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No one has loved playing for England more than Jimmy Anderson | Moeen Ali
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No one has loved playing for England more than Jimmy Anderson | Moeen Ali

There were times during my Test career, sitting in the dressing room reflecting on things quietly, when I almost could not believe how lucky I was to be in the same England team as Jimmy Anderson. He really is a once-in-a-generation cricketer and, in my mind, the greatest seam bowler of all time.

The crazy thing is, I made my Test debut in 2014 when Jimmy was 31. So he was already 11 years an international, just short of 100 caps. He had won the Ashes home and away, formed an all-time great partnership with Stuart Broad and been central to a historic series win in India two years earlier. In that match, against Sri Lanka at Lord’s, he took seven wickets to bring up 350 Test wickets and apparently that was only a job half done. What a ridiculous player. A joke, really.

Jimmy always had this reputation for being grumpy and as a newcomer, who had watched him on the television growing up, I was a little bit intimidated before we met; not scared but a bit unsure of what he would be like. But right from day one, even having played with so many players by this stage and been so close with Graeme Swann, who I had come into the side for, he was really good with me.

In more than 50 Tests together since then there wasn’t a day where we fell out, on or off the field. And to be fair, I am someone who likes to take the mickey in the dressing room. Joe Root, Alastair Cook, Broady … the size of the reputation doesn’t usually matter to me. We laughed a lot over the years – saying hello to him every morning in a different voice was my thing – but I never gave him any stick. Why? Because he is Jimmy Anderson.

England’s Moeen Ali (right) celebrates taking the wicket of Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara for 147 with Jimmy Anderson during the third day of their first Test at Lord’s cricket ground in June 2014.View image in fullscreen

That grumpiness – and shyness at times – has always been misleading. I do not know anyone who loves playing cricket and representing England as much as Jimmy. The same goes for guys who hate losing. I got a taste of this in my second Test at Headingley when, nine down and after an hour and a half of us two digging in trying to save the series, he got out with two balls of the match to go.

There I was, two Tests into my England career, watching a guy who had already experienced and achieved so much in tears at the other end. I was gutted for him, rather than myself or the team, because he worked so hard and played so well. Test cricket is pretty unforgiving and people forget what this means for guys down the order, doing the thing they are not paid to do. Although Broady was probably the better batter out of the two, I would say Jimmy was possibly the braver in terms of getting in line and getting stuck in.

This week at Lord’s is about celebrating his massive achievements with the ball. New guys will step up, but there is no point talking about who will fill Jimmy’s boots because they will never be. Quite simply, 700 Test wickets with one game to go, there cannot be another Jimmy, especially the way the sport is going.

It is a shame it has to end because, even now, coming up to 42, he can still bowl as well as he ever has. Just look at that seven-wicket haul for Lancashire last week. If he played for the whole summer, he would get a load more wickets.

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Then you remember he is England’s record wicket-taker in one-day internationals (269). Jimmy was a serious white-ball bowler but that decision by Eoin Morgan to move on in 2015 meant he could focus solely on Test cricket. Even though he has always worked seriously hard at his game, there was a period in his 30s where he would barely bowl in the nets before a Test because he knew exactly what he was doing by this stage. Both aspects contributed to his incredible longevity.

Jimmy Anderson avoids the ball while battingView image in fullscreen

Another thing was the wobble seam delivery. Jimmy was 90mph at the very start, then dropped into the 80s and swung it both ways. Perfecting the one that swung away from the left-hander might have been the final box ticked for some bowlers. But mastering the wobble seam took him to a different level. Loads of guys can wobble it into the right-hander but Jimmy can take it both ways, almost like magic out of his fingertips. Even if a batter had 50 or 60 runs they never felt in when he was bowling. They ended up sitting in, trying to survive.

In that respect, Jimmy probably helped Broady more than the other way around. People tried to see off Jimmy and then Broady would do his thing at the other end. What made Broady so special was five-wicket hauls in sharp bursts where he almost sensed the moment, whereas Jimmy’s were more methodical, setting guys up, nipping out three up top, maybe two at the bottom. Two very different characters and bowlers; one amazing partnership.

I fielded at mid-off a lot of the time and Jimmy would often ask me what I thought about a certain batter. I found that seriously cool, the greatest bowler asking me. But both were great with me. Look at some of my wicket celebrations in Test cricket, those two would always be right in the thick of it. They always had a lot of empathy on the tougher days – and I had plenty – knowing I was usually the lone spinner and had started off as a part-timer, really. I think they respected the work I put into it.

It would be silly if English cricket let that knowledge go to waste and it is good Jimmy will mentor the Test bowlers for the rest of the summer, even after this last match at Lord’s. Who knows, perhaps it won’t be his last. As someone who has retired from Test cricket more than once, my advice would be never say never.

Source: theguardian.com