James Anderson’s career a tribute to rhythm, swing and a little bit of magic - Hindustan Times
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James Anderson’s career a tribute to rhythm, swing and a little bit of magic

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Jul 10, 2024 01:36 PM IST

Still mentally and physically in shape, 41-year-old Anderson to accept retirement after playing his 188th and final Test against the West Indies at the Lord’s

Where were you when James Anderson got the ball to hoop in to Michael Clarke from nowhere, kissing the top of his off stumps at Lord’s in 2015? When he made VVS Laxman almost keel over half a second after sending his off stump cartwheeling at Oval in 2011? When he was out-reversing Zaheer Khan on a scuffed up Eden Gardens pitch under lights in 2012? Last chance to watch him. Lord’s, Wednesday, wherever you are.

England's James Anderson poses for a team group photo ahead of the Test series Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra (Action Images via Reuters)
England's James Anderson poses for a team group photo ahead of the Test series Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra (Action Images via Reuters)

No fast bowler has played more Tests than Anderson, or taken more wickets than him. The cricket ball was his ally, weaponising the pitch and overhead conditions to seam in and out of the batters’ channel of comfort, inducing them into unforced errors. Virat Kohli remembers. Also Cheteshwar Pujara, his most frequent Test victim.

At one point of time, it looked as if retirement wasn’t an inevitability for him. If Chris Gayle could do it for the West Indies at 42, Anderson could well afford to look 41 in the eye and brush it off as a mere number. It wasn’t to be though. Enough is enough, England have reluctantly accepted. Anderson is mortal, he has to retire.

The mind, expectedly, isn’t ready to accept the truth. “I still feel as fit as I ever have, like I’m bowling as well as I ever have,” Anderson has said. “My record has got much better since turning 35. I still think I could do a job. But at the same time, I understand that it has to end at some point, and I completely accept—completely understand—their reasoning behind it.”

That comment alone should prompt the question as to why Anderson is being forced into retirement and mentorship of the England team throughout this summer when he is still physically—and clearly mentally—ready to lead their bowling.

And it might seem urgent to drive home this thought because we now finally know where Anderson’s career curve is set to end. Truth be told though, the reason Anderson still feels up for it is exactly what has worked for him so long, more than nine years after he had played his final ODI—England’s rest and rotation policy.

You will find it in the lexicon of every cricket team now. But when national selector Ed Smith came up with the idea after the 2019 World Cup and coach David Silverwood implemented it in toto, ‘rotation policy’ had a few takers. Stuart Broad was livid, partly because of the sketchy communication from the management and mostly because he couldn’t fathom being dropped from the first Test of a series when he was fit and gunning.

Anderson too has copped an unfair share of the policy. Taking five wickets in the opening Test win against India in Chennai during the 2021 tour, Anderson had every reason to feel a bit begrudged about his forced rest in the very next Test.

But he was also ready to look at the bigger picture of being a constant threat to India throughout a long tour, considering he had missed most of the Ashes in 2019 and two Tests in South Africa at the start of 2020 due to injury. Much has been written about his fitness and appetite to learn but it’s this nuanced comprehension of the rest and rotation policy that has allowed Anderson play Test cricket for so long after retiring from white-ball formats.

Interesting pick of venues too. Out of 187 Tests, Anderson has played 105 at home, 28 of them at Lord’s—where he had made his debut in 2003—taking 119 wickets that works out to roughly a seventh of his career haul of 700. But it can’t put to shade what Anderson has achieved in Asia—92 wickets in 32 Tests at an average of 27.51—too.

Eden Gardens, 2012, perhaps saw Anderson at his craftiest, hiding the shine till the very last point of release a la Zaheer Khan. Ten years later in Rawalpindi, and nothing seemed to change as he engineered a win for the ages on a dead pitch with a four-wicket haul. All roads lead to Lord’s again though, for the final time. Waiting at the top of the mark, from the Pavilion End, is James Anderson.

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