June 8, 2017

Corey Anderson's struggle

The New Zealand allrounder has had to fight expectations and wrestle with injury. Most of all, he has had to strive to outdo his potential
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If it goes kaboom, it's Anderson © Getty Images

One man obscures the breakfast buffet; there is no way to see the scrambled eggs or misal pav. This is a man worth millions, who broke a world record and has been playing cricket at the top level for a while now, but it's in his obscuring the buffet that you suddenly realise Corey Anderson isn't like other cricketers.

There is that now infamous picture of Barry Richards holding an old bat next to a new bat, and making a funny face about the size discrepancy. Well, if you took Corey Anderson's arm and compared to it Don Bradman's entire body, you could probably make the same kind of photo. When Anderson retires, he can stay in cricket as a sightscreen by just wearing a black T-shirt over his massive shoulders.

Even if you had never seen him play before, hadn't heard any whispers about him, as he walked out to the wicket, you would be expecting carnage. The potential for damage from a man this size is as big as his shoulders.

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Anderson's father was a runner - 100 and 200m sprints and 4x100m relay at the 1974 Commonwealth Games. His mother was a netballer, a shooter, despite her small stature, meaning Anderson was born into a sporting family within a sporting nation.

Anderson was first noticed at primary school. It was the semi-final of the school competition, and Kane Williamson had just scored a hundred for his side. Williamson's team would lose when Anderson scored a hundred, with eight sixes. At one stage Anderson's mother had to give the school a whole box of balls because he'd he lost so many with his sixes.

A few years later a 16-year-old Anderson was promoted beyond Under-17s to the Under-19s for Canterbury. "I ended up facing Tim Southee and Trent Boult, who were bowling for Northern Districts - the first day of the under-19 competition and I scored a hundred against them." Shortly after, he got another call-up, "I got picked to play for New Zealand Under-19s against India, Kohli, Rahane, Chawla, Jadeja and Ishant Sharma."

"I saw Chris Harris, Peter Fulton, Michael Papps, and I was just this kid not knowing what the hell I was doing, but part of their team. It felt like I'd won a competition or something"

Kohli said of Anderson: "When we came to New Zealand with the Under-19s, in Dunedin he scored a hundred on a drop-in wicket which was very difficult, and he hit some massive sixes there as well." It wasn't a hundred (Kohli might have conflated the Dunedin innings with the one where Anderson struck six fours and four sixes, in Kuala Lumpur against India U-19s); but it was 88 at better than a run a ball, with ten fours and four sixes. "He had a lot of power."

After all that excitement, Anderson had to go back to his normal life and do things as mundane as competing in his school's athletics day. A bit bored by not facing Trent Boult and Ishant Sharma, he couldn't be bothered. "If you don't do anything, you get in trouble for not doing anything, so when I heard my name coming out from an announcement at the stadium, I went, 'Oh no, I'm in trouble.' I had to see the headmaster down in the main office. But he told me I'd be playing for Canterbury. I thought he just meant an underage team, but he said, 'You're playing for the Canterbury Wizards, in first-class cricket', and he said that I had to go play an away game."

Anderson was the youngest to play first-class cricket in New Zealand for 58 summers, and his second game of first-class cricket was the State Championship final, the pinnacle of first-class cricket in New Zealand.

"I hadn't trained with them, I hadn't even met them, all I'd done is just watched them on TV. Turned up at the airport and I saw Chris Harris, Peter Fulton, Michael Papps, all these guys who had played international cricket, and I was just this kid not knowing what the hell I was doing, but part of their team. It felt like I'd won a competition or something. It was strange."

In November of 2006 Anderson was a schoolboy and under-17 cricketer. In December he was a 16-year-old Canterbury under-19 cricketer; in January 2007 a New Zealand under-19 cricketer. And in March 2007 he was a first-class cricketer with Canterbury. In five months, while turning 16, he went from a schoolboy cricketer to a first-class cricketer without ever playing club cricket.

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"I don't think you even know what ready is, so going from school cricket to first-class cricket was just a big blur."

