ARISE SIR JIMMY! IT CERTAINLY HAS A NICE RING TO IT
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.
Monkey off his back: Jimmy Anderson accepts the plaudits after taking his 500th Test wicket