August 26, 2020 1:44:51 am
For England cricket, there is another reason to remember August 25. On the first anniversary of the Headingley heist, James Anderson became the first-ever fast bowler to enroll in the rarefied 600-Test wicket club, when he removed Azhar Ali off the second ball of his third over of the day. The only highlight of a truncated final day, which saw the match trundle into a stalemate.
Only three greats of the game gleam over him — Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne, and Anil Kumble. All three are spinners, which contextualises the significance of Anderson’s feat. Not that the game has not seen better fast bowlers than Anderson or it would not see an upgrade of him in future, but like Fred Trueman, the first fast bowler to pick 300 wickets said: “Aye, but whoever does will be bloody tired!” It’s incredibly tough for a fast bowler, even for swing bowlers who supposedly don’t stretch the outer limits of their body like Anderson, to dare a dream like Anderson’s. Add to that the toll it takes on his mind and the sacrifice of staying away from his family and little daughters.
The first quick bowler in history to take 600 Test wickets! 👑
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) August 25, 2020
Among his contemporaries, there is his peer, accomplice and friend Stuart Broad, who has collected 514 wickets. But at 35, it would not be long before he wraps up the whites, unless he rips a page off Anderson’s how-to-ripen-with-age manual. The rest of the pack is daylights behind them. The next pacer in the queue is Ishant Sharma, who is three shy of his 300th wicket. That, though, is a narrative for another day.
The narrative of this day was all Anderson and his tireless, at times fretful, wait for the 600th. At the end of the second day, he was on 597. It took him three days to pick the remaining three. The duration between his 599th and 600 was 20 hours 31 minutes—for which he had to curse the rotten weather and greasy palms of his colleague. Having already endured the agony of watching four catches put down by colleagues, he had to wait till 4.15 for the match to resume on the final day. It was as if the clouds had cleared up for a few hours so that Anderson could complete his landmark, which would need a monumental effort to surpass for posterity.
Anderson’s big moment arrived when Ali tried to force a short off the back-foot, only for the delivery to climb steeper than he had expected and brushed the outside edge of his bat to Joe Root’s palms at first slip. Anderson’s celebrations were characteristically sedate, even as the brisk applause from the scattered gathering of teammates, ground-staff, broadcasters and commentators echoed in the empty stands in the absence of the crowd.
The milestone wicket itself was so un-Anderson like, surprising Ali with bounce than devious late swing or devilish seam movement, pitched more on good length than the fuller side. There was nothing the surface offered him, there was little the blunted 62-over-old ball offered, yet Anderson was not to be denied.
In a sense, it was symbolic of Anderson’s transformation from a condition-reliant swing merchant to condition-transcending destroyer of batting line-ups, and how with every passing year, he has added more, tricks, guile and wisdom to his bowling. He is 38, yet he ambles in with the freshness and alacrity of a 25-year-old. And if he were to look back, the skinny scattergun bowler with bleached platinum-blond hair, whose first over in Test cricket cost 17 runs, seems a total stranger, not even an imposter.
Our greatest ever bowler, @jimmy9.
𝓚𝓲𝓷𝓰 👑 pic.twitter.com/P0nweu3wmB
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) August 25, 2020
Anderson had begun the summer on 584 wickets, but looked wind-beaten against the West Indies, against whom he nabbed only five wickets. But by the time the Pakistanis arrived, he had regained his rhythm and sharpness, and in the third Test, he reached his crescendo, picking his 29th first five-for of his career in the first innings and adding two more in the second.
In his hour of glory, several facets of his career stand out—the unflinching devotion to his craft, the maniacal conditioning of his body (and how well he takes care of those wrists!), the keenness to keep learning and evolving, the sacrifice of staying aloof of limited-overs cricket and the unquenched thirst to keep playing. A perfect modern-day specimen of athlete-bowler, yet the master of an old-fashioned art. Like Warne spun a renaissance of leg-spin bowling, he has done what he could to keep swing bowling alive, if not en vogue.
This was not the usual narrative of a legendary veteran dragging past the landmark, overstaying for one last brush of gloss, but a masterful bowler conquering one peak after the other in his stately march. A march that doesn’t seem to end any time soon. Only a few weeks ago had he reiterated that he has no plans to retire. There is no reason he should. And unlike Trueman’s prophesy, Anderson hardly looks tired.
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