Anderson has increasingly come to be realistic about the fact that his bowling will be a second string to his bow © Associated Press

Anderson was a big-hitting allrounder; he knew that he had a chance of higher honours. Tim Southee had already made the national side. "It also became a bit of a burden because everything happened so fast, you start thinking, 'What's the next level I can go to - it's international cricket.' You don't end up learning anything about your game, you don't know what kind of player you are, you haven't even grown up to be the person you want to be. All of a sudden you're thinking you're ready to play international cricket as more of default rather than working to get there."

There were good moments in the first three years. He smashed the top score in a List A match by a No. 8. Before him in the order were Rob Nicol, Peter Fulton, Craig McMillan and Kruger van Wyk. The bowlers he was facing included Iain O'Brien and Jeetan Patel. Chris Harris and Anderson put on 60 in five overs: Harris made 18 not out, Anderson 52 not out off 29. The problem was the following year, when he only managed four T20s and no other cricket through the entire summer.

The easy thing to do was stay in Canterbury, the district that his father represented at rugby and his mother played netball for. He decided to travel to Northern Districts. Without a contract.

Modern sportsmen don't give up their contracts, their livelihood, without something solid to go to. Anderson went to Northern Districts with a groin injury and no deal. "The monetary value of the contract never really came into play. I wanted to go somewhere where I would enjoy my cricket and get better at my cricket." He left Canterbury because he was a young man who believed he was getting stale, and because he believed in himself so much he didn't need a contract at Northern Districts, he'd earn one when he was there.

When he went to Northern Districts, he lost 15-20kg ("It grows by a kg every year"). With the backing of the coach, Grant Bradburn, who had tried to get him to make the move a year earlier, he was fitter, and he "felt at home straight away".

The first year he still only managed four first-class games but won a contract. At the start of the next season he made 167 (28 fours) against Otago. After years of being in the system, this was the moment everyone had wanted from him.

When the bowler is at the top of his mark, he thinks that there are no grounds big enough to hold Anderson. When Anderson faces up, he thinks that he needs to live up to what he could be

By the end of that summer he was playing for a New Zealand XI against England, and making a better-than-a-run-a-ball 67 against Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Chris Woakes and Graham Onions. And in the winter he made a tour to India with New Zealand A. He made a hundred there too.

Anderson made a hundred in primary school cricket that elevated him to age group cricket. He made a hundred in under-19 cricket that made him a first-class player. He made a hundred in first-class cricket that made him an A player. And he made an A hundred that made him a Test player. When Anderson made a hundred in Bangladesh in his second Test, it was only his third first-class hundred. But almost every time he makes a hundred, his life changes.

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New Zealand cricket has certain archetypes - allrounders who bowl seam, players who are more feted overseas, players who are born into sporting dynasties, child prodigies, and those who are picked on potential rather than results. Anderson is all of these things. And while they are the well-known archetypes, the most consistent one is that of the ignored New Zealand player.

There are whole villages in New Zealand where former limited-overs players live in silence, only knowingly nodding to each other as they pass in the street. Warren Lees, Bruce Blair, Mark Priest, Blair Hartland, Iain Butler and Michael Mason, just names on a scorecard, maybe you saw them in the boring middle overs once, or read a headline that had their name in it, but they come in, play some games and fade away.

Anderson could have been that kind of player. His body doesn't let him bowl as fast as he can, meaning he's a middle-overs trundler rather than front-line. His batting potential would have kept getting him back in the team, but without a huge amount of runs behind him, and being the attacking player he was, he might never have got much of a run in international cricket. Instead, he'd be a frequent squad member and occasional player throughout his career.

Weather and a small ground at Queenstown changed that. The rain reduced the game so much that instead of an ODI it was a 21-overs-a-side match, a T20 with a bonus slogging over.

When Anderson was fast-tracked into the Under-19s at 16 years of age, he made a century against Tim Southee and Trent Boult in his first game © BCCI

It starts with the ball landing among the spectators, them trying to catch, or duck, with many opportunities for both. Then you see the spectators all turning to look at them - so much of the footage is of fans facing away from the ground, trying to see if Anderson has smashed one into a nearby mountain. At one stage Ravi Rampaul is smiling on his way back to his mark, because if you don't smile, you cry, and if you cry, Anderson will hit your tears for six as well. When Nikita Miller sees Anderson backing away, he tries to bowl a quick one that ends up getting stuck in his hand, and ends up as a wide long hop. Anderson is falling away, and then suddenly launches himself at the ball like a kid in a tennis-ball game and hits it over cover for six.

