In the build-up to this LV=Insurance Test series, Andrew Strauss was reflecting on the fact that it had been a decade since he retired from the game.
‘The most bizarre thing of all,’ he said, ‘is that Jimmy Anderson made his England debut before I did. That is crazy.’ He paused for a moment to consider just how crazy.
Much has happened to Strauss since then. He lost his wife, Ruth, to cancer at the end of 2018, and was at Lord’s yesterday as the ground turned red for the charitable foundation that bears her name. He is very much an ex-cricketer, doing brave things with his life long after it moved into its next phase.
Then-captain Andrew Strauss and James Anderson during an England nets session in 2012
Out in the middle, Anderson – who turned 40 less than three weeks ago – could hardly have felt more contemporary. This is his 173rd Test, an absurd figure by any standards, let alone for a fast bowler, and he appears to be as up for the fray as he has ever been.
‘I look at Jimmy,’ said Stuart Broad after play, ‘and he’s not really changed physically since he was 35. He still looks young and fresh and fit, and he still really enjoys it. As long as he keeps that competitive streak, he can go as long as he wants.’
In the 145-year history of the game, only Sachin Tendulkar, with 200, has won more Test caps. For both men, the lure of cricket – wickets for Jimmy, runs for Sachin – has proved irresistible. In an era full of instantly forgettable white-ball cricket, thank goodness for that.
For much of the second day of this first Test, Anderson fulfilled a role familiar to him throughout the second half of a career that began at Lord’s in 2003 – a year before Strauss won his own first cap. Quite simply, he looked the England bowler most likely to do the business.
This week’s meeting with South Africa is Anderson’s 173rd Test appearance in England colours
In the 145-year history of the game, only Sachin Tendulkar, with 200, has won more Test caps
The breakthrough, admittedly, was a fluke. South Africa’s openers had replied to England’s 165 all out with a stand of 85 when Anderson bowled Dean Elgar via his back leg and right elbow, the ball trickling sadistically back towards the stumps.
‘Elbowled’, suggested a wag on Twitter, after the bails tinkled to the ground. Elgar did not see the funny side.
Anderson was already the first 40-something specialist seamer for England since Derbyshire’s Les Jackson in 1961. But now other stats bobbed to the surface.
He was the first 40-something to take a Test wicket with seam since Graham Gooch in 1994. And the first 40-something bowler of any description to take a Test wicket at Lord’s since off-spinner Eddie Hemmings in 1990. There will be plenty more where those came from between now and his retirement, whenever that happens.
When South Africa reached tea at 158 for two, Anderson had one for 28 from 14 overs, while England’s three other seamers – Potts, Broad and Ben Stokes – had one for 116 from 28.
Anderson, 40, celebrates after dismissing South Africa’s Dean Elgar on day two at Lord’s
With Stokes, who briefly led a fightback in the final session, continuing to attack in the field, at times posting five slips in search of wickets, there were gaps aplenty for South Africa’s batsmen to exploit. Yet Anderson alone was keeping them to two an over.
One of the most extraordinary features of his career has been the extent to which opponents have grown wary of taking liberties. In 2021, he went at 2.12 an over – the most economical year of his career.
So when Keshav Maharaj belted him for a few fours in the final half-hour, Anderson kicked at the turf – in disbelief, perhaps, as much as frustration.
Others might have been tempted to do more kicking than that as the tourists built a lead.
Potts, bowling with a red ball for only the second time since the start of July, looked rusty and lost his line. Broad wasn’t at his best, even if his economy-rate suffered partly because of the aggressive fields.
Stokes threatened to turn things round, bouncing out Sarel Erwee for 73, then out-witting Rassie van der Dussen with a full-length ball. But the captain kept flexing his left knee, and by the time he returned to remove Maharaj, the seventh-wicket pair had added a crucial 72.
England captain Ben Stokes threatened to turn things around but the hosts largely struggled
Matt Potts, bowling with a red ball for only the second time since the start of July, looked rusty
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that it took Stokes 41 overs to bring on Jack Leach, whose confidence soared during the whitewash of New Zealand – partly because Stokes kept bringing him on early.
Leach immediately looked dangerous, and with his first delivery after tea had Aiden Markram caught behind by Ben Foakes, poking at one that had been cleverly held back.
Anderson will soon have a new ball at his disposal this morning, when Stokes – like the seven others who have captained him in Test cricket – will turn once more to his attack leader. It’s an old story, made no less fascinating for its constant retelling.