Rests for Tests

So Jimmy Anderson is throwing small quantities of toys out of his pram at the thought of putting his feet up for a week. So what, I hear you ask? Well quite. Most of us would be delighted to be given an enforced break by our boss in order to do nothing, but not Burnley’s favourite son. Interestingly there was no such wailing from Stuart Broad, who after having played 69 international since 2010, is presumably a little tired and stiff (Young Stewie has also probably already sneaked a glance at England’s schedule over the next year). Broad’s take, quite sensibly, was that in the circumstances of the shortened game, it was good to give the spearheads a rest and give some of the other varieties of pointed sticks a go instead. Anderson though, had been left out of the squad and told to get as far away from cricket as humanly possible, so the decision was seemingly less about giving the colts a run out and instead protecting Anderson from overwork.

Let’s look at the facts, shall we? Anderson is 29. At that age, Andrew Flintoff could barely get out on a cricket pitch without enough Red Bull and painkillers to subdue a healthy narwhal, Bob Willis had no knees to speak of and Ian Botham had had more surgery than Jimmy has had hot dinners. Botham only took 40 Test wickets once he turned 30, Flintoff 29, while Willis is one of only five English pace bowlers to take 100 wickets after attaining that age. The point is that Anderson is reaching a critical phase in his Test career. Botham is the only fast bowler to have played more Tests for England before reaching 30 than Anderson’s 70 and His Beefyness remains the only England quick to have played 100 Tests. If Jimmy wants to go on to challenge Botham in terms of wickets and matches played, he’s going to have to slow down. Getting near those records is going to take another three years of toil at least and fast bowling is not exactly what you would call kind on the body.

In Anderson’s favour is his staggering level of fitness coupled with the exact science that is sports nutrition and physiotherapy these days. Fast bowlers are well-oiled machines. Gone are the days of the likes of Angus Fraser, who looked like he’d been chased by a mountain lion for 40 miles after a six over spell. Anderson could bowl 30 overs in a day and still have something left in the tank. The carcass of Graeme Onions’ Test career would have long ago been left to the vultures if he’d suffered his back injury in the 80s or 90s.

But even so, fast bowlers need to be managed. Why risk Anderson in a dead rubber against an average West Indies side when there are bigger fish to fry against South Africa later in the summer? If the guy’s body has only got, say, 30 Test matches left in him, why waste them in games that don’t mean much? It’s not as though he’s been the sort of bowler in the last couple of years who has needed several matches to get back in rhythm.

Coupled with considerations about Anderson is the problem of trying to blood the backups. With only the third seamer’s spot realistically open to any competition (and Tim Bresnan making a pretty good case to nail that down), there are extremely limited opportunities to try out alternatives, even more so if you want to see how inexperienced bowlers bowl in partnership with one another. Poor old Steven Finn, one of the most exciting pace talents England have had in decades, can’t get a game at the moment. By the time Anderson likely retires for good, Broad, who has had a few injury issues, will be closing in on 30, while Bresnan, Tremlett and Onions will all be older than that. If England suddenly find themselves with a pace lineup with only ten or twenty caps between them, everybody will complain that they should have been tried out at the end of series with nothing on the line. Oh. Like this one.

Jimmy’s probably whinging more than anything because being rested robbed him of the chance to take six or seven wickets against a top four for whom the ability to hit the middle of the bat is but a distant memory, and when you’ve still got 117 wickets to go to beat Botham, you’ll take whatever you can while your legs still work. It’s not as though his place is under threat and it’s not as though he needs the bowling. So time to stop whining, Jimmy, and be thankful it’s not the 1970s and you’re having to bowl seven days a week to eke out a living.

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  1. The amazing disappearing Tremlett « Two Grumpy England Cricket Fans

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