Late-flowering Anderson eyes the 600 club before retiring
James Anderson, having seen his best friend Alastair Cook retire in clouds of glory at the Oval less than two months ago, could be forgiven for setting his sights on a farewell next September which will be even more spectacular.
Regaining the Ashes for England in the fifth Test by taking his 600th Test wicket? As Cook bowed out against India, with the series already won, Anderson would go one better if this climax were to come to pass at Australia’s expense. It would, indeed, make the finest of all farewells.
For this to materialise, however, Anderson still has to take 36 more Test wickets – and he is 36 years of age. Given a Dukes ball, hooping past inside and outside edges, 20 wickets in the Ashes should not be a problem: in the 2017 summer he took 20 wickets in only four Tests against South Africa and 19 in only three against West Indies, then 24 in the five against India last summer. Which leaves 16 wickets to be taken in this series in Sri Lanka and the three Tests against West Indies in the new year.
“Yes, I think it has,” said Anderson when asked if he had been surprised by his late flowering. “It’s not the norm for bowlers to have that sort of spike towards the back end of their careers.
“I’ve been a little bit surprised by it. I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of years. It’s been a bit up and down for the team but we seem to be making good progress at the moment.
“Having seen the guys who cross over both forms of the game and the way they played in the one-day stuff [England beat Sri Lanka 3-1], that will stand them in good stead having that sort of experience of the pitches. We have guys with the mental ability. The thing that stood Cooky out from everyone else was that in hot conditions he could bat for long, long periods of time. That’s what it is going to take out here.”
And, as Anderson realistically recognises, taking wickets with a Kookaburra ball in Sri Lanka on pitches made for spinners is a challenge he has yet to overcome. He took five wickets in one innings of his only previous Test at Galle, back in 2012, but only 11 of his 564 wickets have come in Sri Lanka; and the pitch at the stadium beside the Galle Fort looks even more grassless ahead of the first Test starting on Tuesday, a sharp contrast to the lush and well-monsooned outfield.
At least, as one of only two England players to have played a Test in Sri Lanka – his opening partner Stuart Broad the other – Anderson (left) knows what he has to do: not only swing the new and old ball both ways but cut it with his fingers like a spinner.
His off-cutters, probing for the stumps and lbws, were a marvel in the UAE in 2012 on the equally unsympathetic surface of Sharjah. “It is a huge challenge for seam bowlers out here but when you have a good day here you get more satisfaction than bowling on a green seamer in England in April,” he said.