And to think, a couple of weeks ago there were murmurs of this being the end of the road for James Anderson.
Six hundred Test wickets. Yes, 600. Only three bowlers before Anderson have gotten there, and he is the first fast bowler. At the age of 38. The greatest England pace bowler of all time, a record-breaking, age-defying athlete from Lancashire who does seem to be capable of actually slowing down.
It was only fitting that the rain abetted to allow play to resume on the fifth day at Southampton – the last day of Test cricket this English summer – just long enough for Anderson to move from 599 to 600. It was also apt that as Anderson ran in to bowl his 33,717th delivery in Test cricket, the sky overhead was grey and the ball in his hand was 61 overs old.
The wicket of Pakistan captain Azhar Ali came in the most Anderson of ways – a good delivery getting a bit of lift to take Ali’s edge and fly to the sole slip stationed, Joe Root. Having watched several catches go down of this bowling during this Test, that dismissal was perfect for Anderson, a bowler who we’ve seen often gets better the grumpier he is.
The landmark wicket taken, Anderson and his captain Root embraced – social distancing be damned, for this was history right there – and within seconds Anderson’s trusted comrade Stuart Broad was at his side, grinning broadly. What a career Broad himself has had, and what a role in helping Anderson last this long. That, in itself, is an article for a different day.
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Anderson then raised the ball to the empty Ageas Bowl stands. You could imagine him picturing a packed house, the Barmy Army faithful showing him their love. The same love they’ve showered on him from Durham to Dubai, Birmingham to Brisbane, Colombo to Christchurch. What a lovely picture it would have been to see Anderson’s 600th Test wicket cheered by spectators.
Anderson came into the third Test against Pakistan with 593 wickets and led the way as only he can, netting five more in the touring team’s first innings for his 29th Test five-for. Only Muttiah Muralitharan (800), Shane Warne (708) and Anil Kumble (619) have more wickets. And, say it softly, there’s no telling where Anderson will end up on that list.
I remember first seeing Anderson play for England, in an ODI tri-series in Australia. He was quick, he was lively, he had blonde streaked hair. My father, whose eye for cricket was unparalleled, sat there on in his favourite cricket-watching rocking chair and said to me, “Jamie, this kid’s something else. He will go a long way.”
And Anderson has come a long way since bowling Zimbabwe’s Mark Vermeulen with his 18th delivery on Test debut. He overcome injuries and technical problems which during his first five years of international cricket saw him in and out of England’s Test squad, but from the time he seized his opportunity during the 2008 tour of New Zealand, Anderson has not looked back.
The records tumbled, the swing rarely wavered, the pace dipped. Whatever the circumstances, conditions and mood, Anderson abided. The arrival of Broad seemed to add speed to his legs, and together the two became the most successful fast-bowling pair.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) August 26, 2020
Two summers ago, when Anderson took out Mohammed Shami’s middle stump, he surpassed Glenn McGrath as the most successful pace bowler in Tests – his 564th wicket. Two seasons on, he achieved his 600th.
After match figures of 1/97 in the first Test at Old Trafford, Anderson admitted his frustration at whispers over his future. But despite the underwhelming individual performance, Anderson had said he took confidence from England’s stunning win. Asked after his seven-wicket performance in the third Test how long he thinks he can go on, Anderson replied by saying that he sees no reason he cannot get to 700 Test wickets.
It makes you wonder … and here I will stick my neck out and proclaim that no future bowler, no matter what type he is, pace or spin, will ever get as many Test wickets. The game has changed, the formats increasing, and the demands of staying afloat with so many T20 leagues has shortened the career span for fast bowlers, especially.
All the more reason to celebrate Anderson’s success, once again. He is not finished. He has the 2021 Ashes in Australia on his mind. There’s life in the old dog yet.
Indeed, we must ask, using Anderson’s exact words: “Why not?”