The 38-year-old plans to thrive with crowds returning after bringing up his 600th Test wicket last year during the behind-closed-doors era throughout the Covid-19 pandemic
Last August, James Anderson took his 600th Test wicket at the Ageas Bowl. With only empty stands to witness the moment, it was on those lucky enough to be granted access behind closed doors to contribute to the standing ovation this landmark deserved.
Coaches and 12th men from the England dressing room. Commentators and journalists in their designated inner and outer bubbles. Ground staff, the ECB operational team. Even the Pakistan team pitched in to help create a bit of atmosphere. No family, no friends, no fans.
Inside the ground, it felt special. But watching it back on the broadcast, it could not have felt more underwhelming. Cricket, like other sports, carried on through the pandemic. But while it distracted, it did not nourish, and it took a moment when Test cricket had its first fast bowler to reach 600 dismissals to confirm that.
“I’m not sure if soulless is the right word,” said Anderson, knowing full well it was. “But it’s not just international cricket without fans there. We, as players, get the impression everyone has missed it a fair amount. We’ve missed having fans and they’ve missed watching us live.”
For the vast majority that missed Anderson last year – don’t worry – he’s back in play this summer when you’re all back. And if you were worried about not being around for the milestones, again, don’t fret – there are plenty more up his sleeve.
If, as is understood, Anderson plays at Lord’s, then he will equal Sir Alastair Cook’s record of the most caps achieved by an English Test cricketer.
It was in St John’s Wood where that journey began with a debut against Zimbabwe back in 2002, and the symmetry of cap number 161 brought up at the same ground is as perfect as the man’s command of seam and action. The action is more or less as was, though the peroxide blondes have been replaced by natural greys.
“It does make me feel proud,” said Anderson of that impending milestone. “I never imagined in a million years I’d get to this point. Certainly, for a bowler to play this amount of games is.
“I don’t know what the word is, but it’s a bit mind-blowing to me because I don’t feel like I’ve played that many games. My body doesn’t feel old or tired, it’s just incredible. Growing up, that’s all I wanted to do is play Test cricket for England and I’m honoured I’ve been able to do it for this long.”
He understands the journey to this point after 19 years of international cricket has been aided by an enforced white ball retirement in 2015 that the 38-year old acknowledges as a “godsend” for his longevity.
Indeed, it’s that same load-management that has him and new ball partner Stuart Broad texting each other hoping they play as many as the summer’s seven Tests together.
On paper, you’d think they both play next week. Anderson and Broad have 103 and 94 dismissals at Lord’s, respectively, quellers of the awkward slope in the way only veterans could.
When you factor in Anderson’s six five-fors there, along with a career-best seven for 42, we can probably pen him in for the new ball whichever way the coin falls against New Zealand on Wednesday.
Those last figures also bring us onto another, considerable tally. Because Anderson is also just seven away from 1,000 first class wickets.
Yep, one thousand. The last England international to reach that landmark was off-spinner Robert Croft. The last English seamers to do it were Andy Caddick then Martin Bicknell in that order. “I played with Caddick and Bicknell, which makes me feel very old,” quips Anderson when those names are mentioned.
He says the wickets are something he will reflect on when he’s done, which holds a degree of truth. But it is also, well, b******* given his close friend Glen Chapple, a former Lancashire teammate now head coach at the county, finished on 985, much to the dismay of Anderson and his fellow Lancastrians upon his retirement in 2015.
“We were for years trying to get him to play a couple more games for Lancs to try and get him there,” says Anderson. “He’d have thoroughly deserved it.” Clearly, it is not lost on him.
“1000 wickets does seem like a lot. I’ve been so lucky with injuries when you look around cricketers in England, be it county cricket or international, and the people who get long lay-offs like Jofra (Archer) at the minute.
“I think about Simon Jones, people like that, people whose careers are seriously affected by injury. Touch wood I’ve not had career-threatening injuries so to get to 38 and be in that position makes me feel really privileged. Of course you get injuries and have to bowl when it hurts a bit but I actually get some pleasure out of that.
“Putting the hard yards in, that’s when it means the most, putting a shift in for the team. I get a lot of pleasure out of it. Bowling 10 overs on a green seamer doesn’t really do it for me. I want to put a shift in for the team when it’s tough.”
He recognises that, in an era when white ball is winning the battle over red, he could well be the last bowler – certainly a quick – to get to four figures. While we can lament that as another example tradition losing an unwinnable battle with capitalism, it should also be a rallying cry. Here we have a rare prompt special things are due.
Consider this a notice. After a year that has robbed us all of so much, the summer presents us with an opportunity to make up for lost time. It’s not so much about grabbing a sight of Anderson’s record-stomping, or getting up to speed while you can. It’s about living in our and his moment right now. Set those alarms and witness greatness.
James Anderson and other England cricket stars appear in the LV= Insurance “In With Heart” film celebrating England’s cricket community ahead of the LV= Insurance 1st Test against New Zealand.