Even at 41 and with 183 caps, Test cricket can still throw something new at James Anderson.
He has carried the England pace attack several times down the years, but this time it is all on his shoulders as the only seamer in the side for the first time in his career, inheriting the job from Mark Wood for the second Test in Vizag.
Anderson has been picked for control. Stokes recognises that in Rehan Ahmed, Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir, he may need someone to bowl dots and Wood’s fiery pace had the life sucked out of it in Hyderabad. Wood finished with none for 62 and the change is tactical; Wood is fully fit.
By playing in Vizag, Anderson makes it 22 successive years of Test cricket. Andrew Strauss debuted after him, played 100 Tests and retired 12 years ago. Two of his team-mates (Ahmed and Bashir) were not born when he debuted at Lord’s in May 2003, captained by Nasser Hussain. He has seen so many come and go that Bashir is the 100th England player to have made his debut since Anderson. Bashir will be given cap number 713; Anderson was 613.
This is his first Test since Stuart Broad’s retirement and while he was used to his old partner not being around all the time, he will miss having a sounding board at mid-on. Stokes will provide that now when Anderson is at the top of his mark.
“For the first four balls of the Test match I leave him alone, then I will ask him is it swinging, is it seaming?” Broad said. “Ultimately our job is to locate the top of off stump on that particular pitch quicker than the opening batters and if we do that we have success. The quickest way to do that is to communicate and share as much information as possible. If we are talking every other ball and the batters only every six balls then we have an advantage.”
Pace has been one of the key ingredients for Bazball but conditions change and England must adapt. Anderson is the complete package: bowls with new ball, reverses the old and uses cutters. It is a bit of a misnomer that he is the king of swing, because Anderson has been a wobble-seam bowler in the main over the past few years and that may be important on a grippy surface in Vizag.
The question is whether the workload will be too much in conditions hotter than last week and humid, too, after moving from Hyderabad to the coast. Perhaps a bigger issue is whether Anderson can pick up his form after a lean Ashes series. He looks lean himself, after working hard on his fitness between last summer and the start of this tour, which shows the competitive edge has not dimmed.
In an interview with Telegraph Sport recently he disclosed he had quickened his run up to give himself more momentum through the crease, a nod to age threatening to reduce his pace. One of the remarkable aspects of Anderson’s career is that his speeds have never really dipped over the past decade thanks to his incredible physical condition and skills.
Anderson’s pace and accuracy were not an issue against Australia; he just struggled on slow pitches to find the movement that is his trademark, taking five wickets at 85 in four Tests, so there is much to prove for once. He is 10 short of becoming the third bowler in Test history to pass 700 wickets and a one-year central contract leaves him in no doubt that he is playing for his place.
“Bringing Jimmy’s experience, the class that he has, is great and I think it also goes under the radar how good his record in India is,” Stokes said. “Considering what Jimmy is known for – ‘the swing king’ and all that – it just proves how good a bowler he is. He has different skillsets that I will be able to exploit in Indian conditions. It’s not just picking Jimmy for the new ball, it’s the other stuff he possesses as well.”
It was in Chennai four years ago that Anderson bowled one of the finest overs of his career. Extracting reverse swing, he dismissed Rishabh Pant leg before, had a big lbw shout turned down first ball to Ajinkya Rahane before next delivery sending his off stump flying out of the ground.
Despite the lushness of the outfield, Stokes believes reverse will play a role as it did in Hyderabad for Jasprit Bumrah in England’s second innings when it started to go after 16 overs.
This pitch in Vizag looks flatter than Hyderabad and Mohammad Shami bowled India to victory here in 2019 with five for 35 in 10.5 overs in the fourth innings, reversing it against South Africa on a docile surface.
“It’s great that Jimmy is doing good things for the old boys out there. It’s huge credit and lots of people should look up to Jimmy considering he is where he is at 41,” Stokes said.
Anderson was written off after the Ashes. Can he be the next, even at his age, to benefit from Stokes’s faith?