James Anderson has now bowled 37,847 bowls in Test cricket. In Multan on Sunday he bowled one of his best.
Mohammad Rizwan was utterly stunned when England’s all-time record Test wicket-taker claimed his 674th scalp in the format with a mesmerizing ball that fell diagonally into the Pakistan batsman before flipping late to hit the top of the stump.
“Unplayable” was how the episode was described by Anderson’s old new ball partner Stuart Broad at the Sky Sports Cricket studio and even Rizwan laughed at it during an interview after playing Michael Atherton as he reflected on the evergreen England sailor’s “masterclass”.
“I don’t know how you hit that,” said Broad of Anderson’s wonderful delivery. “It was Jimmy at his best. It was incredible bowling, one of the best balls he will bowl.”
Rizwan told Atherton at stumps, “It was a master class, I love him. I didn’t have an answer to his question.”
Few have had answers to Anderson over the years, with the one-time teardrop sailor turning himself into arguably the most skilled pace bowler to play the game. On fields around the world, Anderson is a threat, with his Asian average now 26.66 in 28 tests.
The 40-year-old’s returns on Sunday were 1-8 from six overs after he became the fifth bowler to be called into action by captain Ben Stokes.
Ollie Robinson and Jack Leach were handed the new ball and both Joe Root and Mark Wood were used for Anderson as Stokes waited for the ball to begin to turn. Anderson came on for the 16th over – the first after lunch – and five balls in, Rizwan fell.
Incredible! At his age on a pitch that had done nothing for the players during the Test, to suddenly throw that pitch to a good player who played well, albeit after a break, was a remarkable throw.
Broad said: “Earlier in his career Jimmy would have bowled the new ball and might have missed the time when the ball starts to turn, but if he comes first, second, fourth substitution or whatever, he can continue as the ball starts moving.
“Jimmy is getting more of a consistent run in the side in the subcontinent now because of the skills he has. He doesn’t have many wickets on this tour with cutters – it’s the reverse swing that did the damage – but he’s been working hard on that cutters.
“He’s so consistent in the length he hits. He doesn’t go too full, it’s always that length that the batter can’t really drive and his economy around the world, but especially in Asia, is incredible.
“He doesn’t give freebies. He can bowl seven or eight overs and only pick up one wicket, but he’s only gone for six or seven runs. That creates pressure.”
Former England sailor Steven Finn added of Anderson, who hit 46 overs in last week’s first Test at Rawalpindi: “His pace has been maintained and he’s gotten quicker in recent years, which is just unfathomable at his age.
“He’s got such a smooth, repeatable action that if you told a kid how you want them to bowl when they’re younger, you’d want something like Jimmy. He’s got that competitive bit between his teeth all the time. He wants that fight, he wants to do all the hard work.”
A little more hard work will be needed on the fourth day at Multan if England are to close out a series win with a game to spare.
Watch England and Pakistan live from 4.40am on Monday for victory over Sky Sports Cricket. England needs six wickets, while Pakistan needs a further 157 runs.