Jimmy Anderson | A great player’s farewell is handled with respect and common sense

James Anderson played for long and reinvented himself periodically, cutting pace for accuracy and bowling with a grace and seeming lack of effort which is one of the game’s great sights.

Updated - May 15, 2024 12:29 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2024 12:30 am IST

File picture of England bowler James Anderson celebrating a wicket at Lord’s Cricket Ground

File picture of England bowler James Anderson celebrating a wicket at Lord’s Cricket Ground | Photo Credit: Getty Images

When coach Brendon McCullum flew over from New Zealand to tell Jimmy Anderson, England’s most successful Test bowler, that his time was up, it was a tribute to both parties. That Anderson had the intensity to keep going and needed a tap on the shoulder spoke for his competitive spirit.

That McCullum flew nearly 18,000 kilometres to speak to the player told us of the kind of coach he is and suggested one of the reasons for England’s success under the great communicator.

ALSO READ | Will leave a huge hole: Stuart Broad on England’s bowling attack after James Anderson’s retirement

Contrast this with how the Indian administration has sometimes handled such issues. When the team was returning from the 1979 tour of England, the pilot on the flight announced that skipper Venkatraghavan had just been sacked. This was the first Venkatraghavan was hearing of it.

Fantastic figures

Anderson, who will be 42 in July, is likely to play his 188th and final Test against West Indies at Lord’s the same month. Only Sachin Tendulkar (200) has played more. And only Mutthiah Muralitharan (800) and Shane Warne (708) have taken more wickets than Anderson’s 700. That he claimed 220 of them after the age of 35 and at a better average is indication that he got better with age. That, of course didn’t mean he would realise his full potential at 50!

For some years after his debut, Anderson carried two burdens. One, that he was effective only in home conditions where the ball swung, and two, that while he was capable of the magic ball any time, he seemed more enamoured by the dot ball. Yet, when England won a series in India after 28 years in 2012-13, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni said the difference between the teams was Jimmy Anderson.

Anderson said he had learnt the art of the reverse swing from Zaheer Khan, and in an interview once admitted that his famous wobble ball was a bit of a lottery since it was impossible to control. Few players have spoken with such honesty about their craft.

Yet, for all its dignity and humanism, it seemed incongruous that it needed a coach’s nudge before that obvious decision was made. Perhaps Anderson himself was relieved it had been taken out of his hands. Most sportsmen have an instinct for recognising when the time comes. But great ones sometimes don’t, because they have often come out of slumps in the past and think they can again.

Anderson’s five wickets in four matches in the Ashes series at 85.4 was a hint he refused to acknowledge. He struggled in India (except for a magical spell in Visakhapatnam), but kept repeating a variation of “I am as fit as I have been; I am at my best now”, statements he had made in the past.

Yet, even if he got his timing slightly wrong, it didn’t detract from his stature as one of the greats of the game. It would have to be between him and Glenn McGrath for the title of the finest bowler of their type in modern times.

McGrath hit his groove early, and finished with nearly the same average bowling at home or away. Yet it was Anderson who might win the argument as a player who asked more questions more consistently of batters who were conscious of the fact that the near-unplayable ball was just around the corner — and he could bend it as few could.

Reinventing

Anderson played for longer and reinvented himself periodically, cutting pace for accuracy and bowling with a grace and seeming lack of effort which is one of the game’s great sights. He was experimenting with a new run-up at 41. “His ability to keep wanting to improve has been extraordinary,” wrote his former captain and friend Alastair Cook.

Anderson has played 70% of all the Tests England have since his debut. That, for a fast bowler is an incredible record, testimony to his skill, fitness, hunger, success, consistency and ability to improve.

Should players be allowed the time and place for the final goodbye? It can be a tribute to long years of service (Anderson made his debut in 2003) as well as a profitable marketing ploy. Anderson’s time had come. He was allowed to choose the place. It is a happy compromise.

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