James Anderson: Test cricket's ageless wonder finally calls time on his career | Crickit
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James Anderson: Test cricket's ageless wonder finally calls time on his career

May 12, 2024 09:14 AM IST

It’s safe to say it will be a long time before anyone else, pacer or spinner, even flirts with James Anderson's 700-wicket number.

James Anderson retiring from Test cricket? To quote John McEnroe’s famous line: “You cannot be serious!”

James Anderson will retire from Test cricket after England's first Test against West Indies at Lord's this July(AFP)
James Anderson will retire from Test cricket after England's first Test against West Indies at Lord's this July(AFP)

For nearly 21 years, the world’s premier exponent of right-arm swing bowling has wheeled away, over after over, hour after hour, season after season, in different parts of the world. He has seen many come and go, some breaking through in a blaze of glory and fading away as quickly, others keeping him company for long periods, none more so than his great mate Stuart Broad.

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Somehow, you felt, James Anderson had cracked the time code. That he alone knew how to make it stand still. That the advancing years did little to diminish his craft, his energy, his enthusiasm, his fitness – simply put, his love for Test cricket.

Only a few months back, he became the first paceman to touch the 700-wicket mark in Test cricket. Take a deep breath, and allow that to sink in. Seven hundred. Only two men, spin sensations Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne, had gone there before. It’s safe to say it will be a long time before anyone else, pacer or spinner, even flirts with that number. When he kept his tryst with history in Dharamsala in March, you were convinced he would go on and on and on. Like the Energiser bunny.

And yet here we are today, reflecting on a career most glorious, hours after his announcement on Instagram that England’s first home Test of the summer, against West Indies at Lord’s in July, will be his international swansong. There is a nice symmetry to that; it was at the same venue that Anderson cut his teeth in Test cricket as a 20-year-old, with a five-wicket haul in Zimbabwe’s innings defeat.

The Lancastrian might have been tempted to bow out at his beloved Old Trafford, which will host the first of three Tests against Sri Lanka towards the end of August. Perhaps his sense of history dictated that Lord’s in July it should be, perhaps he was nudged in that direction by head coach Brendon McCullum, who recently made the trip from New Zealand to England to discuss with Anderson, his future. Perhaps Anderson didn’t want a prolonged farewell, perhaps he just wanted to get it over and done with. Whatever the reason, English cricket, nay Test cricket, will be the poorer for his absence.

Throughout his career, Anderson has had the ball on a string. Wake him up from deep slumber, and he would still hit his spots, on or just outside the off-stump on a perfect length to the right-hander, and make it go away late to catch the outside edge on its way to the wicketkeeper or the slip cordon. He relished bowling with the Duke’s ball used in home Tests in England, but over time, he came to be comfortable with the Kookaburra that dominated the landscape almost everywhere except in India, where the SG Test ball drove him to master the nuances of reverse-swing too.

Like all great performers, Anderson was more than good away, though understandably, his best performances came on English soil. A decade-plus association with white-ball internationals was brought to a grinding halt after England’s spectacular meltdown at the 2015 50-over World Cup in the Antipodes when they failed to advance to the quarterfinals. A complete overhaul of mindset as well as personnel left Anderson, and Broad, on the periphery of limited-overs formats, thereby extending their careers as they were left to concentrate on teasing batters collectively and individually with the red ball.

From a young tyro who could crank it up in the early part of the 2000s, Anderson has evolved into an extraordinary all-weather bowler keen to keep adding new tricks to his repertoire. The scrambled seam delivery that he used to devastating effect towards the last quarter of his career was the ultimate example of an old dog willing and equipped to learn new tricks.

The present is already idolatry of Anderson; history will elevate his command over his craft to a whole new dimension. McCullum’s desire to move on from Anderson, 42 in two and a half months’ time, is understandable, but how England fill the massive hole that his absence will unquestioningly create remains to be seen. Even on the recent tour of India which only brought him 10 wickets in four Tests, he was the fast bowler that needed the most careful watching. His supreme fitness – his fielding would have put men half his age to shame – spoke to his pride in performance; he didn’t want to survive on past glory.

Now, for the cricketing Gods to come together and concoct a fairytale farewell for the ageless wonder.

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