When you watch the innings it's as if the ghosts of cricket's big-hitting past turn up to watch. Trumper, Bonnor, Sinclair, Trott, Jessop, Sobers, Cairns, Klusener, Jayasuriya, Dev, Richards, Afridi and Jayasuriya, all just sitting on the grass banks, smiling and laughing at the carnage.

The hundred comes up off 36 balls, a ball quicker than Shahid Afridi, and the world record is broken, but Anderson ends on 131 off his 47. What made it all the more surprising was that it was his first-ever one-day hundred in professional cricket. After seven years of potential, he had one limited-overs hundred and one world record.

For all the good it brought, not least the financial security of a few big overseas contracts, it was also a burden, "The world record came too early. It changed my life, for the good. But at the same, time having something like that every time you go out to bat, the crowd starts thinking you are going to hit sixes all the time. Even teams start to think, if he can do that, why isn't he doing it?"

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As a teenager and into his early 20s, Anderson was missing a lot of the season through groin and shoulder injuries. When he finally made the international team, he lost his spot when he was struck on the hand in the nets. In Sri Lanka he had a rib injury. There was a finger injury that almost stopped him from making his first IPL. A groin injury against Sri Lanka at home. He was withdrawn from the CPL by NZC. Broken finger at the 2015 IPL. A back problem that stopped him from going to Australia, and then another back injury to follow that.

A few times recently for New Zealand, and also in different domestic competitions, Anderson has played as a batsman. "I'm thankful that I can bat well enough to be still picked as a batter, but I feel like I'm half the player when I'm not bowling." And the truth is that one day Anderson might have to accept that he can only be a batsman, "I'd be lying if I said it hasn't played on my mind. I think looking at what I want to do as a player, and what New Zealand cricket needs as a team, the best thing for me to do is play as an allrounder."

When he grew up, he wanted to be Chris Cairns. Nothing much has changed. "I wanna be an allrounder and I feel like I gotta be an allrounder"

The main problem for Anderson is that he's two athletes, a baseball slugger and a seam bowler. The power he needs for one comes partly from the weight that makes the other so hard. "Being big, it helps with my power game when I bat, but it may not help with my bowling. But I know other guys like Adam Milne, who is one of the strongest and fittest guys in our side, and he still gets injuries. It's part of bowling; everyone gets injured. If you could try and drop more weight to be lighter at the crease when you're bowling, you've lost your power when you're batting".

When he grew up, he wanted to be Chris Cairns. Nothing much has changed. "I wanna be an allrounder and I feel like I gotta be an allrounder."

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Anderson is still learning who he is as a player: the constant injuries, the stop-starts, and the feeling that he has that he's still getting picked on what he might be able to do, instead of what he does. But there have been some very batsman-like innings from him as well. His half-century in the World Cup semi-final was one, a 34 off 42 balls in the first game of the World T20 on a tricky Nagpur pitch another, and there was also a quality 81 against Sri Lanka in a tough, low chase where he shepherded the bottom order home.

These are not the innings that Anderson gets worship for, but all of these innings led to wins.

It was a conversation with Brendon McCullum that led to Anderson trying not to replicate his world-record knock every time he went out to bat. McCullum had felt the same pressure after opening the IPL with a century, but over time learned that you can't bat like that every time.

In his IPL career, Anderson is striking at a very low 113 throughout the middle stages of the innings, "There are times I've tried to strike at 300 from the start of my innings and get out. So I think that there are many times I need to knock the ball around and earn the time to hit out, so I need to do more of that." At the death in the IPL, he strikes at 230.

Talking to Brendon McCullum helped Anderson come to terms with the fact that he couldn't attempt to replicate his ODI record hundred every time he went out to bat © Getty Images

"The way I play is tough to replicate every day, but I'd love to replicate it more often than I do."

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"The 'potential' tag is, I guess, it's always there, it's still always there. Yeah, the 'potential' tag is always there."

The word "potential" was used by Anderson more than ten times when we spoke, almost always brought up by him. He had to fight against the child-prodigy tag, he had to play against the expectations of a world record, and he had to fight his own body every step of the way. But his real battle hasn't been against these things, or opponents analysing his game as he becomes more well known, or international bowlers; it's the fight he has to outdo the potential he has.

