In the lead up to this LV=Insurance Test series, Andrew Strauss reflected on the fact that it had been a decade since he retired from the game.
“The weirdest thing of all,” he said, “is that Jimmy Anderson made his England debut before me. It’s crazy.’ He paused for a moment to consider how crazy that was.
A lot has happened to Strauss since then. He lost his wife, Ruth, to cancer at the end of 2018, and was at Lord’s yesterday as the ground turned red for the charitable foundation that bears his name. He is truly a former cricketer, doing brave things with his life long after it has moved on to its next phase.
Then-captain Andrew Strauss and James Anderson during a nets session in England in 2012
In the middle, Anderson – who turned 40 less than three weeks ago – could hardly have felt more contemporary. It’s his 173rd Test, an absurd number by any measure let alone for a fast bowler, and he appears to be as ready for the scrum as he’s ever been.
“I look at Jimmy,” Stuart Broad said after the game, “and he hasn’t really changed physically since he was 35. He still looks young, fresh and fit, and he still likes it. As long as he keeps that streak competitive, he can go as long as he wants.
In the game’s 145-year history, only Sachin Tendulkar, with 200, has earned more Test caps. For both men, the lure of cricket – wickets for Jimmy, runs for Sachin – proved irresistible. In an era full of instantly forgettable white-ball cricket, thank goodness for that.
For much of the second day of that first Test, Anderson filled a role familiar to him throughout the second half of a career that began at Lord’s in 2003 – a year before Strauss won his first selection. Quite simply, he seemed like the most likely England bowler to fit the bill.
This week’s meeting with South Africa is Anderson’s 173rd appearance for England
In the game’s 145-year history, only Sachin Tendulkar, with 200, has won more Test caps
The breakthrough, admittedly, was a fluke. The South African fly-half had responded to England’s 165 with an 85 stand when Anderson launched Dean Elgar via his back leg and right elbow, the ball sadistically returning towards the stumps.
“Elbowed,” suggested a commotion on Twitter, after the bails jingled on the ground. Elgar didn’t see the funny side.
Anderson was already the first 40-something seamstress for England since The Jacksons of Derbyshire in 1961. But now more statistics are rising to the surface.
He was the first 40-year-old to take a test wicket with seam since Graham Gooch in 1994. And the first 40-year-old bowler of any description to take a test wicket at Lord’s since off-spinner Eddie Hemmings in 1990. There will be many more ‘where do these come between now and his retirement, whenever that happens.
When South Africa reached the tea at 158 for two, Anderson had one for 28 from 14 overs, while the other three England tailors – Potts, Broad and Ben Stokes – had one for 116 from 28.
Anderson, 40, celebrates after dismissing South Africa’s Dean Elgar on day two at Lord’s
With Stokes, who briefly led a fight back in the final session, continuing to attack downfield, occasionally posting five slides in search of wickets, there were plenty of gaps for the South African batsmen to exploit. Yet Anderson alone kept them at two and more.
One of the most extraordinary features of his career has been the extent to which opponents are wary of taking liberties. In 2021, he moved to 2.12 years above – the most economical year of his career.
So when Keshav Maharaj beat him for a few fours in the last half hour, Anderson kicked the turf — out of disbelief, perhaps, as much as out of frustration.
Others might have been tempted to kick more than that as the tourists built a lead.
Potts, who is playing with a red ball for only the second time since early July, looked rusty and lost his line. Broad was not at its best, although its economy rate suffered in part due to the aggressive fields.
Stokes threatened to turn things around, rebounding Sarel Erwee for 73 and then outplaying Rassie van der Dussen with a full-length ball. But the captain continued to flex his left knee, and by the time he came back to take Maharaj off, the seventh-wicket pair had added a crucial 72.
England captain Ben Stokes threatened to turn things around but the hosts largely struggled
Matt Potts, who is bowling with a red ball for only the second time since early July, looked rusty
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that it took 41 overs for Stokes to bring in Jack Leach, whose confidence soared during New Zealand’s whitewash – partly because Stokes brought him on early .
Leach immediately looked dangerous, and with his first delivery after tea, Aiden Markram got caught by Ben Foakes, pushing one that had been smartly restrained.
Anderson will soon have a new ball at his disposal this morning, when Stokes – like the seven others who led him in Test cricket – once again turn to their leading attacker. It’s an old story, made no less fascinating by its constant telling.