A lone person walks on a dimly lit blue track under dreary skies in Manchester. The thick clouds could make even the Beautiful South feel emotional, and a cotton vest becomes damp with just one look. The Etihad Stadium can be seen in the distance, like a half-opened can of tuna. The only sources of light in the dark are the bright orange sneakers and blue knee socks worn by the runner. The caption reads, “First track session of the year 💪🏃.” In the background, Richard Hawley’s lyrics play: “Love you and never be old, then we feel the hope … you leave your body behind you.” It’s a fitting song choice.
In a different part of the world, a shorter and stockier person dressed in a creamy white outfit is strolling off the sunny field at the Sydney Cricket Ground. They kiss the emblem on their green helmet and extend their arms outwards like a milkmaid’s shoulder pole. They bask in the cheers from numerous onlookers, including loved ones, who have stood up for them in the stadium.
After 15 years playing cricket at the international level, David Warner, aged 37, retired from his Test career last week. He debuted in December 2011, while Jimmy Anderson, now 41 years old, was already a seasoned fast bowler with multiple international appearances. Anderson had a dominant performance during the Australian summer before Warner’s arrival, taking 24 wickets and helping England win their first Ashes series in Australia in 24 years, which equates to about five-eighths of his current age.
Warner will have a few years of profitable Twenty20 franchise tournaments ahead, before eventually retiring completely with a generous financial boost. As for Anderson, he faces the prospect of solitary laps around the running track, trying to prolong his physical abilities or delay the effects of aging. He will also spend more time bowling at a single stump, reflecting his focused mindset, while also making adjustments and improvements to his body with the help of vitamins and youthful haircuts. Anderson is preparing for a challenging series in India, with five Tests scheduled in just seven weeks.
Being a medium-pace swing bowler in India is not an easy feat, especially for someone as seasoned as a 41-year-old. The hot climate and challenging pitches can intimidate even the most experienced quick bowlers, who rely on their speed to be effective. However, despite all odds, Anderson continues to defy expectations and carry on with determination. During his last visit to India in 2021, at the age of 40, he managed to take eight wickets with an impressive average of 15.87 runs, showing great resilience in the three Tests he played. Despite his efforts, Anderson could not prevent England from losing the series 3-1.
When England won a significant series in India in 2012, Anderson was 30 years old and participated in all four Tests as a member of the team led by captain Alastair Cook. Despite having a higher number of wickets (12) and a slightly higher average (30.25), the seam bowler utilized his experience and tricks to effectively swing and spin the ball on the Indian clay. He provided valuable support to spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, ultimately helping England secure their first Test series victory in India since 1984-85 (a significant accomplishment for Anderson).
Anderson has a remarkable performance in 13 Tests in India, with 34 wickets at an average of 29.32. This is only slightly higher than his overall average of 183 Tests. However, there are some concerns as he prepares to play in the subcontinent, with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over him and a distinct urn-like shape to it.
During last summer’s Ashes series, Anderson’s performance appeared to become increasingly subdued. He even referred to the English pitches as his “Kryptonite.” Meanwhile, his teammates Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, and Stuart Broad (known for his signature bandana) were the ones making an impact and preventing Australia from winning the series outright. While Broad played a crucial role in securing a victory at the Oval, Anderson made it clear that he has no plans of retiring. In fact, he used Broad’s retirement announcement as motivation to keep going, despite a challenging summer. However, Anderson’s performance was not up to par, as he only managed to take five wickets in four Tests and struggled to make an impact on the familiar English pitches that have served him well throughout his nearly two-decade-long career.
Anderson is bothered when questioned about “retirement” and is visibly working hard, as he always has, for another opportunity to play in England’s attack. He has also expressed his desire to have control over when he decides to retire, and many would argue that he has earned that right. However, sports operate on spontaneity and unpredictability, so it is risky to assume that you are entitled to something, even if you have given your all, like Anderson has.
Despite his long career and dedication to the sport, Anderson’s eagerness to continue playing Test cricket puts him at the mercy of selectors as a tough series in India approaches. Other players such as Broad, Warner, Cook, and many more have had their time in the spotlight before him. For now, Anderson soldiers on, leaving his body behind as he moves forward, head bowed against the looming challenges ahead.
Is it preferable to burn out instead of fading away?
There is a popular football joke that is often attributed to Brian Clough, who has since passed away. He once asked one of his players, who had just made their international debut, the question: “Who played two games for England in one night?” The answer was revealed by Clough himself, stating: “You did – your first and your last.”
This saying from Clough highlights a universal reality for athletes at all levels. Just as we are all born and will eventually pass away, it is a guarantee that after playing your first match – whether it be for the national football team or a small village cricket team – there will come a time when you play your final game.
Many retired professional athletes, particularly cricketers, struggle in their post-playing years. The intense focus on the sport and the amount of time dedicated to it can make it difficult to cope with retirement. In a recent episode of the Nightwatchman podcast, Nick Compton shares his own experience of struggling with the transition into his post-playing career. He describes the emotional difficulty of letting go of a game that he had been playing since the age of five. This is a sentiment that countless other former athletes can relate to. Alastair Cook had a memorable end to his Test career, scoring a century in his final innings in front of a packed crowd at the Oval in 2018. This was a fitting bookend to his 161-Test career, which began with a century on his debut in Nagpur 12 years earlier. Despite this fairytale ending, Cook played county cricket for five more seasons before retiring from all forms of professional cricket at the end of last summer, seemingly with a heavy heart.
“It is difficult to bid farewell,” he stated during the occasion. “For over 20 years, cricket has been more than just a job for me. It is now the appropriate time for this chapter of my life to conclude. I have always put forth my utmost effort to be the best player I could possibly be, from when I first started playing for Wickham Bishops Under-11s at the age of eight until now. As I end this journey, I am filled with a bittersweet combination of sadness and pride.”
There are players who struggle to return to the boundary rope after leaving professional sports. Geoffrey Boycott shared that he couldn’t bring himself to even touch a bat for a long time after retiring. He described his last game of professional cricket in September 1986 at Scarborough, saying it didn’t feel like death but it did feel like a chapter of his life had ended.
This week’s quote.
“I am pleased to move up to the top position. I am enthusiastic about it if that is the plan…I am definitely interested,” Steve Smith expresses his desire to become the opening batsman for the Australian Test team, shortly after David Warner’s recent test debut. This news may not be well-received by bowlers around the world.
In May 1984, the dominant West Indies team prepares on the field at Lord’s for a tour led by Clive Lloyd’s squad. This highly acclaimed team was known to be one of the greatest in cricket history and went on to defeat England 5-0 in a Test series and 2-1 in a one-day international match.
Still want more?
Azeem Rafiq urges Yorkshire’s sponsors to take action against the reinstatement of Colin Graves, who downplayed racism as mere teasing. Otherwise, we will be right back where we began.
Simon Burnton examines the reasons why Graves was chosen as the top candidate to once again lead Yorkshire.
Geoff Lemon ponders over David Warner’s career, as the latter leaves the Test arena with a diverse blend of disorder and creativity.
Although England’s Test series versus India will start later this month, a television agreement has not yet been reached in the United Kingdom.
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