"New Zealand being a small country, our playing pool isn't as big, so once you get touted, they go after them. If you look at what we've had in the past, we have a lot of X-factor match-winning players, so I suppose from a young age I was in that bracket. So as soon as you do something, you're right to go.

"The biggest thing for me was that I thought I wouldn't play for New Zealand until I'd done all this hard work." Anderson is only 26 but has ten years of professional cricket behind him. His talent, his power, jumped the queue. And that still plays on his mind. When the bowler is at the top of his mark, he thinks that there are no grounds big enough to hold Anderson. When Anderson faces up, he thinks that he needs to live up to what he could be. "That 'potential' tag still lies within me."

If Anderson ever conquers his potential, the only thing bigger than his shoulders will be the impact he has on world cricket.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Master on June 10, 2017, 14:38 GMT

    The stats suggest he is really only an all rounder in 50 over cricket. I like watching him bat reminds me of Lance Klusener who had similar sort of record and moved up to number 5 later in his international career. Anderson certainly should have batted in front of Broom and Neesham.

  • asad on June 9, 2017, 21:17 GMT

    With NZ's loss today I think their weaknesses have been highlighted a bit. I think Guptil & Ronchi opening partnership is a good aggressive opening pair its just that they didn't really come off in this tournament but I do think these are the right guys. Then having KW at 3 & Taylor at 4 is also right (although Taylor isn't scoring that well). The problem starts at 5 with Broom. The guy did nothing throughout CT & the man he replaced, Munro, was also not worth it either. Between Anderson, Neesham & Santner NZ need to identify who has the most batting potential & bat him at 5 then maybe have a Miller type specialist finisher at 6 followed by the other 2 all rounders (these guys batting at 7 & 8 need to bowl well enough that their bowling alone gets them into the team). Then lest three positions go to Southee, Boult & Milne/Henryy. On another note I think Afridi's debut century had a similar effect on him as Anderson's century.

  • Alex on June 9, 2017, 10:07 GMT

    Anyone can criticize. so if anderson wants to be great , all he need to do is believe in himself. He can play pace but he is struggling against spin terribly. He need to follow sehwag philosophy of spinner as slow bowler. But sehwag did something he never tell anyone. He watched the ball like hawk and unloaded on it as though life depend on it. He also got stumped but not often. You must step out against spinner and cover it and hit straight. Great Batsman who can play spin always able to step out to the pitch of the ball. For that you need confidence and practice and practice and practice on domestic games. Because every thing enlarged in international game with camera , even small mistake gets analysed. Another thing is you must create scoring technique that bowler can't figure out. Hit first ball or throw kitchen sink or throw kitchen sink at second ball then take a single go to other side. I despise people who does flat bat defense. You let bowler win. That is not necessary.

  • Jason on June 9, 2017, 9:52 GMT

    Wonderful article. I have followed Anderson with the Black Caps and I'm a big fan. I wasn't aware if his schoolboy exploits. He is an immensely talented bloke and I hope he stays injury free to prove it.

  • Black on June 9, 2017, 8:52 GMT

    Not every player is consitent like kohli, jadeja, ashwin. This is the best he can do. He will not be dhoni overnight.

  • Alex on June 9, 2017, 6:40 GMT

    Anderson is done. Mainly because he is not going to get a captain who can make him do the work. He needs to be instructed and motivated. Some people are driver , some need to be driven. :)

  • Daniel on June 9, 2017, 4:35 GMT

    The most interesting cricketers are the inconsistent ones, particularly when it's because they're trying to work themselves out. Thanks for the insight, Jarrod.

  • Beau on June 9, 2017, 4:27 GMT

    Agree wholeheartedly with those calling for Anderson's promotion to 5 or 6 in the batting order and given a good long run there. With the more circumspect batting of Santner and Neesham to follow, why not give the big fella time to build the kind of innings that will win NZ a 50 over contest?

  • hussuk4486239 on June 9, 2017, 4:20 GMT

    Really needs to play at 5 instead of likes of Broom. He is wasted at 7.

  • alibuk5261229 on June 8, 2017, 22:22 GMT

    Anderson should be batting at no lower than 5 (or 6). Plus, having Neesham in the same team is a waste of a slot as Neesham is very very ordinary. A specialist batsman/bowler in Neesham's place would be better.

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