While it was arguably Sri Lanka who had the better of day one of the second Test with England, putting up 229-4 on the scoreboard, England’s most prolific Test bowler stood out impressively after replacing England’s second-most prolific Test bowler in the XI.
Speaking to Wisden Cricket Monthly earlier this month, Jos Buttler talked rather wholesomely about the joys of keeping wicket for England. “One extra bonus about wicketkeeping – as well as being in the game every ball – is that it’s a great place to watch Broad and Anderson and how they bowl,” he said. “You’ve got the best seat in the house to see these guys operate.” The old-timers can amaze even the greatest of entertainers.
Last week it was Stuart Broad who did his thing, going against the grain of his previous travails in Sri Lanka. In his three Tests in the country prior to the first Test, he’d returned three wickets at an average of 83, and yet the 34-year-old hounded and pounded his way to parsimonious figures of 3-34 from 26 overs. A rest was well deserved.
Today it was James Anderson who took his place, entering the fray with an average of 46.08 in Sri Lanka and one wicket from the two Tests he played on England’s 2018 visit. On that tour his frustrations led to the remarks that he felt “like a bit of a spare part”; the spinners were doing their bit and he longed to be at home once again with the cherry-red Dukes, making merry under miserable English clouds.
With that history in mind, the extra miles and injuries that have clocked up since, and the scorching Galle heat, Friday’s lesson was simple: 600 Test wickets in, Anderson can still spring a surprise.
Still, it’s not like he did anything we haven’t seen before. In the absence of any help from the pitch and ball, Anderson just played the waiting game that seems so effortless to him, plugging away outside off to tread the fine line between being mesmerising and downright boring. It was the perfect approach against a batting line-up that had shown the ability to self-implode in the first Test.
Kusal Perera swished hard when he shouldn’t have and Oshada Fernando poked when it would’ve been better to swerve. Lahiru Thirimanne was set up with some balls angled in before feathering at a wider line after lunch for his eighth dismissal to Anderson in Test cricket – the Lancastrian just has that effect on some people.
From there, as Mark Wood threatened with pace and reverse swing but the spin duo of Jack Leach and Dom Bess failed to cause much bother, Anderson just racked up maiden after maiden. By the end of the day, his figures were Broadesque: 19 overs, 10 maidens, 24 runs and three wickets.
The rhythm of England’s attack this series has run differently to their whitewash win from two and a bit years ago. Back then, the spin trio of Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Leach dominated to such an extent that England’s quicks only needed to contribute a total sum of seven wickets. While Bess and Leach did share most of the wickets in the first Test, Broad was a central player in the victory. If England are to pull off a win here after Angelo Mathews’ headlining ton, Anderson will have to take on similar responsibility in the presence of an inexperienced Bess and a Leach who still looks a tad undercooked after a Test-less 2020.
In fact, you can envisage this pattern continuing into the four Tests against India: Broad or Anderson giving no inch at one end to allow for a few errors at the other. Rotation is the word of the day, but even one of them will do – for while they may be a great partnership, they’re capable of doing fine work without the other. Broad’s magnum opus at Trent Bridge was without Anderson in the picture; Anderson’s masterful exhibitions in series wins away to Australia and India were conducted with little help from Broad.
In this subcontinental winter, England’s two greatest bowlers have unexpectedly emerged as main actors in the play. We’ll watch on in envy, however, for it’s Jos Buttler who has the best seat in the house.