James Anderson transcends final frontier with stunning spell

Jimmy Anderson - AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images
Jimmy Anderson - AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images

Even at the age of 40; even two decades after his international debut; even playing a Test in a country for the first time; even at the bitter end of the highest-scoring five-day Test of all time: the remarkable James Anderson is still finding new ways to be a matchwinner for England.

It was no surprise to hear Ben Stokes reveal Anderson had been “getting quite emotional about this win”. Anderson, as Stokes said, “has experienced everything, the highs and lows of Test cricket”. But even after 176 matches, this game has the capacity to throw up new experiences.

“I feel like it’s the best win I’ve been involved in away from home and potentially at all,” said Anderson. “That wicket was so flat and so unresponsive throughout. Today was a monumental effort from everyone.”

On the eve of the game, Anderson was among the England players violently unwell, with his participation only confirmed on Thursday. He was grateful for England winning the toss, although he would perhaps have liked them to bat for a few more than 101 overs. In the first innings, he found conditions as unhelpful as every other bowler, but was still parsimony personified, with his 22 overs costing just 54 runs. He also picked up the wicket of Mohammad Rizwan, to ensure Pakistan would not get too close to England’s 657.

England's James Anderson celebrates after taking the wicket of Muhammad Rizwan during the fifth day of the first test cricket match between Pakistan and England - AP Photo/Anjum Naveed
England's James Anderson celebrates after taking the wicket of Muhammad Rizwan during the fifth day of the first test cricket match between Pakistan and England - AP Photo/Anjum Naveed

It was in the fourth innings, after just a session’s rest, that Anderson truly came to the party. He took four for 36, a masterly display across four tough sessions and five distinct spells that proved, once again, that he is not merely an outstanding English swing bowler but a force in all conditions. It leaves his average in Asia at 27 after 27 Tests. In the last five years, that average drops to 18.

Still, this was an unusual performance from Anderson, not least because of the way it started: for just the second time since 2009, he did not take the new ball.

When he was eventually brought into the attack, Pakistan were already two down, and Anderson was tasked with continuing a bumper barrage that served a dual purpose: roughing up Pakistan’s top order, and roughing up the Kookaburra ball. What followed was the shortest-pitched spell of Anderson’s 176-Test career – by almost 3.5 metres. This is an example of the open mind Anderson has brought to Ben Stokes’ captaincy, and desire to bend his back and muck in.

On the final day, Anderson played a different game. Hunting reverse swing, he dried things up with Ollie Robinson early on, with his first spell reading 6-4-5-1, including the wicket of Imam-ul-Haq – out for less than a hundred for the first time at Rawalpindi. Pakistan made just 13 runs from the first 14 overs.

That created an urgency that brought runs against the spinners, but Anderson returned to put the skids under them. This time, either side of lunch, his spell was 7-2-12-1, earning the wicket of Rizwan once more. Another spell before tea did not provide a breakthrough, but four overs went for 14 runs, just as Pakistan were threatening to kick on again.

Robinson was given first dibs after tea, and found two more wickets so, with the light fading, Stokes realised he needed seam from both ends. Anderson was into the third over of his spell when he picked up Zahid Mahmood and Haris Rauf in the space of three balls, moving England to within one wicket of victory. Jack Leach did the rest, but not before Anderson had thrown everything at Pakistan in a five-over spell that cost just one run, and featured 29 successive dots.

This was a reminder of a couple of things. First, the need for England and Anderson to think outside the box overseas. The other occasion he did not take the new ball in the last 13 years was also England’s most recent overseas win, in Chennai in February 2021, when he provided another reverse-swing masterclass.

It also reminded us that Anderson’s influence on this team runs beyond the overs he bowls. At the end of the summer, England quietly relocated their bowling coach Jon Lewis to a position in the pathway, as part of a dressing room streamlining exercise (he has since been appointed head coach of England women). Implicit in the decision was a belief that England already have a bowling coach, just wearing whites, not a tracksuit.

During a fortnight training with the Lions in the UAE, Anderson worked closely with Robinson, perhaps teaching him the art of reverse swing. On his first Test in Asia, Robinson reversed the ball to great effect, including away from the right-hander, as Anderson can. That is a skill he did not appear to possess in Australia a year ago, and Stokes rated this Robinson’s best Test performance. It will be interesting to see if Jamie Overton gleaned anything from time with Anderson, too.

Anderson acknowledged that he would feel extremely stiff tomorrow and it may be that, after this enormous workload, de facto bowling coach is the role he fulfils in Multan before returning to the action in Karachi. A decision like that is certainly easier to make from 1-0 up and, as they head south, there is not a cloud in the sky for England or Anderson.