SPORTS NEWSPAPER OF THE YEAR
598 and counting …
Anderson closing on milestone after five-wicket haul
James Anderson spent an age choosing the ball for Pakistan’s second innings, carefully sorting through a box of shiny new Dukes before settling on one that will probably end up displayed in a glass case in the Lord’s museum.
Anderson is on 598 wickets, two short of becoming the first quick bowler to take 600 in Test cricket. It is a milestone that has become a millstone this summer, clearly weighing on his mind.
His confidence should be high after his five for 56 ensured Pakistan follow on today 310 runs behind, despite Azhar Ali’s outstanding unbeaten 141.
This is a new-ball pitch and Anderson struck four times in Pakistan’s first innings before the ball was 13 overs old. With heavy clouds, and rain of course, forecast today, conditions should be ideal for swing and seam bowling.
But Anderson is an old pro and a pessimist, so he will be nervously looking at the forecast and fearing the worst. He will also be muttering about a bizarre, and slapstick, final 15 minutes of play that saw three catches go down off his bowling.
Zak Crawley was the chief culprit. Even after scoring 267 it is a good idea to steer clear of Anderson when you have dropped a sitter off him at slip two balls after another chance had gone down.
Anderson was bent double with his head in his hands when Crawley dropped a straightforward edge off Mohammad Abbas for what would have been his 598th wicket.
It should have been Anderson’s 599th, for Rory Burns had missed a slightly harder catch two balls earlier off Azhar. Anderson took that one in his stride, but not the miss by Crawley. He had a disdainful look only an old bowler can give a young batsman who has not had to bend his back for 18 years.
The third drop had an element of high comedy that even made Anderson crack a half smile.
Azhar drove tiredly on 130 to Stuart Broad at mid-on, where Anderson’s great partner dropped another easy catch. But in the mayhem Abbas tried to steal a single and was run out by a direct hit from Broad.
Anderson had a rueful look when Dom Sibley held on to an edge off Naseem Shah two overs later that ended the innings. He led the team off, and moments later was with the fourth umpire rummaging through the new balls like an expert jeweller sorting through diamonds looking for duds.
Anderson will have worries about the slip cordon hanging on to edges today, but not Jos Buttler, who has enjoyed a fine game with the gloves as well as with the bat.
Three excellent catches prove how success in one discipline breeds confidence in another. He was a broken man after missing three chances off Dom Bess in the first Test. But since then he has ironed out a technical flaw in his batting and subsequently mastered a run chase and scored his second
Head in hands: James Anderson reacts after another chance is dropped off his bowling
Test century. Life is better, he is certain of his place and the fumbles behind the stumps are gone.
Buttler has worked hard with wicketkeeping coach Bruce French since arriving in Southampton. They have used the Merlyn spin bowling machine to help his reactions standing up and he took a sharp chance off Bess that was rising high to his left off Fawad Alam.
Azhar’s form has been patchy for two years and, as captain, he averaged 26 with one hundred going into this match. His tactics as England stole the first Test in Manchester were unimaginative and timid, and scores of 0, 18 and 20 in the series had put him under real pressure to keep his job.
So this was an important innings that restored pride for him and his team. In doing so he became the fifth Pakistani to score 6,000 Test runs. This was his 17th Test hundred – and it was a fine one, too.
He survived three England reviews before he had reached 20. One on Saturday night off Jofra Archer, and yesterday morning a wasted one by Broad, who talked Joe Root into having a look at an lbw that always looked to be going down the leg side. A final one was justified when an absolute snorter from Archer whistled past Azhar’s nose. Umpire Richard Illingworth made a superb call, judging the ball had flicked Azhar’s shoulder.
Azhar found support from Mohammad Rizwan, a gutsy, difficult batsman to dislodge, who made a second successive fifty. Their 138run stand in 38.5 overs made the most of a softened ball and little lateral movement. Archer banged it in, responding with two quick overs in excess of 90mph and hit Rizwan on the head.
Azhar expanded his game, having taken 113 balls to move into the thirties, but once he clicked he was away. His next 74 came off just 92. He brought up his century with his 15th four off 205 balls.
With the innings drifting and England looking flat, they needed a breakthrough. Chris Woakes struck lucky – Rizwan flicking at a leg-side ball that Buttler took diving wide to his left.
It opened up the tail with the second new ball five overs away. The harder ball did the rest, Pakistan slumping from 236 for six to 273 all out as England combined brilliance with farce. Buttler plucked a superb leg-side catch to dismiss Shaheen Afridi, before the three drops off Anderson.
His mood eased when he dismissed last man Naseem, setting up today to be one Anderson might never forget.