September 2035. The oval. The last ash test of the summer.
As England celebrate a 4-1 straight win and play the kind of hyper-aggressive test cricket they learned at The Hundred, a 37-year-old Sam Curran challenges the time of his international career.
“It’s a dream,” says Curran. “Not just to end up like this on my home seat, but to share the wickets with Jimmy. We’ve had such a strong partnership with new balls over the past decade.”
Curran discovers his co-opening bowler and waves to James Anderson into the spotlight.
“I’m so excited for him,” says Anderson, 53 and looking at his 1,200. Test gate. “Of course I’ll miss him, but I’ll enjoy watching him make a fool of himself on Strictly Come Skateboarding.
“Yes, we have to find a new bowler, but that’s what we thought when Stuart Broad retired. And Chris Woakes. And Ollie Robinson.
We live in the age of timeless sports champions.
Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Super Bowl success at age 43. A 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo was joint top scorer at Euro 2020. At the age of 52, German Dorothee Schneider won team dressage gold at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Roger Federer has knee surgery in the hope that he can expand his career into his forties.
Anderson, 39 years and 26 days old, takes 3-6 to get England on track to sack India for a paltry 78. Anderson is next to the modern megastars who drink the elixir of eternal class.
Not a veteran, but an absolute master of his craft who makes a cricket ball dance with a tiny movement of his fingertips. Don’t age like a good wine, but turn water into wine.
Anderson’s 2021 bowling average – 19.51 – is his best in a calendar year since 2017 and the second-best in a testing career that began in 2003.
On average, he bowls faster this summer than 2015 and was England’s fastest bowler on the first day of the third test at Headingley.
Statistics correct at the end of India’s first innings
Longevity is no coincidence. It’s a way of life.
In early 2018, Anderson joined the BBC Test Match Special Team to comment on England’s one-day streak in Australia. He was just part of the team that was hammered into the ashes 4-0. He was grumpy.
“Why is everyone in the media saying I won’t tour Australia again?” he said.
“Of course I’ll be back. Why should I want my last memory of a game in Australia?”
Anderson was back with the BBC earlier this summer, reporting on a one-day international match at Emirates Riverside.
England rushed to defeat Sri Lanka so everyone could watch the Euro 2020 round of 16 match between England and Germany.
Not Anderson – a football fan, remember. He was in his training kit and was bowling on the court.
In the past, he has talked about how to extend his career even if the idea of a vegan diet never came to fruition.
“As I get older, I feel like I have to work a little harder in the gym,” he said on Wednesday. “I feel like I’m throwing less into the nets and trying to save it for the middle when it matters.
“The biggest test in Test Cricket is mentally getting up to bowling big spells and playing big games. That was something I’ve always had.”
Dropping 35,334 balls in test cricket takes its toll, even if you have as smooth an action as George Clooney hugs your wife and asks if she wants to dance.
There were times when Anderson’s right shoulder hurt so much he couldn’t bring a toothbrush to his mouth. He says his quads can catch fire when he has his first sit-down pee of the day.
“It still hurts,” he said. “You find a way to deal with it.
“Getting off the field during the second test at Lord’s pretty much hurt everything, but it is so satisfying to know that I was on a shift for the team.”
It’s not just the wear and tear.
For every test that Anderson takes the ball, he also has to hit.
As England has been doing lately, the time Anderson has between taking off his bowling boots and buckling up his pads is rarely the length of an episode of his Tailenders podcast.
When he arrives at the center he is faced with the prospect of being bombed as Jasprit wreaked havoc in a terrifying barrage of bouncers at Lord’s when Anderson said it felt like Bumrah didn’t even try to get him out.
Still, Anderson got his revenge. Not by the general intimidation by short balls, but by the surgical dismantling of the Indian top order on a masterful morning in Headingley. In the right hands, a scalpel is just as dangerous as a sledge hammer.
This was an exhibition on how to harness a touch of movement, maintain metronomic control of length, and provide an investigation that India has failed with spectacular consequences.
He only took five balls before KL Rahul was sucked into an unnecessary drive. Cheteshwar Pujara played an arched outswinger like a man whose boots were filled with concrete.
The headline, main course and coup de grace all found the edge of Virat Kohli, who must have haunted his nightmares about the Burnley man. Anderson fired Kohli seven times in test cricket – no one else has done this more often.
Not only was this the backdrop for England’s best day in test cricket that summer, but it also returned the momentum from the Anderson Horror show that was the end of the second test and perhaps changed the course of a series India was about to control.
His figures were flawless. Three wickets for six runs of eight overs with five maiden. He didn’t have to bowl again as three other tempo bowlers – all at least 10 years younger than him and one who was only four when Anderson made his test debut – rushed through the middle and lower tier of India.
It seems increasingly pointless to speculate about how long Anderson can go on.
During the second test, he dropped a hint saying he hoped his five-wake haul wouldn’t be the last time he appeared on the Lord’s roll of honor. He will be almost 41 when England play there again.
On the other hand, England’s problem may not be to replace Anderson, but to find the partners who can bowle at the other end.