Almanac Cricket: Father Time no match for Old Man Jim

LITERALLY, there is no end to Jimmy Anderson. Not only will he still be taking the new ball when England arrive for the Ashes later this year, he will, according to the BBC, still be doing so, aged 53 and in sight of his 1200th Test wicket when Australia take block at The Oval for the final match of the 2035 series.

 

Writer Stephan Shemilt was just having a laugh, of course. But he accurately captured the sense of wonderment – disbelief, really – that all cricket fans, no matter where they’re from, felt as they watched, transfixed by Anderson’s masterclass in new-ball bowling in the third Test against India at the age of 39 and 26 days.

 

Swinging the Duke orb both ways with precise placement at brisk pace, defying some of the world’s best batsmen to pick what exactly was coming next, he had KL Rahul, Cheshwar Pujara and the great man himself, Virat Kohli, all caught behind at a cost of six runs off eight overs.

 

Has he ever bowled better?

 

Well, he’s had a lot of far more impressive figures, of course – his 626 wickets from 164 matches include 31 bags of five and three of 10 – but he didn’t get a chance to improve them because he wasn’t called on for a second spell as his colleagues Ollie Robinson, Craig Overton and Sam Curran did the rest, dismissing India for a miserable 78.

 

As impossible as it should be with a craft that is largely physical, it does seem that the older he gets the better he bowls.

 

Consider: His bowling average for 2021, according to Shemilt, is 19.51, his best in a calendar year since 2017 and the second best of a Test career that began in 2003. On average, he is bowling quicker this season than he did in 2015 and was England’s fastest bowler at Headingley on Wednesday.

 

So if there was any doubt about him making it to Australia for the fifth and presumably last time, that probably deals with it.

 

In early 2018, having just been part of a 4-0 thrashing in Australia, he made a grumpy appearance on the BBC, asking: “Why does everyone in the media keep saying I won’t tour Australia again?

 

“Of course I’ll be back. Why would I want my last memory of playing in Australia to be this?”

 

He has a point to prove here, too – it hasn’t been his happiest hunting ground by any stretch. In his 18 Tests across those four tours he has taken 60 wickets at 35.43 with just one five-for.

 

In England, where his 94 matches have yielded 399 wickets,  including 23 of his 31 five-fors, his average is a far superior 23.92.

 

So we’ll see what happens when he gets here.

 

The fact that England were able to humiliate the world’s No 2 ranked Test team without Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes, Mark Wood and Chris Woakes, and have yet to unleash 24 year old Saqib Mahmood who almost played at Headingley, suggests that they have plenty of fast bowling depth, as does Australia.

 

However, Archer is injured and won’t be making the trip, Stokes almost certainly won’t for mental health reasons, Broad is 35 and also currently injured, and the rest, with the possible exception of the promising Robinson, are all yet to prove themselves as potential matchwinners anywhere, let alone in Australia.

 

What’s Anderson’s secret? As usual with most ultra-successful people, it boils down to marrying  sublime talent with relentless hard work.

 

After his big day at Headingley, he said: 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.

 

“The biggest test in cricket is mentally, getting yourself up for bowling big spells and playing in big games. That’s something I’ve always had.”

 

Not surprisingly, the wear and tear on his right shoulder often hurts. In fact, he said that after walking off after the previous Test at Lord’s “pretty much everything hurt – but that gives so much satisfaction knowing that I have put in a shift for the team. You find a way of putting up with it.”

 

The Ashes is, as usual, becoming more intriguing the closer it gets. There has been a general feeling that the Poms just aren’t good enough – especially with the bat – to make a close contest of it, but if they end up winning the series against the accomplished Indians (and they really should have won at Lord’s) that will shift perceptions in terms of confidence and morale.

 

As well, it has now become clear that the tensions  that exist between the Australian players and their coach Justin Langer are more deep-seated than most observers suspected, which has the potential to become a stumbling block.

 

And there is still no guarantee that the tour will even happen. Although cancelling it because of the hassles with covid would be hugely unlikely and in nobody interests, there remains a school of thought in England to that effect, articulated just the other day by the respected voice of Sir Geoffrey Boycott, who wants it called off.

 

Bring it on. Having the games in England to relieve the boredom of lockdown is a Godsend for us, but seeing the grandstands packed full of people enjoying themselves – while we unhappily contemplate a footy finals series that nobody in Melbourne is going to be able to attend – just makes our plight all the more frustrating and annoying.

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in the coming weeks. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order right now HERE

 

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Comments

  1. I’m disappointed that England will be unable to bring its very best attack this summer, but always enjoy watching Anderson. I can barely recall the Poms without him! Given that we’re a bit of a mess it might be close. Thanks Ron.

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