Age shall not weary in­de­fati­ga­ble at­tack leader

An­der­son an­swers doubters as he con­tin­ues to push back fron­tiers by prov­ing pace­men can thrive in their late thir­ties

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Second Test - By Tim Wig­more

It was nearly 4.30pm, and James An­der­son was sore. Af­ter bowl­ing 15 of the 40 overs of the Pak­istan first in­nings, he had just been hauled out of the at­tack, a crick­eter who had earned a break.

The first ball of Stu­art Broad’s spell in­vited a drive from Babar Azam. The de­liv­ery was re­turned with in­ter­est, thun­der­ing to Broad’s right and through mid-on. Then, it was in­ter­cepted by An­der­son’s out­stretched left hand, as he dived at full length. Here was af­fir­ma­tion that An­der­son’s de­sire to com­pete in an Eng­land shirt re­mains ut­terly undimmed by his 38 years, just as he had pro­claimed be­fore this sec­ond Test.

Even for a crick­eter with An­der­son’s achieve­ments, such words count for only so much. And so, when An­der­son was en­trusted with the first ball of the game, he faced a de­gree of scru­tiny about his place, some­thing he has not en­coun­tered for the pre­vi­ous decade.

His ex­cel­lence has been ac­cepted; now, af­ter six wickets at 41 in his three Tests this sum­mer, it felt oddly un­cer­tain. While An­der­son had been un­for­tu­nate at times – most ob­vi­ously in Ben Stokes drop­ping Abid Ali dur­ing Pak­istan’s sec­ond in­nings at Emi­rates Old Traf­ford – only wickets could bring re­as­sur­ance.

Hap­pily, such re­as­sur­ance took just eight balls: that was all the time An­der­son needed to trap Shan Ma­sood lbw, late on a swing­ing de­liv­ery. An­der­son’s grin was one part joy, one part re­lief. It was the pre­lude to an open­ing spell that was as prob­ing as An­der­son’s norm, com­bin­ing late away move­ment with vary­ing his an­gle on the crease, lack­ing only the var­nish of fur­ther wickets.

An­der­son’s fol­low-up spell was as ex­act­ing. While this was an over­cast day, the con­trol, move­ment and zip in his 10-over spell – travers­ing sev­eral stop­pages – when the ball was slightly older sug­gested a bowler who can still be in­ci­sive in the mid­dle of the in­nings. An­der­son could eas­ily have been re­warded with far more than a sec­ond wicket, when Azhar Ali edged an im­mac­u­late de­liv­ery to slip.

Per­haps most re­veal­ing of all was how, as he bowled all bar five of the first 20 overs from the ho­tel end, An­der­son had re­sumed his role as at­tack leader. Even with four swing bowlers, it was An­der­son whom Joe Root trusted most to ex­ploit the over­cast skies. As he ended the trun­cated day with two for 35 from his 15 overs, An­der­son had pro­duced his most im­pres­sive bowl­ing of the sum­mer.

Yet the big­gest dif­fer­ence of all was per­haps less the qual­ity of An­der­son’s bowl­ing than his luck; this time, it was his team-mates who suf­fered from dropped catches. There is no ev­i­dence of An­der­son’s swift­ness be­ing di­min­ished. His av­er­age speed this sum­mer is 83.5mph – his high­est since 2014, and even higher this

Even with four swing bowlers, it was An­der­son whom Joe Root trusted to ex­ploit the laden skies

Test. If speed will ul­ti­mately be the barom­e­ter of An­der­son’s de­cline, then his demise, like that of Mark Twain, has been ex­ag­ger­ated.

For An­der­son, all that talk of de­cline and re­tire­ment is un­der­stand­ably irk­some. But, re­ally, he only has him­self to blame: An­der­son, you see, is in un­charted ter­ri­tory, chal­leng­ing our un­der­stand­ing of how long a fast-bowl­ing ca­reer can be. An­der­son has not just taken more Test wickets than any other pace bowler in his­tory. He has al­ready bowled more than 3,000 more de­liv­er­ies in Test cricket than any­one else.

Now, he is tasked with a new fron­tier: show­ing that fast bowlers can still thrive in their late thir­ties. Only two Test seam­ers in his­tory – Syd­ney Barnes, whose ca­reer ended in 1914, and Court­ney Walsh – have topped 35 Test wickets af­ter reach­ing 38, the age An­der­son reached a fort­night ago.

The no­tion of a 39-year-old An­der­son tour­ing Aus­tralia next year still feels out­landish, but so did the idea of Roger Fed­erer win­ning grand slam ti­tles af­ter turn­ing 35, or Tom Brady win­ning the Su­per Bowl aged 41.

Per­haps, rather than spec­u­late on when An­der­son’s re­mark­able jour­ney will end, we should sim­ply en­joy it while we still can.

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