There is rarely a dull week in English cricket, but this last one has been impressively unpredictable.
Who could have thought that a week after Ollie Robinson was handed his Test cap, he would unwittingly have become a protagonist in the culture war, be heralded as an anti-woke hero by segments of the right-wing media and received support from the Prime Minister for issues not relating to cricket?
In an unforgiving social media news cycle, the criticism of England’s Sunday blockathon has been small fry.
There is much for all of us who love the game to learn from this week. Opening the game up to everyone is of paramount importance. Undoubtedly, a week like that will cast a shadow on this one. The investigation into Robinson (and who knows who else) will bubble away in the background. Worse could yet come to light.
In the foreground, though, we have an event to savour. At Edgbaston tomorrow, there will be more fans at a cricket match in this country than at any since the end of the unforgettable summer of 2019. The sun is set to shine, there is a series to decide and close to 18,000 people will be in this famously raucous ground. Whatever else is going on, this feels a moment to celebrate the game itself.
It should be a celebration, too, of Jimmy Anderson, as he achieves the remarkable feat of becoming England’s most-capped Test player, overtaking Alastair Cook.
It bears repeating that Anderson is a fast bowler with his 39th birthday looming. So, too, is his 1,000th first-class wicket (he has 994); he will surely be the last Englishman to reach that landmark. He is also three shy of Anil Kumble’s 619 Test wickets. Beyond that lie only Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan.
After the uncomfortable questions about a “difficult week”, Anderson opened up yesterday on the doubts he experienced early in his career. Remembering his first over in Test cricket, against Zimbabwe 18 years ago, he said: “I thought I wasn’t good enough, that it was a huge step up from county cricket.
“I remember Nasser [Hussain] didn’t have a fine leg for me and I went for quite a few runs. My first ball was a no-ball as well, so there were a lot of nerves there and I did feel like this was maybe a step too far for me at that point.”
If it seems a long time ago, that is because it is. Anderson felt it took a “few years” to believe he was good enough. Now, he is a master of his craft. Even when the wickets did not flow last week, he was a joy to watch.
Anderson had kind words to say about Olly Stone, who is set to get a rare go tomorrow, on his home ground. Jack Leach and Stuart Broad should join them in a four-man attack.
There is no need for England to play timid cricket again. On Sunday, their caution set up this fixture. And while England have lost their last two series against New Zealand — making a draw a reasonable result — they must attack and put on a show for the crowd. With only one game until a host of stars return, places are on the line, meaning there is even more to play for.
Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler will be back for the First Test against India in August, creating a squeeze on middle-order spots. Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence particularly, but Ollie Pope, too, will be desperate to seize this opportunity. England need them to perform, because their tail will be unusually long if, as well as Robinson, Craig Overton misses out. More than ever before, England will just be desperate for the cricket to start.