It already seems likely that the first morning of the fourth Test will also feature the game’s loudest and most heartfelt ovation. Whatever England and South Africa’s cricketers do over the next five days, the news that the Pavilion End at Emirates Old Trafford is to be renamed in honour of James Anderson is sure to elicit the warmest of reactions from spectators, some of whom will have watched the seamer make his first-class debut in 2002.
David Hodgkiss, Lancashire’s chairman, is to make a presentation to Anderson, who is hopeful his family will be on the ground to see him receive this “amazing honour”. Even in the oft-inflated world of sporting achievement, where people have only to be presented with their dinner to dedicate it to someone or other, this is summat to write home about. In Anderson’s case, of course, the news will be very happily received in Burnley, where the local cricket club has named its function room after him. This will be a deeply Lancastrian occasion.
But there will be plenty of patriotism, too. Wherever Anderson has played for England the Barmy Army has belted out its familiar chorus saluting his presence and contribution. No doubt there will be a few renditions on Friday and they will be sung by people who recognise that if Anderson was not playing for England, he might well be sitting with them. So we may have a rather bizarre moment when James Anderson is bowling from the James Anderson End while 20,000 people sing about “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy Anderson”.
“I’m blown away, really, by the gesture from the club,” he acknowledged. “I can’t quite believe it has happened. It is something that usually happens when people have stopped playing or are further down the line. So to have this happen when I’m still playing and potentially bowling from that end in the game is a bit surreal. It is just a huge honour, especially because of the link I have with this club and the love I have for the club. I’ve been here for 15 years and longer than that if you count the years I’ve been supporting the club.”
The history stretches deeper than that, though. The renaming of the Pavilion End unites Anderson with Brian Statham, after whom Old Trafford’s other end is named; it therefore brings together, albeit only in the ground’s geography, the two finest Lancastrian seamers of all. While cricket’s historians may offer the names of Dick Pollard or the Burnley-born Harry Dean as candidates for that accolade, probably few would dispute that Statham and Anderson’s combined total of 732 Test wickets secures their right to the title.
It is, however, 732 and counting. Anderson’s observation that the honour he had been given was more usually accorded to someone whose career was over allowed him to stress that this was not the situation in his case.
“I don’t like looking back on my career too much because I am still playing and I still have things I want to achieve, personally and with this team,” he said. “I’m very grateful that I have got this far in my career but I don’t want to dwell on it right now. In years to come, I’m sure I’ll look back with great fondness but right now I still have things to achieve.
“I’ve felt really good in this series. I’m happy I’ve stayed fit and bowled well through the series. Barring me slipping in the shower or a back spasm overnight, I’ll have played all four games. For me, that’s a positive thing. I’ve had a couple of injuries over the last 12-18 months, so staying fit is a priority. Also, bowling well is another thing that is going to help me stay in the side and help this side win games.”
Anderson is not short of achievable objectives. He needs 20 more victims to become the sixth bowler in the game’s history to take 500 Test wickets and he has yet to earn himself a place on the Old Trafford honours board by taking five wickets in a Test innings on his home ground. There is another Ashes series looming and this summer’s series against South Africa and West Indies to win. He recognises it will be tough but he is hopeful of remaining fit to play all seven Tests this summer, news which has no doubt been welcomed by his new England captain.
“He is as good as ever,” said Joe Root of Anderson. “He brings so much to this dressing room, his experience. What you see out in the middle and the performances he has produced are exceptional. The way he works with the other bowlers and the way they toss ideas around out in the field makes my life a lot easier. To have someone like that to go to when you are under the pump, when you want someone to change the game, is invaluable.”
And now Root can also be a party to one of the most delicious, if anachronistically feudal, conversations in the history of the game. “Which end do you want, Jimmy?” he may ask. “My own, please, captain,” can be the reply. Not even Lord Hawke managed that.