Longevity almost the exclusive domain of batsmen, not bowlers

More than five years have passed between Makhaya Ntini playing his 100th Test and James Anderson doing likewise last week in the West Indies. This is significant because Anderson became the first fast bowler to reach that landmark since Ntini. In the interim, many batsmen have done the same.

James Anderson played in his 100th Test when England faced West Indies at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. in Antigua, Antigua and Barbuda. a milestone fewer and fewer bowlers are achieving. Michael Steele / Getty Images
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More than five years have passed between Makhaya Ntini playing his 100th Test and James Anderson doing likewise last week in the West Indies.

This is significant because Anderson became the first fast bowler to reach that landmark since Ntini.

In the interim, many batsmen have done the same.

So it is appropriate to laud Anderson for his endurance as much as anything else.

The modern game has exacerbated cricket’s historical proclivity to its batsmen.

Of the 15 most-capped Test players, 11 have been batsmen, one was a wicketkeeper-batsman and three have been ­spinners.

That is the way the game is constructed. The physicality of what fast bowlers do means batsmen will always outlast them.

Most of those batsmen played their 100th Tests in the past 15 years, as it is the modern game that requires them to play so many Tests.

Fast bowlers get there despite the modern game, where much is designed to prevent them achieving the milestone.

The next fast bowler to 100 Tests will likely be Dale Steyn.

He will be 32 on June 27, has 22 more Tests to reach the landmark and South Africa’s schedule suggests he should play his 100th Test in the first half of 2017.

That is, if he plays in most of those Tests. For a fast bowler, though, there are no guarantees.

AB de Villiers, younger than Steyn by eight months and on 98 Tests, debuted in the same Test as the fast bowler and will reach his century before the year is out.

Steyn is the best-placed bowler for the mark. His Australian counterpart, Mitchell Johnson, is unlikely to make it as he is 33 and needs 36 more Tests.

Anderson’s new-ball partner at England, Stuart Broad, turns 29 on June 24. He has played 75 Tests and, with England’s heavy schedule, should join Anderson soon enough, despite the fact he looks flogged out and he has for a while.

The 100-Test club for fast bowlers is a thin and uncertain club.

Beyond it there is only bowling debris, particularly in India and Pakistan where a multitude of promising careers have been derailed by the rigours of ­schedules.

Anderson is also representative of a scaling down of our expectations of fast bowlers, which, gradually, has made unthinkable the kind of devastating burst on which the legends of fast bowling are built, great demon spells in which sides are blown away.

It does happen still – Johnson had a phase last year when his periods of destruction matched some of the best and Steyn is endlessly capable of it.

But, overall, rare are the days when it feels like a fast bowler will tear through a side; not just work his way through, but really rip through it. It just does not happen. It is not to take away anything from Anderson or his ­achievement.

Like a latter-day Wasim Akram or Zaheer Khan, watching Anderson bowl these days is to watch a man explore and stretch his craft.

The joy is in the bowling: the shapes, the curves, the seam, the wrist, the set-ups, not necessarily in how many wickets he takes and how often.

He bowled well against the West Indies, but as England pushed for a win on the final day, there was the knowledge that, try as he might, Anderson’s skill might not be enough.

It was knowledge built up over the past decade and a half of cricket, that a No 8, in only his fourth Test, can – and will again – see off one of the best fast bowlers of the day with a maiden hundred in any long-form cricket.

Jason Holder is gifted and probably bats below his station. But more than these details, it was the bigger picture that denied Anderson and denies fast bowlers the world over.

It is not necessarily that they do not make fast bowlers like they used to.

It is that the game fast bowlers play is not the one they used to.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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