LAWRENCE BOOTH: 40-year-old Jimmy Anderson seems as fit as he’s ever been for England

In the build-up to this LV=Insurance Test series, Andrew Strauss reflected 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. It’s madness. He paused for a moment to consider how crazy.

A lot 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 charity that bears her name. He is very much an ex-cricketer, doing brave things with his life long after it crossed over into the next phase.

Then-captain Andrew Strauss and James Anderson during an online session in England in 2012

Out in the middle, Anderson – who turned 40 less than three weeks ago – could hardly have felt more timely. This is his 173rd Test, an absurd number by any standards, let alone for a fast bowler, and he looks to be as high in the game as he has ever been.

“I look at Jimmy,” Stuart Broad said after the game, “and he hasn’t 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 maintains that competitive streak, he can continue as long as he wants.’

In the game’s 145-year history, only Sachin Tendulkar, with 200, has won more Test matches. For both men, the lure of cricket – wickets for Jimmy, runs for Sachin – has proved irresistible. In an age 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

This week’s meeting with South Africa is Anderson’s 173rd Test appearance in England colours

In the game's 145-year history, only Sachin Tendulkar, with 200, has won more Test matches

In the game’s 145-year history, only Sachin Tendulkar, with 200, has won more Test matches

The breakthrough was admittedly a stroke of luck. South Africa’s openers had responded to England’s 165 all out with a stand of 85 when Anderson bowled Dean Elgar via back leg and right elbow, the ball trickling sadistically back towards the stumps.

“Elbowled,” suggested a wag on Twitter, after the hoops clattered to the ground. Elgar did not see the funny side.

Anderson was already the first 40-year-old specialist seamer for England since Derbyshire’s Les Jackson in 1961. But now other statistics surfaced.

He was the first 40-something to take a Test wicket with a 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 they came from between now and his retirement, whenever that happens.

When South Africa reached tea at 158 ​​for two, Anderson was one for 28 from 14 overs, while England’s other three seamers – Potts, Broad and Ben Stokes – were one for 116 from 28.

Anderson, 40, celebrates after dismissing South Africa's Dean Elgar on day two at Lord's

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 with five ties in search of wickets, there were many holes for South Africa’s batsmen to exploit. But Anderson alone kept them to two and over.

One of the most extraordinary traits of his career has been the extent to which opponents have become 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 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 early July, looked rusty and lost his streak. Broad was not at his best, although his economy suffered partly because of the aggressive fields.

Threatening to turn things around, Stokes popped out Sarel Erwee on 73, and outwitted Rassie van der Dussen with a full-length ball. But the captain continued to bend 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

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 early July, looked rusty

Matt Potts, bowling with a red ball for only the second time since early July, looked rusty

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that it took Stokes 41 overs to bring in Jack Leach, whose confidence grew during the whitewash of New Zealand – partly because Stokes kept bringing him in early.

Leach immediately looked dangerous and with his first delivery after tea, Aiden Markram was caught behind by Ben Foakes, poking at one that was cleverly held back.

Anderson will soon have another ball at his disposal this morning, when Stokes – like the seven others who have captained him in Test cricket – will once again turn to their leader of the attack. It is an old story, no less fascinating for its constant retelling.

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