Life after Jimmy: England forced to confront future with Ashes in mind

    “I don’t want to think about the day when we don’t have them any more, walking out, representing England, they’re going to be big shoes to fill,” Ben Stokes said of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, midway through last summer’s Ashes.

    Ten months later, with Broad already retired and Anderson now on his way, Stokes is very much thinking about that day. It is likely to come, at the latest, during October’s tour of Pakistan.

    Last summer, after Broad retired on the final day of the Ashes, Anderson said he had “no interest in going any time soon”. It is, however, an issue he has often been forced to confront, if only because people have been asking him about it for a decade. “I guess it’s an extra incentive to keep going, to prove people wrong,” he said in 2016. “In the back of my mind I think I can get 500 Test wickets.” He had 433 at the time; in March, on the final day of England’s Test series in India, he reached 700.

    His has been a record of astonishing consistency. Between 2008, when Anderson played more than 10 Tests for the first time, and the end of 2023, his ranking among England seamers in terms of wickets taken in each calendar year was: second, second, first, first, first, second, first, second, second, first, first, an injury-affected sixth in 2019, second, first and second. He developed and sustained an absolute mastery of the art of swing bowling, and at no point, except perhaps when a calf injury curtailed his participation in the 2019 Ashes, did the writing appear to be on the wall.

    Jimmy Anderson struggled with injury in 2019 but bounced back. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

    And then, last year, and despite bowling more overs than anyone but Broad, he was fifth in the list. “I don’t feel like I’m bowling badly, or I’m losing pace, or on the way out. I feel like I can still offer a lot for this team,” he insisted. In India he was once again England’s most productive seamer, and in difficult conditions far more favourable to spin produced some spells of typically brilliant skill that were rewarded only by being economical. But England were already planning for life without him. Their tendency has always been to mark the passage of time not in months and years but in Ashes cycles and, as the drawn series of 2023 receded into memory, attention turned to 2025-26, when Anderson would be midway through his 44th year.

    However much he has always refused to entertain thoughts of retirement, at least in public, he may anyway have decided this was a trip too many. If he is still minded to set himself targets, nine more wickets would take him past Shane Warne to second on the all-time list, a mark likely to be passed during this summer’s series against West Indies and Sri Lanka.

    Over the last few seasons England have been auditioning potential replacements. Ollie Robinson has shown some of the skill but little of the fitness and focus; Matt Potts seems to have those, and was excellent on the Lions’ winter tour of India; Josh Tongue, Saqib Mahmood, Olly Stone and Matt Fisher have all played once or twice, showing promise but struggling with injury. Sam Cook, now Essex’s vice-captain, has been earmarked for international honours, and is the joint top wicket-taker in this year’s County Championship. Then there is the tantalising prospect of Jofra Archer’s potential return.

    Essex’s Sam Cook, the leading wicket-taker in this year’s Championship and an England hopeful, says Anderson’s advice is ‘invaluable’. Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images

    Anderson will surely be asked to remain involved in a team that notably does not currently have a bowling coach. With the 41-year-old on hand, England have hardly needed one, and several of the next generation have spoken in gushing terms of the advice he has given them. “Picking his brains on how to move the ball, using reverse swing, different techniques of running in and covering the ball, making it harder for the batter to pick … to have the opportunity to learn off England’s greatest-ever bowler is invaluable,” said Cook.

    skip past newsletter promotion

    Meanwhile several of those who have played alongside him have mooted a potential second career in coaching, and England will surely find a way to use all that expertise. “That knowledge of how to get that ball to talk, to move on flat wickets, the swinging ball, you can’t buy any of that. That is gold sat there,” Alastair Cook said.

    Last year, asked yet again about his potential retirement, Anderson said: “I feel privileged to have got in a position where I can make a decision because, as a bowler, it is usually taken out of your hands. It will be nice to go out on my own terms.” There are not many things that Anderson has looked incapable of, but perhaps making that decision was one. Now his choice of final moments has narrowed, but an August date with Sri Lanka and Old Trafford’s Anderson End seems a romantic choice. He was the 613th man to play Test cricket for England, and the next to make his debut will be the 713th. His was a hell of a century.

    Source link

    Related articles



    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    Share article

    Latest articles


    Subscribe to stay updated.