Anderson’s army go home happy

“He is 40 but he doesn’t act like a 40-year-old.” – Ben Stokes on James Anderson.

Telford Vice / Old Trafford

ALL James Anderson had to do to earn applause at Old Trafford on Saturday was turn up. As the fast bowler’s fast bowler emerged from the dressing room and stepped into the swaddling sunshine, the appreciation rose like foam on a freshly pulled pint.

Anderson was bound for a pitch at the edge of the square nearest the vast rectangular slab of temporary seats that leans away from the western boundary; the D Stand. Or party stand. The start of play was still half-an-hour away but the party was already underway, and the partiers knew their champion when they saw him on his home ground. Besides, with England steaming towards victory, Saturday may have been the last time they would see him this year. And who can say for how many more years they might have to see him after that?

Ahead of Anderson lay the third day of the second Test, behind him a career like no other. At 40, he bowls like someone half his age. Scratch that, he bowls exponentially better than most people half his age. But even freaks of cricket’s nature need to warm up, and that means, among other things, sauntering out to a pitch at the edge of the square half-an-hour before the start of play. It also means being applauded simply for showing your face.

“I honestly can’t see when he’s going to stop,” Ben Stokes told a press conference after the match. “You can see him enjoying every moment that he’s out there. He is 40 but he doesn’t act like a 40-year-old. He’s been amazing around the dressing room. The energy that he runs in and bowls with, still, is incredible. He’s a testament to himself and a great ambassador for the game, especially fast bowlers.” 

Interviewed by the BBC’s Test Match Special radio programme, Anderson said: “Every time I play cricket it could be the last, so I just enjoy the experience. I could retire tomorrow and be delighted. But I’m not.”

What would Jimmy do on this day of days, with England needing 10 wickets for fewer than 241 runs to win by an innings and reclaim the momentum South Africa earned by inflicting that level of hurt in less than three days at Lord’s? That thought had to be held, because first Joe Root bowled from the Brian Statham End.

Then it was over to Anderson at his own end. Sarel Erwee punched into the covers for three and Dean Elgar’s hip added a leg bye off his first over. The fifth delivery of his second held its line and launched Elgar’s off stump into the outfield.

By lunch, Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad had dealt with Erwee and Aiden Markram. But, also by lunch, Keegan Petersen and Rassie van der Dussen had begun what would become South Africa’s longest partnership in England in more than 10 years. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis put on an unbroken 377 off 612 balls at the Oval in July 2012, a stand that followed Graeme Smith and Amla sharing 259 off 508. “As bowlers, we thoroughly enjoyed a day-and-a-half of sleep and feet up,” Vernon Philander remembered fondly on radio commentary. The 87 off 261 added by Petersen and Van der Dussen wasn’t in the same league, but it was the best resistance the visitors could offer on Saturday.

They were removed 13 deliveries apart by Stokes, both caught behind after tea. The ball that got Petersen, ending a stay of a minute short of four hours in which he faced 159 deliveries, was a marvel of physics, a missile that homed in on the batter before pitching, straightening and steepling to take the edge. Van der Dussen batted for almost three hours and 132 balls through the pain of a finger he fractured in the field on Thursday and that kept him in the dressing room throughout Friday’s play.

But the most prominent hero of that episode of the drama was Stokes, who sent down six immaculate overs for just eight runs before tea, and eight after the interval at a cost of 22 — and for the reward of the two biggest wickets of the innings. Stokes’ chronic knee problem couldn’t stop him scoring a century in this match, and it failed to derail him with the ball.

Anderson returned with the new ball to cleanbowl Simon Harmer and have Kagiso Rabada taken at first slip in consecutive overs as the writing on the wall reached neon brightness: England were indeed going to return the medicine they were forced to swallow in the first Test. Robinson, playing his first Test since January, hammered in the final nails by cleaning up Anrich Nortjé and Lungi Ngidi as England sealed victory by an innings and 85 runs.

Not many minutes later, while Elgar was being interviewed on the outfield, the crowd in the party stand swelled into their umpteenth rendition of one of the most famous chants in cricket: “Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy! Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy Anderson!” The mention of his name, on the public address, among the contenders for the player-of-the-match generated a rousing cheer. Anderson’s army knew he wouldn’t earn that prize. He had bowled beautifully, but it would need more than his figures of 3/32 and 3/30. Did that matter to them? About as much as the fact that they had already missed several trams home.

Jimmy’s song was sung several more times before the spectators trickled out of the ground, content that they had been as close to their man as they could get without incurring the wrath of security staff. Some of them, if they had not partied too hard, might have known that Harmer’s dismissal took Anderson to a world record 950 international wickets across the formats. Or that Rabada’s wicket was Anderson’s 100th against South Africa.

Some would have looked back in wonder at the fact that, when Anderson played his first Test against South Africa — his third overall — at Edgbaston in July 2003, the visitors’ XI featured Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock, and that his own team included Mark Butcher. All have retired and moved on, and were in Manchester as coaches or commentators. What might they make of Anderson raging hard against the dying of the light? Actually, not at all raging but bathed in light that does not look like dying anytime soon.

Deservedly, Stokes arrived at his presser holding a beer, its status marked by a layer of foam visible about halfway down the green glass. If he could bottle Anderson and what he gives England, the wider game and the goodwill of those moved to sing his praises, doubtless he would. Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy … 

First published by Cricbuzz.

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Anderson’s army go home happy