With England having wrapped up the series in Southampton itself, fans flocked the Oval in huge numbers for two main reasons — to give their much loved former skipper Alastair Cook a fitting farewell and hope to witness James Anderson break Glenn McGrath’s record as the most successful pacer in Test history.
On an action-packed final day where KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant were going great guns and the pitch not offering much help for swing and seam, it seemed like the fans would just get one wish and Anderson may have to wait till winter to touch 564. He had bowled 13 straight overs without success, Jonny Bairstow had dropped Ravindra Jadeja off his bowling in that marathon spell late in the day and Sam Curran had picked up two quick wickets at the other end.
Anderson, with just one Indian wicket left, however, refused to give up. Knowing that the 14th over could be his last, the 36-year-old battle-hardened veteran willed himself for one final tilt. He delivered a peach to send Mohammed Shami’s middle stump cartwheeling. As England celebrated the moment, the relief on Anderson’s face was there for everyone to see.
“I think when the catch went down behind the wicket I thought it wasn’t going to happen. I guess my mum and dad will be happy because they don’t have to come to Sri Lanka!” said Anderson after the match. “I have said this throughout my career that when I finish, it will mean a hell of a lot to me to be able to see what I have achieved. But right now it’s hard when you just put all your energy into the present and try to perform well for England, that’s all I really focus on.”
When the series started, there were questions on whether Anderson could last the distance. In the wrong side of the 30s and injuries taking a toll, one expected the veteran to rest his battered body in between. But he played all five matches and ended up being the highest wicket-taker of the series with 24 scalps. When asked if the thought of retirement has crossed his mind having scaled a major peak, Anderson said he doesn’t think too far ahead.
“I don’t really think about it. I play my best when I focus on what’s ahead of me, the next game, the next series, whatever. I go away now, we have a decent break before Sri Lanka, I’ll try to get myself in the best condition possible to cope with the rigours of bowling seam in Sri Lanka, which could be tough. Then we’ll see how it goes.
“I read something that Glenn McGrath said that he went into the 2006 Ashes with no intention of retiring and by the end of it he thought his time was up. That could happen to me. Who knows? I don’t like looking too far ahead. I don’t think it helps me or the team either, when we look too far ahead, whether it’s in a session or a day or a game. If you look too far ahead you take your eye off.”
An emotional Anderson said he’ll miss the comforting shoulders of his friend Cook. “For me he’s been a very good friend but he’s been someone I look up to. His work ethic and the way he conducts himself, he’s a real idol not just to me but to the rest of the team. He’ll be missed in that respect. We’ll still be very good friends going forward but I’ll just miss him on tours, in dressing rooms. Just that shoulder to lean on when it’s not going that well. Even on the field he’s someone I go to, because he stands at first slip and knows my game really well. I guess I was emotional because he’s not going to be there for those times anymore.”