Jimmy Anderson is the harbinger of summer and England will never have another

<span>Jimmy Anderson in action at last year’s Old Trafford Ashes Test, a season during which some of his powers seemed to be waning.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Jimmy Anderson in action at last year’s Old Trafford Ashes Test, a season during which some of his powers seemed to be waning.Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The day Fred Trueman took his 300th Test wicket, they asked him if he thought anyone would ever beat his record. “Aye,” Trueman said, “but whoever does it will be bloody tired.” Well, three dozen have in the 60 years since, nine of them were spinners, a craft with its own particular pains and difficulties, but it’s the 27 fast bowlers among them who know, deep in their own bones, the kind of tiredness Trueman was talking about. There’s Dennis Lillee on 355, Wasim Akram on 414, Glenn McGrath on 563, Stuart Broad on 604, and then, off beyond the lot of them, Jimmy Anderson, on 700 and counting.

Anderson has one last summer of Test cricket ahead of him; chances are there are not many wickets left to add. There may be a farewell Test, or three, perhaps one at his home ground of Old Trafford, where he already has an end named after him. He will have a shot at beating Shane Warne’s total of 708 Test wickets and taking second place on the all-time list behind Muttiah Muralitharan. After that, England will bank on their younger, faster bowlers and beat on towards the Ashes without him.

Related: Jimmy Anderson to end Test career this summer as England look to future

It’s a risk. There will inevitably be moments ahead when they wish they had him back, when everyone watching will start to ask what they were ever thinking by retiring him. It will happen when the morning’s damp, and the dark clouds are blowing over; when the pitch is flat, the sun’s out and they need someone who can cut the ball to make it do anything at all; when they are 40 overs in and wondering whether the thing might just be ready to reverse swing; when the batsmen are on the attack and they just need someone to slow everything right back down. Anderson could do all of it, still can do most of it.

Is he tired? Maybe more than he lets on, but you would never guess it from the look of him. In India last winter he looked leaner than ever, his body was spry and wiry, he had a fresh haircut and he was busy tinkering with his run-up. But there were fewer wickets, and they were further between. The batsmen weren’t as wary as they used to be and the runs seemed to come a little easier. He took three for 47 in the second Test at Visakhapatnam, but it was his only three-wicket haul in 12 months of Test cricket. There were six innings in which he didn’t take a single wicket in 2023, as many in one year as there had been in the three before it added together.

Anderson admitted himself that his place on the team wasn’t certain any more but you guess that, like everyone else, he felt England would still pick him when it mattered most.

It is going to be odd watching them play without him. He has been an inevitable presence for a couple of generations of cricket fans. Summer will come around, the sun will be up sometime, and soon enough Jimmy will nick off some hapless touring batsman with a well-judged away-swinger. The snick, his shout and the roar of the crowd were a harbinger of the season, same as the first ice- cream chimes. All in, he’s played in nearly one fifth of all England’s Test matches and has bowled, all by himself, a fair percentage (3.6) of every ball they have ever sent down in almost 150 years of playing the sport. His longevity is unprecedented in the modern era.

Anderson matched Trueman’s 300 way back in May 2013 (P Fulton c Swann b Anderson 2), and that was only the end of the beginning. He went past McGrath’s record in September 2018 (Mohammed Shami b Anderson 0), and that wasn’t even the beginning of the end. He has pressed on through five more years and has taken another 136 wickets. Altogether, he has bowled more balls, taken more wickets, worn through more boots and unspooled more strapping than any fast bowler in Test match history, and it’s not even close. Broad, second in every respect, is still the best part of 100 wickets and 6,000 balls behind him.

Even so, there was more art than effort. Frank Tyson, who bowled as fast as any Englishman ever has, described the “coming of guile” as a kind of creeping paralysis for a quick: “Outwardly thought and cunning methods add to the armoury of the fast bowler and make him the complete, shrewd, mechanically perfect athlete, but inwardly, guile saps the physical foundations to the edifice of fast bowling until it takes away the real desire and very reasons for wanting to bowl quick.” Anderson went the other way. He was fast enough in his wild years, but the “coming of guile”, as Tyson describes it, was the making of him. By the end he could do things with a ball that made the old bowlers whistle.

Which is how his career will be remembered. He was the hardest-working bowler in the business, and the most skilful, a master of the old English tricks of swing, seam and cut. Sometime this summer, he will be asked if his record will ever be beaten, same as they did Trueman back in 1964. The honest answer, if he gives it, is probably not. They play fewer Tests these days and the Twenty20 circuit means the players have too many other temptations. Anderson’s fast-bowling records will stand like Muralitharan’s, and Don Bradman’s, for as long as the game is played. There’ll never be another.

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