One of the most famous observations about cricket came from the immortal Fred Trueman. “Aye,” he said, “but whoever does will be bloody tired.”
He was referring back in 1964 to his achievement of taking 300 wickets in Test matches, having been asked if anybody would ever repeat the feat. Another 24 bowlers have since surpassed Trueman’s eventual total of 307, no doubt all of them feeling slightly fatigued.
The 25th is likely to be Jimmy Anderson, who needs five wickets to join the club. He would be only the fourth English member, Trueman having been succeeded by Bob Willis and Ian Botham.
If Anderson can formalise his application in the third Test against New Zealand, which starts at Eden Park on Thursday night (GMT), it would go some way to ensuring that England fulfilled their status as pre-series favourites. Anderson will need rather more help than he has received in the series so far, in which his seven wickets have needed a grim toil not always expected of fast bowlers on pitches in this country.
He will certainly be bloody tired. In Wellington a few days ago, he bowled 37 overs, most of them into a headwind, which were preceded by 33 in Dunedin. This series of three Tests has been scheduled over 20 days. It hardly gives fast bowlers time to recover, which may be a factor in proceedings at Eden Park.
The dramatic absence of Kevin Pietersen is rather more than a hindrance to England. They have won matches without him before – they regained the Ashes in 2009 when he was missing for the last three Tests – but on this occasion it is not only the fact that they will be without their most persuasive strokemaker but that they will need to play a batsman – almost certainly Jonny Bairstow – who has had no match practice.
It is, as everybody knows, the unarguable flaw of modern tours. Bairstow’s last first-class match was in the second Test against India at Mumbai last November. He has played some Twenty20 matches since but they may not be the most adequate preparation for a Test match in which England must prevail to win a series that seemed to be there for the taking.
But Pietersen’s bad luck is Bairstow’s good luck. He deserves this break since there is a feeling that he was not well treated by the selectors after his exemplary innings of 95 and 54 against South Africa in the last Test of the last English summer.
Still, the main obstacle to England winning this series will be the taking of 20 New Zealand wickets. A combination of the weather and bland pitches has prevented their doing so until now. The bowlers are undoubtedly beginning to feel the strain, as Anderson readily admitted of the Wellington Test.
“At times it was hard work and the body was hurting, but there is rarely a Test match these days where it doesn’t hurt at some point,” he said.
England are desperate to win the final match, partly because it would complete a splendid winter for the team after the Test series victory in India, partly because they know they jolly well should beat New Zealand no matter the resilience and spirit of their opponents, and partly because they want to rebuff the theory that thoughts of the Ashes later this year are distracting and detracting them here.
Eden Park is first and foremost a rugby ground, which is patently obvious from first sight of the place. The drop-in wicket was inserted across the centre of the pitch only after Auckland Blues had played their most recent match in the Super Rugby tournament on 10 March.
It is seven years since a Test match was staged in Auckland, since when the ground has been reconfigured. When cricket was played there previously it used to resemble a baseball diamond and while it is now symmetrical the straight boundaries are almost risibly short.
While Cricket New Zealand was officially keen that Test cricket should once again be played in their biggest city, there is also a feeling that this match might prove why it should not. If the setting is vaguely unsatisfactory for cricket, the attendance threatens to be embarrassingly low. It is as well that there are around 5,000 England supporters in town.
Anderson’s quest for his 300th Test wicket may be of only peripheral interest compared to the state of the match and the immense curiosity there will certainly be about the man who is not there. But it would be a notable achievement. He has already become England’s leading overall wicket-taker in international matches – including one-dayers and Twenty20 – on this tour. Once he achieves 300, he thinks that 400 is possible.
“I feel like there’s plenty more,” he said. “Is 400 reachable? Yes, if I carry on playing for a number of years, and to stay in the team I will need to keep taking wickets. I would hope I will get somewhere near it if I do keep playing.” If he is still on 295 after this match it could take a little longer.
New Zealand B B McCullum (capt), P G Fulton, H D Rutherford, K S Williamson, L R P L Taylor, D G Brownlie, B-J Watling (wk), N Wagner, T G Southee, T A Boult, B Martin.
England A N Cook (capt), N R D Compton, I J L Trott, J M Bairstow, I R Bell, J E Root, M J Prior (wk), S C J Broad, S T Finn, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
TV Sky Sports 1 HD, 9pm-5am Start of play: 9.30pm
Weather Warm and sunny, becoming cloudy later. Max temp: 21C
Umpires P Reiffel (Aus) and R Tucker (Aus)
Odds NZ 6/1. Draw 9/4. Eng 8/13