England will play 17 Test matches across five series in the next eight months. It is a packed schedule the like of which they have never before undertaken and there will be victims along the way as well as heroes.
The course of events will not be smooth but it is likely to be defined by what happens in the first of this plethora of contests, starting against West Indies here tomorrow. It marks the 100th Test for the fast bowler, Jimmy Anderson, an admirable servant who is also a mere four short of overhauling Sir Ian Botham’s longstanding record haul of Test wickets for England.
If England can start with a resounding win it may set a pattern for what follows. This looks to be the least formidable of all their assignments to come – there follows New Zealand and Australia at home and Pakistan and South Africa away – but no one should make the mistake of assuming that West Indies are pushovers on their home patch.
Far from the all-conquering side which bestrode the 1980s and 1990s, they have been quietly trying to rebuild a Test squad which can help them regain their self-respect. England could and should won but they will have to play patiently and vigilantly on wickets that are likely to be slow and not uniformly trustworthy.
It has been a pleasure to watch Anderson at close quarters over these past few years. He can be a grumpy so and so at times but that has helped to make him the craftsman he is.
In many ways, he is the fast bowler’s fast bowler: quick enough, aggressive of demeanour, able to manipulate the ball at will, swings it both ways, obtains reverse swing, has a bouncer which can give the best a wake-up call and is unerringly accurate.
He is the 13th England player and only the second fast bowler after Botham to play 100 Tests. Indubitably, he has become a much superior bowler than the gauche kid who made his England debut in the one-day side 13 years ago (“from Burnley thirds to England in a year,” as Nasser Hussain, his first captain put it).
“It comes by doing a lot of bowling and getting to know your action,” he said yesterday at the Sir Viv Richards Stadium. “Getting to know what you can or can’t do. A lot of talking to ex-players, current players, coaches, just picking their brains and finding out what works for certain people in certain countries or certain conditions. Just fill my head with as much knowledge as possible and filter out the other stuff.
“I think I’ve developed subtle variations. I’ve learned to reverse swing the ball. I can hide the ball now. These are all things I’ve picked up along the way. I didn’t start out being able to swing the ball both ways. Even during the World Cup I was working on different slower balls.”
At nearly 33, Anderson is probably coming to the end as an international bowler. There have been occasions recently when he has not looked quite as probing, when the questions he asks of batsmen have not been quite as insistent. But he stressed yesterday that he is no plans for retirement.
“I’m all right, I feel good,” he said. “My body, touch wood, has never been better. I have consciously worked on it the last few years. Once you get past 30 things get hard, so I work harder at my fitness than I ever have done and probably do less in the nets as well to try and keep fresh for games.
“I feel good, I feel like I could go on for a few more years. You’ll have to ask the batters if the zip is still there but I feel good. The swing is still there.”
Perhaps displaying a lack of political correctness, Anderson said that the two captains that stood out in his time with England were Hussain and Andrew Strauss. This overlooks the present incumbent, Alastair Cook, possibly on the grounds that they are such close pals.
Anderson deserves the record, although Botham can point to the fact that he also scored 14 hundreds. Anderson may not be around for as long as he hopes but he should be savoured. He can certainly help the new crop of English fast bowlers in which Mark Wood of Durham has made a seriously good early impression and can be expected to play before this series is done. England can win at least two of the matches.
First Test v Australia, Trent Bridge 2013
Anderson sends down an unbroken spell of 13 overs, culminating in the final wicket of Brad Haddin as England sneak victory by 14 runs. Anderson has 10 in the match.
Second Test v Australia, Adelaide 2010-11
First morning of the first day and Anderson reduces Australia to 2 for 3. They never recover as they are bowled out for 245 (Anderson 4-51) and England reply with 620, winning by an innings and 71 runs.
Third Test v India, Kolkata 2012-13
Anderson dismisses Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni in rapid succession as England take a 2-1 lead in the series after being one down.Reuse content