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Oh James Anderson, why did you not go out alongside Stuart Broad

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Published Time: 10.05.2024 - 23:40:18 Modified Time: 10.05.2024 - 23:40:18

It is sad that fast bowler had to be told he was no longer required when he could have enjoyed a fitting farewell like his old partner Reuters/Paul Childs There was a palpable sense, amid Stuart Broad’s dreamlike curtain-call at the Oval last summer, of James Anderson playing the page boy at a party that should have been his

It is sad that fast bowler had to be told he was no longer required when he could have enjoyed a fitting farewell like his old partner

: Reuters/Paul Childs

There was a palpable sense, amid Stuart Broad’s dreamlike curtain-call at the Oval last summer, of James Anderson playing the page boy at a party that should have been his. Yes, it was stirring to see the pair stride out to the middle through a guard of honour, as Broad, with his usual Hollywood flourish, took a wicket on his last delivery with the ball and walloped a six on his last with the bat. 

“Neither of us,” Anderson said, “could have achieved what we have without the other.” 

It was heartfelt, but it begged the question of why they were not bowing out together.

Anderson had enough clues during that Ashes series that his Test career was on borrowed time. It was not simply that he had taken just five wickets in four matches at 85.4. It was the fact that England had not even invited him to take the new ball at Edgbaston, before dropping him for Headingley a fortnight later with the team 2-0 down. 

But still, stoic to a fault, he spoke as if such indignities were mere bumps in the road, reflecting: “I’m even more firm that I want to carry on.”

This defiance did not quite chime with the analysis of one former team-mate. Steve Harmison observed that Anderson had lost his zip and that a chance had been squandered to bid farewell at the top, against Australia. It was hardly a verdict you would have ever heard from the England dressing room, who held the party line that the king of swing had not lost a step. Only Harmison, it seemed, could see the evidence to the contrary.

‌So now, sadly, it has come to this, with Brendon McCullum embarking on an 11,000-mile journey from New Zealand to tell Anderson that he would not be required beyond this summer. It was an honourable gesture by the head coach, who recognised such shattering news could only be broken to a player of this stature in person, over a round of golf, rather than by a long-distance telephone call.

Even so, it was difficult to shake the sense that it did not have to be this way. Anderson could be comfortably retired and halfway to a knighthood by now. But instead of feeling the touch of a sword upon his shoulder, he is receiving only the dreaded tap of McCullum’s hand, ushering him dolefully out of the door.

He could not acknowledge that the end was nigh

The greats, it is said, always know when the well has run dry. Anderson, though, has given the air this past year of a man desperate to deny the diminution of his powers. Granted, his under-performance in the Ashes could be blamed on the groin injury he suffered just a month before. But at the climax of this year’s series in India, he was adamant his fitness had returned, declaring: “I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”

This bold statement owed much to his adrenalin rush at reaching the monumental milestone of 700 Test wickets. It overlooked the wider context of a 4-1 series defeat and the reality that, while magical in the second Test in Visakhapatnam, he struggled to produce such sorcery again, visibly toiling in his longer spells in the heat. 

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