Murmurs of an impending retirement were gradually building on Monday as James Anderson prepared to address the media, but those were quickly put to bed as the England veteran vowed to carry on.
Having just turned 38 two weeks ago, Anderson is no longer the spring chicken he once was in his prime. Hence, talks of an irreversible decline were accelerated after his listless showing in the recently concluded Manchester Test against Pakistan.
Playing on his home turf at the Old Trafford Cricket Ground, the Lancashire man picked up just the solitary wicket across the two innings. It was quite the comedown for a bowler who has become synonymous for tormenting opposition batsmen under the rain clouds of England’s summer.
It has been a lean summer by Anderson’s high standards with the stalwart picking up a total of six wickets in as many innings against the West Indies and Pakistan. For a man who kicked off 2020 with a seven-wicket haul against South Africa in Newlands, the recent displays might represent cause for alarm.
The veteran has failed to grab any wickets in the second innings for three Tests and running now. These diminishing returns do raise questions about Anderson’s fitness levels in particular and whether he can maintain the intensity over the course of five days.
Although the concerns are valid, it is too hasty to suggest that the seamer has lost his golden touch. He beat the bat on several occasions in Manchester against Pakistan and even saw a catch put down off his bowling. The veteran vented his ire by kicking the ground in frustration, as Ben Stokes looked on apologetically as the guilty fielder in the slip cordon.
“It’s been a frustrating week for me personally,” Anderson said on Monday as quoted by the ICC.
“I’ve not bowled very well, out of rhythm. Probably for the first time in probably 10 years, I got a little bit emotional on the field. Started getting frustrated and let that get to me a little bit.
“It reminded me of when I first started playing, when you get a little bit angry, you try and bowl quicker and quicker and it doesn’t help.”
The Manchester disappointment notwithstanding, Anderson is in no mood to call it quits any time soon. He has reiterated his desire to play in the 2021 Ashes series Down Under and it would be foolish to assume otherwise.
Even in an off-colour display in Manchester, he managed to dismiss Pakistan’s star batsman Babar Azam with a trademark outswinger. His new-ball partner Stuart Broad might have hogged the limelight in the past month by joining him in the 500 wickets club, but Anderson has the chance to create a unique piece of history himself.
He currently stands on the cusp of becoming the first pacer in history to claim 600 Test scalps, though the elusive milestone is still 10 wickets away. When the six Tests against West Indies and Pakistan were announced for the summer, 600 was a question of when, not if for Anderson. Now, there are doubts over whether he can attain the feat in the two remaining Tests.
But discount Anderson at your own peril. After two successive Tests in Manchester, the scenery now shifts to Southampton for the remainder of the series against Pakistan. The extra swing on offer at the Rose Bowl might just be the tonic needed to reinvigorate a fast-bowler who has already defied convention with his remarkable longevity at the top level.
It is not the same Anderson who debuted more than 17 years ago at Lord’s as a talented, but highly inconsistent swing bowler. Over the years, he has sacrificed pace for accuracy and has reaped rewards with his ability to swing the ball both ways.
As a true master of his craft with no parallel in contemporary cricket, we are lucky to have witnessed Anderson doing his thing for the best part of two decades. That he has no intentions of bowing out in the near future will only be a bonus.
The 600th wicket will inevitably come, even though the man himself is not too fussed about the milestone.
“600 wickets is not a huge thing for me really,” he said on Monday
“The other milestones I’ve gone past haven’t been either. I want to be contributing to this team, that’s my sole focus. I want to be bowling well and contributing to England winning games of cricket. That’s been my focus throughout my career. I think that focus has served me well.”
It is now 154 Test appearances and 33,331 deliveries and counting for Anderson. No other pacer in history has bowled more deliveries while only Alastair Cook (161) has more matches under his belt as an Englishman.
Should he be able to fulfill his target of playing in the next Ashes series, Anderson will surely go past Cook to create a new record. It will still be just one of many for the England star who is bound to join Cook in receiving a knighthood at some point in the future.
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