James Anderson has had a heavy workload in the Test series against India, bowling 163.3 overs, second only to Ollie Robinson; he has been included in the squad for the final Test at Old Trafford, which starts on Friday, September 10, live on Sky Sports
By James Walker-Roberts
Last Updated: 07/09/21 5:32pm
With victory needed in the fifth Test at Old Trafford to avoid a series defeat to India, is it unthinkable that England will rest their greatest-ever bowler?
What about if that bowler is 39-years-old, had a heavier-than-hoped workload in the fourth Test, and is set to play an important role in probably his last Ashes series in the winter?
England have a big decision to make over James Anderson.
So far in this series, Anderson has bowled 163.3 overs, which is second only to team-mate Ollie Robinson (166.2) in the standings.
Only one fast bowler in the last decade – Anderson himself – has bowled more than 200 overs in a series for England, but Anderson and Robinson could both pass that if they play at Old Trafford. It is not just the cumulative effect over the whole series either. Anderson and Robinson both had a big workload in the fourth Test, particularly in the second innings when India batted for 148.2 overs. The last time England bowled that many overs in an innings was in New Zealand in November 2019 when Jofra Archer bowled a whopping 42 overs as the hosts batted for over two days. The quick turnaround from The Oval to Old Trafford – just four days in between the two Tests – makes recovery difficult.
“We’ll make smart decisions around that,” said England captain Joe Root when asked about Anderson after seeing his side fall behind again in the series. “I think you have to take everything into account, make sure that physically he’s in the right place to be able to play a Test match. And also that he makes sure he can get through it, because even with his quality, if he goes down injured, it leaves us in a very difficult place, not only for the rest of the game, but for the winter as well.
“We have to make sure we make the right calls. Ultimately, we’ve got to try and find a way of winning as well so it’s a delicate balancing act, one that we’ll try and make sure we get right.”
Anderson is the third-highest wicket-taker in the series so far with 15, behind Robinson (21) and Jasprit Bumrah (18). He will probably be keen to play at Old Trafford, where a stand is named after him, but is playing five Tests in six weeks wise at his age? Even though Anderson remains super-fit, he has already bowled more overs this year (337.5) than he did in 2019 and 2020 combined.
England head coach Chris Silverwood suggested that Anderson or Robinson might be rested for the fourth Test, but in the end, both played. “What I don’t want to do is break them,” Silverwood had said. “We’ve got a lot of cricket in front of us. The Tests are coming thick and fast now. It is difficult. These guys are giving everything, every day when we’re out on the field. We’ve got to make sure we’re looking after them.”
Now Silverwood has to balance putting his best team out to try and draw the series with again not “breaking” two of his most important bowlers, especially with Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes, Olly Stone already out of action.
“It’s something we have to keep an eye on but we had to try and win this Test and put our best foot forward going into the next one,” reflected Silverwood after defeat at The Oval.
“He [Anderson] and I will have a conversation together, he will have input into that without a shadow of a doubt, James knows his own body and he will certainly give me an honest opinion of where he is at, and it is certainly one I will listen to. I know he won’t want to miss any cricket but we have to look after him.”
One factor that may sway Silverwood’s decision is the long break between the end of the series and the Ashes. Anderson will not be playing in the T20 World Cup so is unlikely to feature again competitively until the Ashes get started on December 8 in Brisbane. That’s plenty of time to recover from tiredness and fatigue, although maybe not enough time to recover from an injury.
England vs India
September 10, 2021, 10:00am
There is also the chance that England will bounce back again in the series and beat India in relatively quick fashion at Old Trafford. Both batting line-ups have shown fragility, with India being dismissed for 78 and 191 in two of their previous four innings. If England can secure a quick finish then that would mean less work for Anderson.
With the series on the line, former England captain Nasser Hussain thinks the decision should be made with strong input from the bowlers.
“I am old fashioned so, looking ahead to the final Test, I would go up to James Anderson and Ollie Robinson and say ‘are you fit?’ If they said yes, I would play them. They can then rest up for the Ashes after that.
“If they break down, they break down but that is part of being a bowler. What I would have done is looked after them on day four at The Oval. When it was gun-barrel straight, you had Moeen Ali standing there on a fourth-day pitch. We didn’t bowl Moeen much and didn’t bowl Overton at all between lunch and tea. It was Anderson and Robinson again on a flat pitch.
“If you do play them, look after them. Bowling on flat pitches tears the backside out of some of these lads and Root needs to look after them.”
Root and Silverwood are clearly in a quandary. The last thing they will want is to head to the Ashes without Anderson available to them. Is keeping Anderson fit worth more than drawing the series against India? Or would a morale-boosting victory in the fifth Test be the perfect preparation before heading to Australia?
The sudden lack of options makes it even more difficult, although Mark Wood is available to come back into the side after missing the last two Tests. Root admits the job now is to “make sure that we’ve got an attack that can take 20 wickets at Old Trafford”.
Whether that includes Anderson or not remains to be seen.
Watch day one of the fifth Test, at Emirates Old Trafford, live from 10am on Friday on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event.