that seems to be the case. He is certainly regarded highly by the England management, and as we have consistently seen under this current regime, that is the primary criteria when it comes to selection.
Having said that, it would be a surprise if Ball plays a Test in India, even with England saying they will rotate their seamers. With it being unlikely that England will play more than two frontline seamers, in addition to Stokes, there is every chance that Ball will spend his time carrying drinks and delivering messages. You would think that Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Steven Finn were a long way in front of him in terms of selection chances, and if and when Anderson returns he will drop further down the list.
In years to come, Ball's chances will only become more regular, and he is well-placed to become a fixture in the England side in all formats, but this tour may be a little too early for that. Unless of course there is a desertion of form or fitness of one of his fast bowling colleagues.
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First Published On : Nov 3, 2016 13:26 IST