End of the road for Alastair Cook, even as James Anderson continues on his journey
In the end, it was quite the Hollywood ending for James Anderson, totally out of keeping with this modest 36-year-old player’s unshowy nature as he finally took the wicket that made him the most successful fast bowler in Test history on the last day of a fascinating series of Test cricket between England and India.
By removing tailender Mohammed Shami for nought, three balls into the 14th over of a Herculean spell of pace bowling that saw him concede just 12 runs, Anderson won the series for England 4-1, ending a dogged day of Indian resistance which at one stage had threatened an unlikely victory at The Oval.
But the fans at the south London venue had to wait to the last hour of the day’s play to see Anderson supplant Australian great Glenn McGrath in fourth spot on the all-time list of Test wicket-takers with 564 wickets.
It is fitting that he will remain forever remain bracketed with McGrath, because the pair of them shared the trait of being bowlers that batsmen would just wait to see off before they could plunder runs off lesser mortals at the other end.
The Lancastrian had opened the bowling for the hosts in the morning with four typically parsimonious overs that yielded just 10 runs, but the zip of the previous evening, when he had removed two Indian top-order batsmen in four balls to reduce the visitors to 1-2, was missing.
Anderson's journey to 564 wickets
He was replaced in the attack by Sam Curran, and captain Joe Root waited more than 40 overs before he brought him back into the attack with 40 minutes to go until the tea interval. He then bowled from 3pm unchanged until the end of the match at 5.30pm.
Immediately the mesmeric effect of his gun-barrel straight accuracy tied down the Vauxhall end, strangling runs, and Root made a tactical masterstroke to bring back Adil Rashid at the Pavillion end.
Although the leg-spinner had been leaking runs to keep India interested in what would have been a historic victory, Anderson’s spell at the other end gave them no respite and eventually saw Rashid capture two vital wickets that broke India’s fightback and left them seven wickets down.
It was then a race against his colleagues to see whether there would be enough possible batsmen for Anderson to dismiss: Curran came back on and plundered a pair of wickets, so that with two balls of his final over left it looked as if the irrepressible youngster would steal the thunder.
However, after what some cynics viewed as charitable bowling, the scene was set for Anderson. The first two balls of his 184th over of the series were dealt with by Shami, but the third was an unplayable delivery that nipped back and knocked the middle stump out of the ground to spark joy across the ground.
This Test featured two of England’s stalwarts of the past decade – Anderson and opener Alastair Cook, who created his own history on Monday by becoming the fifth-highest scoring batsman in Tests – enjoying such success.
The pair, who are firm friends, share a backroom-boy mentality, eschewing the histrionics of the Pietersens and Warnes of the world and just turning up day after day and delivering the goods.
While Cook has now left the stage, Anderson, who seems to just mature with age, could easily overtake the third placed bowler, former Indian leg-spinner Anil Kumble, and put himself far beyond the reach of any quick bowler for decades to come in the annals of the sport.