LAWRENCE BOOTH: Jimmy Anderson, 40, looks as ready for the fray as he’s ever been for England

LAWRENCE BOOTH: Jimmy Anderson, 40, looks as ready for the fray as he’s ever been for England

In the build-up to this LV=Insurance Test series, Andrew Strauss reflected on the fact that a decade had passed since he retired from the game.

“The strangest thing of all,” he said, “is that Jimmy Anderson made his England debut before me.” That is crazy.’ She paused for a moment to consider just how crazy.

Many things have happened to Strauss since then. He lost his wife, Ruth, to cancer in late 2018, and was at Lord’s yesterday when the ground turned red for the charity that bears his name. He is very much a former cricketer, doing brave things with his life long after he moved on to his next phase.

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

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

In between, Anderson, who turned 40 less than three weeks ago, could hardly have felt more contemporary. This is his 173rd trial, an absurd figure by any standards, let alone for a fast bowler, and he seems more up for the fray than ever.

“I look at Jimmy,” Stuart Broad said after the game, “and he hasn’t really changed physically since he was 35 years old. He still looks young and fresh and fit, and he still enjoys it.” As long as he keeps that competitive streak going, he can go as long as he wants.’

In the 145-year history of the game, only Sachin Tendulkar, at 200, has won more test matches. For both men, the lure of cricket (wickets for Jimmy, runs for Sachin) has proved irresistible. In an era filled with instantly forgettable cue ball cricket, thank goodness for that.

For much of the second day of this first Test, Anderson played a role familiar to him during the second half of a career that began at Lord’s in 2003, a year before Strauss won his first cap. Simply put, he looked like the England bowler most likely to do the deal.

This week's encounter with South Africa marks Anderson's 173rd Test appearance in England colours.

This week’s encounter with South Africa marks Anderson’s 173rd Test appearance in England colours.

In the 145-year history of the game, only Sachin Tendulkar, at 200, has won more test matches.

In the 145-year history of the game, only Sachin Tendulkar, at 200, has won more test matches.

The advance, without a doubt, was a fluke. South Africa’s starters had answered England’s 165 with a total of 85 when Anderson dropped Dean Elgar with his back leg and right elbow, the ball sliding sadistically towards the stumps.

‘Elbowing’, suggested a joker on Twitter, after bail bonds clinked on the ground. Elgar didn’t see the funny side.

Anderson was already England’s first mid-40s specialist closer since Derbyshire’s Les Jackson in 1961. But now other stats are bubbling to the surface.

He was the first 40-something to take a seamed Test wicket since Graham Gooch in 1994. And the first 40-something bowler of any description to take a Test wicket at Lord’s since spinner Eddie Hemmings in 1990 There will be a lot more where those came from between now and his retirement, whenever that happens.

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

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

Anderson, 40, celebrates after seeing off South Africa’s Dean Elgar on day two at Lord’s

With Stokes, who briefly led a comeback in the final session, continuing to attack down the pitch, sometimes posting five wicket-seeking slips, there were plenty of gaps for South Africa’s batsmen to exploit. However, Anderson only kept two of them above.

One of the most remarkable features of his career has been the extent to which opponents have become wary of taking liberties. In 2021, he clocked 2.12 over, the cheapest year of his career.

So when Keshav Maharaj hit him with some fours in the final half hour, Anderson kicked the turf, in disbelief, perhaps, as much as frustration.

Others might have been tempted to kick more than that while the tourists built an advantage.

Potts, throwing a red ball for the second time since early July, looked rusty and missed the line. Broad wasn’t at his best, even if his economy rate suffered in part because of the aggressive fields.

Stokes threatened to turn things around, taking out Sarel Erwee for 73 and then outwitting Rassie van der Dussen with a long ball. But the captain kept bending his left knee, and when he came back 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, throwing a red ball for the second time since early July, looked rusty

Matt Potts, throwing a red ball for 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 soared during New Zealand’s shutout, in part because Stokes kept bringing him in early.

Leach immediately looked dangerous, and with his first delivery after tea, Ben Foakes caught Aiden Markram from behind, pushing one who had been cleverly held back.

Anderson will soon have a new ball at his disposal this morning when Stokes, like the other seven who have captained him in Test Cricket, will once again turn to his attacking leader. It is an old story, no less fascinating for its constant repetition.

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