Still craving for a ‘proper graft’, Anderson chugs on

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Anderson edged past Botham by picking up a 28th five-wicket haul in Tests © AFP

At 37 years of age, and following four months out of Test cricket with injury, James Anderson shows no sign of falling out of love with the game.

After picking up 5-40 in South Africa’s first innings in Cape Town, Anderson said this game had reminded him why he wants to continue playing. Whilst recuperating from a calf injury sustained in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston in August, he had missed the contentment that a day of hard work in the field brings. A fast-bowler’s life is still the life for him.

“I sat down at the end of the day yesterday feeling like that is what I have missed,” Anderson said. “That proper hard day of Test cricket, proper graft. A real battle with [Dean] Elgar and [Rassie] van der Dussen when they put their partnership together. That’s why I still want to play cricket. That’s what I get a buzz out of, coming off the field after a day like that. A pretty hot day, you’re sweaty and you know you’ve put a shift in.

“I love that challenge that Test cricket brings. Putting in the hard yards in the field, having to graft for your wickets, having to try different fields, different plans. That’s what I love about the game and that’s why I want to keep playing.”

How long Anderson continues for remains to be seen. He has spoken of being around for the next Ashes series in 2021/22 and given the continued excellence of his performances, it looks like only fitness will prevent him being there. In 26 matches since his 35th birthday, Anderson has taken 102 wickets at a shade over 20 runs apiece. He is ageing like a fine wine.

This was his 28th five-wicket haul in Tests, secured with the wickets of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje on the third morning, putting him one ahead of Sir Ian Botham. Of fast-bowlers, only Glenn McGrath, Courtney Walsh and Sir Richard Hadlee have more than the Lancastrian and Anderson has time yet to add to his tally.

“I don’t really think about things like that,” Anderson said when asked about moving past Botham. “As I have said many times before, it is nice to see my name above him, someone of his stature and what he did for the game. That makes me quite proud but it’s certainly not why I play the game and hopefully I can add to it in the next few years.”

For now, Anderson’s and England’s main focus is on levelling the series. After a solid batting display, they ended the third day with a lead of 264 and six wickets remaining. “With the bat, I thought we showed some real grit at the top of the order,” Anderson said. “Dom Sibley played brilliantly and then Rooty came in and played quite positively. That partnership has stood us in good stead for tomorrow.

“We want [a lead of] 350-plus minimum. We’ve seen if you are patient as a batsman you can score runs and stick around for a long period of time. So as bowlers, we’re going to have to make sure we are on the money when we come to bowl again.”

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