The third day at Lord’s really could’ve gone either way. The Windies had a slender lead with seven wickets in the hutch. With better weather in the offing, and Shai Hope still at the crease, they had a real opportunity to post a target of over 200 … something England’s fragile top order wouldn’t have fancied at all.
But Jimmy Anderson crushed them. He was simply too good. After reaching the superb landmark of 500 test wickets the day before, his tail was up and the West Indies had no answer. To be fair to the visitors, Jimmy would have blown away most batting lineups on Saturday. His final analysis of 7-42 was a career best. He’s probably never bowled better.
What could have been a banana skin therefore turned into a cakewalk. England were left chasing just over one hundred. And as soon as Mark Stoneman plundered a couple of early boundaries victory seemed highly likely. When Kemar Roach left the field after bowling just one over it was inevitable.
Although Ben Stokes also played an important role in this somewhat peculiar test, the day clearly belonged to Jimmy. He has been an absolutely terrific bowler for England, I love watching him, and some will argue that he’s the best English swing bowler of all time. He’s certainly the best in recent times.
I’m sure we’ll dissect Jimmy’s test record in the future – Jack already has a good piece lined up – but I don’t want to dwell on any inadequacies today. I just want to celebrate his brilliance in home conditions. Nobody complains when Indian spinners tie opponents in knots on subcontinental dustbowls, so why should Jimmy be criticised for demolishing batting lineups under overcast skies in England?
Personally I think that Anderson is a magician. His control of the swinging ball – something plenty of fine bowlers have struggled with – is remarkable. He has all the tricks. And his action is rhythmic, athletic, natural, and repeatable. It’s wonderful to watch someone so utterly in control of their craft. If I wasn’t so averse to obvious cliches, I’d call him an artist.
It’s hard to imagine where England might have been without Anderson over the years. We certainly wouldn’t have won either the 2010/11 tor 2013 Ashes without him. Although fortunately I think he can play for another two or three years – he’s a natural athlete and his action shouldn’t put his body under too much strain – he’s basically irreplaceable.
I certainly think England might have lost this match without Jimmy’s brilliance in the West Indies second innings. There’s a massive difference between chasing just over a hundred and a target over two hundred. Because England were always likely to win, Stoneman and Westley were able to play relatively freely. The opposition were basically demoralised.
And so now England turn to the Ashes. I still maintain that this was a vital test match. Had England lost, which looked possible on days one and two, we would have travelled to Australia rather sheepishly. Instead Root’s team will feel good about themselves, and confident enough (after beating South Africa) to put their frailties to the back of their mind.
Whether the batsmen that got us over the line today will be on the plane, I guess only Whitaker and Co know. However, I was pretty impressed with Stoneman’s short knock. He played aggressively from the outset and looks compact enough to do well down under – if he can handle the pace.
Westley, on the other hand, looked better today albeit under no pressure (except the pressure for his place). It would be harsh to drop a man who’s just scored 40 not out but the selectors and management must decide whether he has the game to cope down under.
Two lines of argument immediately spring to mind. Some will argue that Westley’s weakness outside off-stump, and his penchant for playing through the leg-side, will render him useless. On the flip side, isn’t that exactly what everyone said about Steve Smith a couple of years ago? Fortunately for Westley the pitches down under are generally true. Perhaps the relative lack of seam movement will suit him.
Anyway, I’m sure England’s batting line-up will be discussed in depth another day. For now we should focus on Jimmy Anderson. He’s a miserable sod most of the time but that just makes him one of us.
And boy can he bowl.