James Anderson recognises the uniqueness of his achievement this week. “Definitely not” is his verdict when asked if an England seamer of the future will still be playing Test cricket at 40 like him. The first Test against South Africa starting on Wednesday will be the 173rd of Anderson’s career, but his first since turning 40 at the end of last month.
Presuming he dismisses a South African this week – and he has only once gone wicketless at Lord’s – he will be the first seamer since Les Jackson in 1961 to take a Test wicket for England in his forties (excluding Graham Gooch, who dismissed Michael Slater – for 176 – aged 41 in 1994).
“Maybe Broady, but definitely not after that because no one will be stupid enough [to play to 40],” Anderson said after a gentle net session at Lord’s on Monday. “Everything that has gone on in the world with franchise cricket, the Hundred, short forms of the game, I can’t see anyone wanting to play Test cricket for this long.”
Anderson played against Trent Boult just a few weeks ago, and since then the New Zealander has, at 33, rejected a central contract to cash in on T20 while he can still command a high value. “I can definitely see it happening more and more now, particularly with bowlers,” Anderson said. “I think Broady will say the same, that we were fortunate our white-ball careers pretty much ended after that World Cup (in 2015) and we could focus on red-ball cricket. That worked out great for us.
“In the future, I can see it definitely being the other way round – with people picking and choosing their formats, tours, whatever it might be. It does make me sad because Test cricket will probably bear the brunt of it. The easiest thing to do for bowlers is to bowl four overs or 20 balls. Takes nothing out of you. And if you’re getting paid just as well, it probably makes sense – it will tempt more people than not.”
Cricket’s changing landscape means that seamers starting out now will have unrecognisable careers compared to Anderson, who honed his skills through bowling thousands of balls in first-class and Test cricket. How to read a batsman, look after a Dukes ball, build pressure, indistinguishable wrist changes and angles of delivery – they are the brush strokes of a dying art.
It is learnt knowledge through experience that a diet of Twenty20 will never provide, and built on a deep love for the Test game that will dissipate too as future James Andersons concentrate on white-ball skills and an Indian Premier League gig. There was a nod to his old mucker Stuart Broad, but few believe he will go on much longer, and there is a growing chance Anderson will outlast him.
In essence, enjoy Anderson, and Broad – with both set to play this week – while you can. There were no gifts from his team-mates to mark his 40th, but the pitch at Lord’s has a healthy tinge of green, and Anderson will take that instead. The makers of the Dukes ball claim they have sorted out the problems of early summer, too, with the balls for the Lions match last week lasting better. Anderson has improved with age, as he acknowledged. In his thirties, he played 101 Tests and took his wickets at 23.6 compared to 30.37 in his twenties.
“I still enjoy doing it. Still trying to keep it fresh as well, trying to do different things, not do the same thing over and over again. Just keeps me interested,” he said. A serious calf injury in 2019, at the start of that summer’s Ashes, was when he came closest to quitting and he did have doubts when he was fed up on the last tour to Australia, but dropping him for the West Indies trip fired his determination to prove people wrong, and then Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes came along.
“There’s just this constant positivity from them. I feel like they’ve done an amazing job of just getting people hungry to play and feeling really good about themselves,” Anderson said. There are risks this week. Anderson and Broad have not bowled since the India Test at the start of July, Matty Potts has played one championship match, a handful of Hundred games and an ODI during which he went off with heat exhaustion. Broad and Anderson have been working on the Hundred for BBC and Sky, squeezing in net practice where possible, but all of England’s attack is undercooked.
The injury risk is not always from overbowling. It is embarking on a big workload from a standing start that causes problems, and both Anderson and Broad have been injured recently after long breaks, Anderson in 2019 and Broad last summer against India. “You feel sore after a day in the field, but everyone does. I did when I was 21 and I do now. I feel I can deal with it better now because I know it’s going to hurt. You come back the next day and just crack on.” That was Anderson, who intends to keep cracking on for as long as possible.