The Cricket Paper - - OPINION - PETER HAYTER

As all bowlers have known since time im­memo­rial, cricket is a bats­man’s game. Why else would it be the case that, of the ten Eng­land play­ers knighted for ser­vices to the sport (of­fi­cially at least, Sir Ian Botham re­ceived his tap on the shoul­ders for ser­vices to char­ity) only one was a spe­cial­ist bowler?

Long be­fore Alec Bedser bent the knee in 1996, while he was still car­ry­ing the weight of the Test at­tack to Aus­tralia on his broad shoul­ders 40 years ear­lier, the great Sur­rey pace­man and later chair­man of selec­tors re­marked point­edly that the last to be knighted was Fran­cis Drake.

If, af­ter crash­ing through the 500 bar­rier to reach 506 at Lord’s last week at the end of his glo­ri­ous sum­mer of 39 wick­ets in seven Tests, the next to be so hon­oured is not James An­der­son, we may as well all take up bowls.

Buck­ing­ham Palace would be well ad­vised to wait un­til An­der­son fi­nally stops play­ing for his coun­try be­fore get­ting in touch, in about 2050, be­cause we don’t want to give those beastly Aus­tralians any more fuel for their foul sledgery.

Re­mem­ber how Shane Warne feasted him­self on the chance to nee­dle Paul Colling­wood on the grim 2006/07 tour Down Un­der?

The Durham man’s only crime was to be in­cluded on the list of Eng­land play­ers awarded MBEs for win­ning the 2005 Ashes (skip­per Michael Vaughan was given an OBE) even though his con­tri­bu­tion to their tri­umph, as re­place­ment for the in­jured Si­mon Jones, was 17 runs in two knocks, one catch and four overs for 17 with noth­ing recorded in the wick­ets col­umn.

“What’s that MBE stand for, mate?” asked Warne the next time he bowled at Colling­wood, “Must Be Em­bar­rass­ing?” No, we don’t want any of that un­pleas­ant­ness, thanks.

But on the day when, af­ter the first Eng­land bowler to take 500 wick­ets takes the 14 he re­quires to over­haul Court­ney Walsh’s 519 and the 48 he needs to go past Glenn McGrath, and be­comes the first to 600 and fi­nally gives in to time, the ti­tle of Sir Jimmy will be the only fit­ting way for a grate­ful na­tion to ad­dress him, even though his old mates at Burn­ley Cricket Club may find that a bit of a mouth­ful.

And the rea­son does not merely lie in the num­bers, but in what has en­abled him to rack them up, his pure, unadul­ter­ated, life­long and from the bot­tom of the heart love for the game, which is not just as strong as it has ever been but seems to grow with ev­ery pass­ing sea­son and ev­ery fall­ing wicket, and which fu­els his de­sire not just to be as good as he is but to get bet­ter and bet­ter and bet­ter.

When you re­call the great, defin­ing overs sent down by the world’s best quicks, they nearly al­ways con­tain one wicket at least, some­times two and oc­ca­sion­ally a hat-trick. Think of Michael Hold­ing and his bril­liant dis­man­tling of

When you ask him what has been at the root of it all, An­der­son’s an­swer never varies... ‘I just love play­ing cricket,’ he will say

the de­fence of Ge­of­frey Boy­cott at the Kens­ing­ton Oval, Bar­ba­dos in 1981, of­ten de­scribed as the great­est over ever bowled.

Think of Fred­die Flintoff’s seven-ball over in the sec­ond Test of the 2005 Ashes, in which his re­vers­eswing at high pace pro­pelled even faster by the sheer will of the ca­pac­ity crowd at Edg­bas­ton, when he proved just too good for Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting to bat against and was told by Mar­cus Trescoth­ick: “That was the best over you will ever bowl.”

For my money, while the ball with which he dis­missed Kraigg Brath­waite to join the 500 club to a pro­longed stand­ing ova­tion at the Home of Cricket was a peach, the over that demon­strated the essence of An­der­son had al­ready come and gone with­out score­board re­ward. It wasn’t even a maiden.

When An­der­son pre­pared to bowl the 57th over of the West Indies first in­nings, he had al­ready sent down 15 in which he had taken two wick­ets to nudge up to 499. Then he treated the left-handed Deven­dra Bishoo to six de­liv­er­ies in which he showed the full ex­tent of his mastery over a cricket ball in con­di­tions made for swing and against which he may as well have bat­ted with his eyes closed for all the good hav­ing them wide open did him. The first, from wide of the crease, was an­gled in, found the out­side edge and shuf­fled off al­most apolo­get­i­cally to the bound­ary.

For the sec­ond, An­der­son de­liv­ered from slightly closer to the stumps, aimed it wider of Bishoo’s off-stick and made it come back into the bats­man and just past his off-stump.

Af­ter hav­ing planted the seed in the bats­man’s mind that he could re­peat ei­ther ball at will, An­der­son pro­duced four on the spin that were al­most iden­ti­cal to the first. Bishoo played and missed at all four. Be­hind the stumps, the look on the face of wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow went from dis­ap­point­ment that the bats­man had failed to get a touch to a barely con­cealed smirk that he could have had 40 more goes with the same re­sult. These skills did not come eas­ily to An­der­son.

At the start of his ca­reer at Lan­cashire and for Eng­land he could pro­pel the ball faster through the air than any other bowler in the coun­try, but had no real con­sis­tent con­trol over where it might end up, which is why his first over in Test cricket, against Zim­babwe at Lord’s in May 2003, went for 17 runs.

But in be­tween the two ex­tremes, An­der­son has bat­tled in­jury, con­fu­sion over his ac­tion and the near-hu­mil­i­a­tion of an Eng­land ca­reer con­fined mainly to bowl­ing at cones on the out­field through sheer hard work, will­ing­ness to learn and a de­ter­mi­na­tion never to take any of it for granted, to be­come the bowler rated by Bob Wil­lis as the best in home con­di­tions there has ever been.

When you ask him what has been at the root of it all, An­der­son’s an­swer never varies. “I just love play­ing cricket,” he says.

No frills, no frip­pery, no ego that you can eas­ily dis­cern. No non­sense. Just love for the game, for bowl­ing, for wick­ets, for shar­ing suc­cess with team-mates. And when it is all over the words “Arise, Sir Jimmy” will be the only ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Mon­key off his back: Jimmy An­der­son ac­cepts the plau­dits af­ter tak­ing his 500th Test wicket

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