Ageless at 40, James Anderson questions cricketing mortality

Published on Aug 15, 2022 09:18 PM IST

Diet, discipline and a fantastic work ethic has given us one of the wonders of the games in the form of James Anderson

James Anderson reacts after bowling(Reuters) PREMIUM
James Anderson reacts after bowling(Reuters)
By, Kolkata

Among the many videos and stills of Jimmy Anderson going through his flowing, near-effortless bowling action or playing a few holes of golf stands out a then-and-now collage you must have seen on his Instagram account. The first photo is of a frost-tipped Anderson in 2002, just out of his teens, wearing a frowning smile, possibly unsure of the road ahead. The second photo, snapped in 2022, captures a man with grey highlights, clearly more confident of his ability and skill. The photos encapsulate a 20-year journey of one of the most fascinating exhibits of modern seam bowling. But Anderson is still not done. At 40, he is primed to take guard again.

No modern fast bowler has played Test cricket in his forties. Richard Hadlee retired at 39, Courtney Walsh at 38, Glenn McGrath at 37, Wasim Akram and Kapil Dev at 35. Anderson plays only Tests, and has been doing so since March 2015. But it’s also the most taxing format of all. A rare culmination of supreme fitness and incredible discipline has allowed Anderson stay relevant all these years, through 37,077 balls, snaring 657 wickets in 172 Tests—both the most by any fast bowler. His seam bowling has been instructive in its evolution—be it in mastering the outswing, tweaking his release point and becoming more side-on with time or borrowing subcontinent tactics like hiding the shine of the ball while working away on the reverse.

Through the years, Anderson has exuded the vibe of a man in perfect harmony with his strengths and limitations. That, in turn, allowed him to work out strategy catering to the pitch, the matchup and the need of the hour while wielding an exhilarating degree of control over every delivery. "Jimmy Anderson's main strength is what any fast bowler would like to have as their main strength—control," Michael Holding had told Sky Sports in 2016. "He puts the ball as close as possible to where he wants to put it. He can get that ball pretty much exactly where he wants it, which is the most important thing for a fast bowler.”

Several factors have contributed to Anderson’s extraordinarily long and storied career. In Stuart Broad, he had found an excellent bowling mate very early into his career. Anderson’s workload too has been carefully managed to the extent that out of 73 Test appearances since 2015, an overwhelming 40 games have come at home. Little wonder then Anderson is the highest wicket-taker at Lord’s (116 wickets in 26 Tests), Nottingham (73 wickets in 12 Tests) and Birmingham (51 wickets in 13 Tests). Home conditions allowed the seamer in Anderson to thrive, but so did the turfs.

“If you examine his career, Anderson has hardly had any knee injury because of the soft soil in England. That, apart from his diet and strict regimen, is one of the reasons Anderson is still playing at 40,” former India fast bowler Subroto Banerjee told HT from Australia in June. “Even though the outfields are much better these days, the top soil in India and Australia are harder in comparison to England. Longevity becomes an issue for fast bowlers from these countries because knees are the first casualty,” said Banerjee, who coached the likes of Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

What also can’t be ignored is the amount of work that goes into keeping Anderson fit to bowl even at 40. “As I get older, I feel like I have to work that little bit harder in the gym. I feel like I bowl less in the nets, and try to save it for when it matters in the middle,” Anderson had said last year when India were touring England. “The biggest test in Test cricket is mentally getting yourself up for bowling big spells and playing in big games.”

Where Anderson has probably scored most after turning 35 was in turning his attention towards making his run-up as economical as possible to minimise strain on muscles and joints. "I think a lot of it is luck. I've been born with a body that can cope with the pressures of bowling,” said Anderson after becoming England's most-capped Test cricketer during the second Test against New Zealand at Edgbaston last year. "I work hard at my fitness and it's about trying to stay hungry. I still feel like I've got a lot to give the game. I feel like I can still take wickets.

"Certainly, the older I've got, the more I've got to focus on the fitness side of things. I'm very conscious of my diet now as well, and I probably drink a lot less than I used to. We're very much more focused towards nutrition and fitness now than we ever have been. It's great to be a part of that."

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Somshuvra Laha is a sports journalist with over 11 years' experience writing on cricket, football and other sports. He has covered the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 2016 ICC World Twenty20, cricket tours of South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh and the 2010 Commonwealth Games for Hindustan Times.

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