In the week James Anderson became the top-ranked bowler in the world again at 40, England captain Ben Stokes admitted he didn’t want to contemplate life without him. But how long can Anderson go on for?
The series finale against New Zealand that started in Wellington last night is his 179th Test appearance.
Only India’s Sachin Tendulkar, with 200, has played more and the next bowler on the all-time list, placed ninth, is Anderson’s long-time team-mate Stuart Broad, for whom Wellington is his 161st Test.
Anderson ended Australia captain Pat Cummins’ four-year reign at the top of the Test-bowling rankings this week thanks to his seven wickets against New Zealand in Mount Maunganui last week.
That’s no bad thing in an Ashes year, but Stokes, speaking on the eve of the second Test at the Basin Reserve, insists he doesn’t need a ranking to tell him Anderson’s the best bowler in the world.
“Rightfully he’s back at the top,” Stokes said. “I know sometimes those rankings don’t mean much to people, but he has been one of the best, if not the best, for longer than what these rankings say.
“Albeit him being 40, I just can’t see him stopping. He’s just relentless with everything he does. We’re very lucky to have him.”
Those words from Stokes were in stark contrast to the messaging when Anderson and Broad were dropped for England’s tour of the West Indies a year ago, the decision made by former captain Andrew Strauss, who was in temporary charge of selection after the sacking of Ashley Giles as director of cricket.
Broad mentioned earlier on this tour he thinks missing that series saved his career because if him and Anderson had struggled on flat Caribbean pitches they may never have been picked again.
Instead, both were immediately recalled when Stokes and Brendon McCullum came together as captain and coach at the start of last summer and the rest is history, literally, after the pair passed the 1,000-wicket barrier in Mount Maunganui to become the most successful bowling partnership in Test history.
Despite the eye-catching batting displays in this Bazball era, it is worth noting that Anderson is averaging 16.6 with the ball in the past 12 months.
Such is his longevity, even New Zealand captain Tim Southee was moved to praise Anderson. “He’s phenomenal,” he said. “The way he’s been able to keep going, keep performing is unbelievable and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down. To see a 40-year-old at the top of the charts is pretty impressive.”
So how long can Anderson go on for? There’s no doubt Wellington, where he played alongside Broad for the first time in 2008, could be his last overseas Test.
Next winter’s five matches in India, a gruelling seven-week slog, may be a series too far for a bowler who will be 41 by then. Yet the McCullum regime has given him a new lease of life so don’t be surprised if he continues beyond next summer’s Ashes series.
Speaking to i before this tour of New Zealand, Anderson gave a fascinating insight into what is driving him right now.
“What’s really helped me in the last 12 months, or six months even, is working out how to get wickets in a slightly different way to what I’m used to,” he said. “Brendon and Ben think slightly differently and that’s something I’ve not experienced before.
“It feels like they don’t care if you go at six an over, if you’ve taken five wickets you’ve done your job for the team. In Pakistan where it’s hard to get 20 wickets, thinking outside the box, putting fielders in silly positions and thinking of different ways to get people out has helped me and excites me as well. Thinking about what we can achieve going forward.
“There is something wrong with you as a player if you didn’t enjoy this way we’re playing. Just watching the way the guys are going about it with the bat is phenomenal and you still feel shocked when you see some of the shots the lads are playing.
“As a bowling group we’re just talking positively the whole time. It’s constantly thinking and talking about the game in a positive way so, yes, it has reinvigorated me.”