People had been talking about Jimmy Anderson’s 1000th first-class wicket for a while. I first heard Tanya Aldred bring it up on The Guardian’s live blog for the County Championship more than a year ago. So, I assumed he was somewhere pretty close to the milestone when this year’s tournament came around.
Worse still, his next international assignment was set to be the five-match Test series against India. When they last toured the UK in 2018, he had surpassed Glenn McGrath’s wickets tally to become the most prolific Test pacer in the history of the game. He would probably rip through the Indian batting line-up to reach another milestone at our expense.
Then, imagine my surprise when I opened Twitter to check up on the happenings at Wimbledon’s Manic Monday. Rather than seeing a witty Djokovic meme, or a few words of encouragement written out for Emma Raducanu before her fourth-round match, my timeline hosted a mini-spam by the cricketing accounts I followed.
Everyone – from Adam Collins to Andrew Miller – seemed to be losing their collective minds. Anderson had finally taken his 1000th FC wicket. The fact that he had done so in his 100th FC match (to go alongside his 162 Test caps) was a neat trick the Arithmetic Gods had pulled out of their hats for us. WHY USE CAP LOCKS FOR LIVE TWEETING THE MILESTONE, though?
But then, I read through their adrenaline-induced typos to realise the finer facts of the matter. Anderson’s figures read 7-5-3-5 on taking his 1000th wicket. Kent were reeling at 19-5, and heading towards irredeemable disaster. By the time I opened Cricinfo on my app and tried to get hold of a live stream, things had taken an even sharper turn. Two more wickets were claimed by Anderson.
The similarly ageless Darren Stevens’ short-lived counterattack was the only resistance offered during Jimmy’s spell. When England’s leading wicket-taker finally walked off the field to take a well-deserved (innings) break in the dressing room, he had taken 7 wickets for a mere 19 runs.
You can never gauge the true extent of ‘carnage’ unless you’ve been there yourself. And while an Indian fan will never experience one of their ‘own’ taking a thousand FC wickets, the interconnectivity of the modern cricketing world pulled me into the abyss of praise for the spell that had just been bowled.
No other country in the world has a domestic structure quite like England’s. The ECB too is continuously looking for ways to tinker with the format. Indeed, its current regime seems to push it to the edge of oblivion in their pursuit for white-ball glory.
As such, Anderson remains a relic from the previous era. He might be the last pacer on the planet to ever take a thousand first-class wickets. Anyone else with the potential of reaching the landmark in the future will probably not get enough opportunities to play the format. The cricketing calendar has been overtaken by too much multi-format cricket for this to be a possibility.
During the New Zealand series, Anderson was labelled to be ‘off-colour’. From the other side of the world, he seemed to be bowling just fine to me. If anything, he needed to put on a grumpier face to get the best out of his underperforming teammates. But the media had started talking about his position in the team once more.
As someone who likes to write about the game, it’s very tempting to weave this vintage performance into the larger narrative about life. Hell, that’s the business model of most professional sportswriters when they sit down to file a feature at the end of a rather mundane day’s play. But when you have been treated to something that stands out as remarkable on its own, adding context to the performance almost takes away from its purity.
Usually, the humongous batting feats are talked about in such a capacity – be it something as unexpected as Ben Stokes’ Headingley miracle in 2019, or a predictable eventuality like Kohli double ton against worn-out Proteas team during the same year. On the contrary, bowling performances that run through the opposition are concise and to the point by their very nature.
I was able to catch only the last couple of overs of Anderson’s ‘blink and you miss it’ spell. I had to rely on the Internet to fill in the gaps of what I wasn’t been able to experience live. The video highlights circulating on social media were of less than a minute, but they told me that this had been a ‘vintage’ Anderson spell. All his seven wickets were caught in the slip cordon off the batters’ edges. His returns might have been exaggerated because he was playing against Kent, who aren’t in great form at the moment. But on a day when he’s as unplayable as this, it seldom matters who’s in the opposition.
For most county cricketers of his age (among those who still bother plying their trade in the Championship), such a spell would have sparked reminiscent pieces about the prime of their career. Social media chatter would hail it as their ‘swansong’ performance – a timely treat for the fans, before the player’s retirement was announced at the end of the season.
But for Anderson, this spell serves as the umpteenth reminder that he’s still got the fire raging within him. When he tipped his hat to the sparse crowd gathered at Manchester as an acknowledgement of his landmark, he also treated the cameras to a rare smile. It’s near impossible to tell whether he had a tear in his eye as he did so. The alpha male in Anderson will probably deny the claim, much like Sir Bradman in the aftermath of his infamous final innings.
Realistically, the Ashes tour in the winter might just be the last time he plays a Test series against the Australians. But he’s defied logic and the physics of ageing enough times for me to take the more prudent option, and ignorance about the subject.
This final stage of Anderson’s career needs to be savoured for what it is, stripped of any numbers, context, or logic. The beauty of his bowling is enough to make any encounter timeless on its own. From the other side of the world, I just hope that he’s adequately rested during the series against India – only because I don’t want him getting injured for the Ashes, of course.