MARTIN SAMUEL: Jimmy Anderson is simply the best… catch him while you still can

See Roger Federer. See Lionel Messi. See Rafa Nadal. See Cristiano Ronaldo. See the big ones before they’re gone. See Tom Brady. See Andy Murray, even though he is a shadow of his former self.

And Jimmy Anderson? See Jimmy Anderson. Definitely see Jimmy Anderson. Behold the greatest seam bowler of his generation, in fact of any generation.

Behold the wonderman of modern English cricket: the fast bowler who peaks at 39. That’s the difference between Anderson and most of his contemporaries in the sport’s pantheon.

Jimmy Anderson (left) starred as England ran through India's batsmen at Headingley

Jimmy Anderson (left) starred as England ran through India’s batsmen at Headingley

Virat Kohli's Indian tourists were all out for 78 on day one of Wednesday's third test

Virat Kohli's Indian tourists were all out for 78 on day one of Wednesday's third test

Virat Kohli’s Indian tourists were all out for 78 on day one of Wednesday’s third test

Federer and Nadal are overtaken by Novak Djokovic. A defensive midfielder like N’Golo Kante, or even a maker like Jorginho, wouldn’t be discussed if UEFA’s Player of the Year like Messi and Ronaldo were at their best.

Still Anderson? Is there anyone who does it better? Not in this country, and probably nowhere else.

At Headingley on Wednesday, Anderson broke India for drinks, let alone lunch. Less than a full hour had passed when he sent KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli away in a 5.5 overs period, costing just six runs.

He threw another 13 balls and India didn’t play a scoring shot from any of them. Eight overs, five girls, six runs, three wickets. The job was done. Anderson was not seen again, ball in hand.

Anderson (third from right) took three wickets from eight overs and was barely used in Headingley

Anderson (third from right) took three wickets from eight overs and was barely used in Headingley

Anderson (third from right) took three wickets from eight overs and was barely used in Headingley

He didn’t have to be. India never recovered from its spell and dropped to 78 all out; their ninth-lowest score in Test cricket. Here was a pretty brilliant riposte from England, inspired by a man who should be tucked away in a comment box.

It was not just what Anderson did, but the example he set. No one is too old to learn and England certainly did because of the ill-disciplined disaster at Lord’s.

Anderson put down the marker, bowled fuller and showed the control and perseverance needed to get England back into this series. After he broke India’s highest order, the rest quickly dispersed.

England didn’t demand Anderson shoot from the tail – India was 67 for five and then 67 for nine – they just needed his teammates to follow suit.

England's bowlers threw the ball up instead of playing short balls like they did at Lord's

England's bowlers threw the ball up instead of playing short balls like they did at Lord's

England’s bowlers threw the ball up instead of playing short balls like they did at Lord’s

They did, tossing the ball up and taking it away from the batsmen, instead of indulging in self-defeating shorts. Anderson could watch happily, rested, vindicated. It was the 144th eight-over spell of his testing career, but there haven’t been many more beautiful.

Phil Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship at age 50, but that was a godsend. He was ranked 115th in the world when he arrived at Kiawah Island. He had last won a major in 2013, hadn’t finished in the top 10 since 2016.

His subsequent big appearances were 62nd and a missed cut; he’s only managed to finish in the top 20 in other tournaments once, and doesn’t even feel confident making it to the USA Ryder Cup team, which is unheard of for a reigning major champion.

If Anderson’s numbers on Wednesday were exceptional or unusual, if this was the first time in recent Tests he’d bet for England, it could be considered Mickelson’s sixth major; as one of those wonderful episodes that sports spawn, a brief rage against the extinction of the light. Tiger Woods’ 2019 US Masters; Jack Nicklaus at Augusta in 1986.

Yet Anderson continues to produce moments like these, year after year, series after series. In Chennai, he simply delivered one of the best overs ever bowled this winter to bring India back to 92 for four, from 92 for two.

In the first Test against the same legendary opponents at Trent Bridge this summer, he became the third highest wicket-taker in Test history; at Lord’s he took five for 62 in the first innings. And now this.

No wonder he is fuming when it is suggested that he may be too old to take on Australia this winter. Age is a number. And Anderson’s numbers just keep getting better. This was the seventh time he has taken Kohli’s wicket, the most of any pace bowler. By the way, he also got nine times Sachin Tendulkar.

And yes, Anderson’s bowling is well suited to English conditions. Still, spinners are suitable for Asian conditions; it doesn’t affect Muttiah Muralitharan’s net worth, or his 800 Test wickets.

Anderson (left) has now gotten Kohli out (right) seven times – more than any other pace bowler

Anderson (left) has now gotten Kohli out (right) seven times – more than any other pace bowler

Anderson (left) has now gotten Kohli out (right) seven times – more than any other pace bowler

Because while Stuart Broad considers the first day’s wicket at Headingley the best for bowling, Anderson just has too many casualties – 626 and counting – to always be blessed with cloud cover, stitching spur or reverse swing. He’s a genius at getting things done, like he did Wednesday morning.

His second wicket, Pujara’s, changed direction as if he had encountered a secret flip button on a pinball machine. All three were chased by Jos Buttler, a lesson in the art of persuasion. He forced some of the most measured batsmen in Test cricket to surrender their wickets cheaply, Kohli had won the toss and chose to bat.

The India captain no doubt hoped to make money from the collapse of England’s bowling at Lord’s, to prey on a crisis of confidence, mental weakness. He had reckoned without Anderson’s determination.

He did not continue the feud, he was not dragged into a fruitless war of words. This was all business, all bowling, all about the setup and the reward, like a good joke.

Except Anderson didn’t laugh as he celebrated. He howled, howled, he knew England should have answered India like that at Lord’s, when so much time and energy was wasted on petty aggression. Here was the antithesis of that feat.

Anderson's efforts have made up for England's disappointing collapse at Lord's last week

Anderson's efforts have made up for England's disappointing collapse at Lord's last week

Anderson’s efforts have made up for England’s disappointing collapse at Lord’s last week

If there was one sore point, it was that England flawlessly applied the tactics that would have won the second Test. They weren’t bowling short, they weren’t bowling angry, they weren’t aiming for the man, they were aiming for that famous invisible gait, and it was Anderson who showed how it’s done.

Some argue that a bowler who lasts as long as Anderson – 164 Tests and going strong – will amass wickets, but one wouldn’t make that argument anywhere else. No titles are won, no goals are scored and wickets are not taken just by hanging around long enough.

Likewise, reaching 39, with all the wear and tear of fast bowling, and staying fit enough to compete is a real athletic feat. Many bowlers who are 10 years younger are physically ruined. And while there may be an element of good genes and luck in longevity, Anderson’s evolution as a bowler has nothing to do with luck.

Fortunately, the nuances put into his playing fit with control and wisdom that comes from experience. Those at Headingley on Wednesday, stalwarts or first-timers, will be able to say they’ve seen the greatest bowler ever to stagger a seam.

Do not miss it. Catch him while you can, if you can and when you can. However it may seem, it cannot last forever.

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