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England are losing their greatest bowler – but the time was right for Jimmy | Mark Ramprakash
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England are losing their greatest bowler – but the time was right for Jimmy | Mark Ramprakash

I remember watching the final day of the Ashes at the Oval last year, and thinking how brilliantly Stuart Broad had orchestrated his departure from Test cricket: the last Test of the summer, the end of a terrific series, taking the final wicket in an England win. Now Jimmy Anderson, Broad’s great friend and partner with the new ball for his country, has chosen his moment, with a little nudge from Brendon McCullum: England’s next Test, against West Indies at Lord’s in July, will be his last.

A player’s final game is obviously a sad time, but I remember feeling Broad made the moment seem joyful. There will always be a measure of relief there, especially for a seamer. Players put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform – it’s what drives them – and Broad and Anderson have a tremendous intrinsic motivation to do the training, to be disciplined, to always be at their best. Fast bowling is tough physically and you have to be up for it, to cope with the pain and fatigue that comes with long spells and playing Test cricket.

Broad seemed genuinely happy he’d called time on his career, and it was clear he was looking forward to experiencing other things in his life. And I remember wondering what Anderson was thinking at the time. He’s been asked so many times about retirement and never really answered the question – it was always more a case of wondering why anyone was asking, when he’s enjoying himself and wants to keep going. At the Oval last summer, part of me thought he should have gone with his mate. It would have been wonderful to have the pair of them leave together on the sort of occasion that befitted their wonderful careers.

But with Anderson it always seemed he was unclear about when he would finish, almost like he didn’t have an off switch. He gets up every day and he’s an England cricketer – he has been doing it so long that he almost can’t remember a time before that was who he was, and couldn’t imagine a time after it.

At the end of my own cricketing career I was exactly the same. I would just get up, train and play, and I needed someone whose opinion I valued to tell me it was time to end it. For me it was Justin Langer, and hearing his words was such a relief. I’d asked several people about retirement: Graham Gooch told me one day you’ll wake up and you’ll know. I just didn’t.

My other problem was I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with myself afterwards. I would have really loved to have something definite I could have transitioned into, but I never had that certainty.

In the end I fell into coaching – I was lucky, one or two doors opened, I found it really rewarding and that’s the way it went – but it wasn’t particularly by design. I’m sure doors will also open for Anderson, who has so many qualities he could bring to coaching, or to the media.

Jimmy Anderson celebrates a wicket during his debut Test against Zimbabwe at Lord’s in 2003.View image in fullscreen

He has been a phenomenon, and still is: the fact he’s still fit and motivated enough to play cricket this summer, that he’ll bow out just a couple of weeks before his 42nd birthday, is extraordinary. And he is still playing at a genuinely high level: even in India over the winter, in tough conditions, he bowled some very clever, economical spells, at good pace. He has never looked like a weak link, and if he had wanted to play a full part this summer I’m sure he would have done well.

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I wish it hadn’t been necessary to have that meeting with McCullum, to hear someone tell him it’s over. Perhaps like me it came as a relief, but if he was still of a mindset that he is fit and wants to be available, they won’t have been nice words to hear.

Now he will be focused on making sure he leaves on a high, with a performance that reminds everyone of his wonderful qualities. But it is absolutely the right thing that England push on and get Test match experience into the crop of bowlers that now need to take on the mantle.

Where Jimmy has led the team for so long, bowling at the most pressured times – the first over of the day, the first after lunch – there are young guys who need that experience and now have to take their opportunity.

England are losing a great bowler, perhaps their greatest, but I completely agree with what the management has decided. We will gather at Lord’s to say farewell to a master, and Jimmy will play almost as a mentor and an on-field coach. It is the start of his transition to a new role if he chooses to take it, and to a future I’m sure will be full of fresh opportunities.

Source: theguardian.com