It is fair to assume Jimmy Anderson would not be playing at the Ageas Bowl on Thursday had he performed anywhere near his best in the first Test against Pakistan.
Instead, in an attempt to quickly consign to history Anderson’s ‘one bad game’ at Emirates Old Trafford, Joe Root may have just pulled off a captaincy master-stroke.
Root clearly believes it is better to rip up carefully made plans to rest and rotate his rich seam of fast bowlers in this unique summer and put his record wicket-taker straight back on the horse after his tumble on his home ground.
Jimmy Anderson with England coach Chris Silverwood at the Ageas Bowl on Wednesday
Better for Anderson to be given an immediate opportunity to prove reports of his demise really are premature rather than fret on the sidelines and wonder if he is going to stay stuck in the 590s instead of reaching the magical figure of 600 Test wickets.
It really would be no surprise if the old master, just past his 38th birthday, defied both age and the evidence of this blighted season to now make the major impact against Pakistan his captain predicted.
Full marks to Root, too, for breaking the habit of his coach and captaincy partnership with Chris Silverwood by telling a senior man who always likes to know if he is playing the day before the game that he is in rather than waiting until this morning.
Root said on Wednesday he was unhappy with his captaincy in the first Test, citing some ‘tactical mistakes’, but clearly his man-management skills cannot be faulted in the case of a welcome vote of confidence in a bowler who remains integral to this England team.
Jimmy Anderson (left) will definitely play in Thursday’s second Test against Pakistan
For his next trick Root must now see if he can employ similar skills to inspire another gifted bowler he has not seemed to handle particularly well ever since he made such a spectacular introduction to international cricket last year.
There was the hint of both carrot and stick when Root was asked about Jofra Archer, a bowler the captain has both over and now under bowled ever since it became apparent he could operate at 95 miles per hour.
Archer also seems certain to play, particularly as England’s extreme pace alternative in Mark Wood has been suffering with a minor injury in the build-up to the second Test. And he will go into it with Root asking for more of the electric speed that so unsettled Steve Smith at Lord’s last year – albeit cloaked in praise for Archer.
‘Jofra will go through phases where he’s not always operating at 90 mph,’ said Root. ‘All we can ask is that he keeps showing the desire to get better day in day out and put in that effort to keep getting up there towards those speeds.
‘It’s not going to happen all the time, we know that, but it’s a great point of difference to have when you’ve got somebody capable of bowling at those speeds. If he gets the opportunity to go out there and play and show everyone what he can do it’s one of his great assets so it would be good to see him operating there for slightly longer periods.’
Anderson struggled to make his usual impact in England’s win against Pakistan last week
Even though Root insists he is not one for the hair-dryer that did sound a little bit like a kick up the backside for a bowler who said in his Sportsmail column this week he should not be expected to bowl at 90 mph all the time. But then came Root’s carrot.
‘You have to trust him and keep giving him opportunities to show what a good player he is,’ said Root when asked how to get the best out of such a rare talent. ‘Jofra is a performer, someone who can light up a stage. He might be – and I don’t know this for sure – missing the crowd and feeding off the atmosphere in the ground. Like Jimmy, it won’t be long before we see a big performance from Jofra. We’re all desperate for him to do well.’
The only thing resembling a surprise England might spring is the possible exclusion of their spinner Dom Bess in favour of Sam Curran, who has been unlucky not to feature more often this summer.
Bess is a work in progress but he really does need to improve his control and Test cricket is perhaps not the best stage to do it. The heatwave in the south is expected to break up over the next few days with the chance of heavy rain and that might be enough to convince Root his own off-spin will be enough.
The absence of Ben Stokes is, of course, England’s biggest headache but at least it should allow Zak Crawley to re-claim the place he was unlucky to lose in the first place. And Root must remember even his Mr Incredible didn’t play a huge role in the last two wins that gave England the series against West Indies and the advantage over Pakistan.
The 38-year-old, pictured in training on Wednesday, will get the chance to bounce back
Stuart Broad will be walking a disciplinary tightrope here after being disciplined by his match referee father Chris for dissent in the last game – ‘that’s him off the Christmas card and present list,’ Broad junior joked on Twitter – and it is pertinent to ask whether the English officials employed in this series because of covid might have been sub-consciously harsh on England in an attempt to prove they are not biased.
Not so says Root. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said. ’They have managed the games well and have been good to work with. It’s more the technology I’m worried about.’
How so? ‘There have been a few things that have seemed odd. Like the Jos Buttler dismissal at Old Trafford. There have been others too but as long as they are trying to make it better you can’t ask for any more.’
England captain, on behalf of all fuddy-duddies everywhere who are shouted down when we dare to criticise the reliability of the Decision Review System which, whatever anyone says, has taken something special away from the game, I salute you.
Now all you have to do is throw the ball to Jimmy and Jofra and let the fun begin in Southampton.