Welcome to The Spin, the Guardian’s weekly (and free) cricket newsletter. Here is an excerpt from this week’s issue. To get the full version every Wednesday, simply enter your email address below.
You are at the top of your brand. Breath in, breath out. Here you go again. You are at your preferred pavilion end. This is your 26th time playing a test at Lord’s. A while back you didn’t really know if you would play here or somewhere else. You don’t think of that. You don’t think of the first time, a first time in Test cricket that made you feel numb, an over that lasted 17 runs, mostly because there wasn’t a good leg – thanks, Nasser. They don’t think about the first wicket (Mark Vermeulen) or the last (Marcus Harris) or the other 638.
They don’t think about how you, a shy kid from Burnley, a cricket mad boy who used to study Shaun Pollock and Peter Martin and copied parts of their bowling action, ended up here at the Home of Cricket with all eyes on you . Here’s where you took 110 wickets, the scene of your Test-best numbers of seven for 42, your 500th Test wicket – Kraigg Brathwaite rolling emphatically on a perfect afternoon in the fading sunlight.
It used to be that you just bowled as fast as you could, a tearaway quick with frosted tips. You were never really sure back then, either about yourself or your role. If you tried to hit helmets or toes or anywhere in between. They were told, “Don’t worry about where it’s going, just bowl fast.”
That need or desire for speed ended up breaking you. Fiddle with your action and throw yourself off balance. years lost. Your talents are hampered by speed-hungry bowling coaches who engage you in a war with yourself rather than in competition with the batsman. Until enough was enough. You will do it your way, just like you used to do. Just like you did as a kid.
You don’t think about the years you’ve spent honing your craft. The feel of the ball in your hand. Your tense wrist, the seam rests in your fingers. The feeling when you release the ball from their tips, sometimes gently like an invoker revealing a dove, sometimes emphasized, sometimes with a knowing tweak, a flourish, turning a key in a lock or deadheading a rose.
You don’t think about how much it hurts, of course it hurts. You are 39 years old, it is not easy and you would not wish it to be. You enjoy the pain. That moment in the morning when you wake up and you’re dead tired. Your body hums with a dull ache, you find it almost soothing. Satisfying. The physical signs of a job well done. You might get into that effortless, zen-like state, a “hilarious” feeling you can sometimes tap into while bowling, all in sync, “like he’s got the ball on a string,” they say sometimes. You don’t think of that.
You have your plans and you know exactly what you are going to do. The outsider. Your stock ball. The ace in hand, the delivery from which everything else emerges, every plan, every deception. Inswinger, reverse swinger, off cutter, leg cutter, wobble seam, slower ball, knuckleball. They tilt the seam tiny degrees like a sailor catching a gust of wind, using latitude, longitude, and Lancashire nous.
You don’t think about it, but you know how lucky you are to have played for so long, to have remained largely injury-free. You feel with the young bowlers falling like dominoes on stress fractures, you’ve been there, corseted for six weeks, unable to do anything. It’s frustrating, maddening. You came back, so hopefully they will too.
They don’t think about who will share the new ball at Nursery End. It might be Stuart, it might not. He’s your #1 partner, Sundance to your Butch, but you’ve played with a lot of guys over the years. Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard, and Darren Gough, James Kirtley, Martin Bicknell, Kabir Ali, Darren Pattinson, Ryan Sidebottom. You don’t think about the fact that you’ve played Test cricket with Ed Smith and Rob Key, that you’ve sacked your new coach, Brendon McCullum, three times.
You don’t think about the other 36,396 times you’ve done this. You only live the next six seconds, 12 steps. A ball.
You can vaguely hear the crowd, the “Oh, Jimmy Jimmy” leading into a sad trill from Jerusalem. You’re on your way. Small steps into big steps. The wind in your hair, now mottled gray instead of peroxide. The breeze on the back of your light but muscular shoulders. A blurred green, creams and crowd swirl around the edges to form a color palette as your vision begins to focus like a gun’s rifle.
640 times that has led you to a wicket, 35,756 times not. You’ve been hit 17,014 times and hated every single one.
Her eyes are casually focused on the dough, the crease line, the tip of the stump. Your body is in motion and your mind is completely free. you think of nothing You arrive at the fold, enter your assembly, your action. You remember to lift your last finger from the seam and let go.
Your head lowers, as it always does when you exert yourself. For a split second you lose the ball as the turf comes into view, you raise your head back, recalibrate, aim for the flight of the ball you just delivered.
You are Jimmy Anderson. you bowl it is what you do
Support from Mondli Khumalo
When it comes down to it, the cricket community gathers, and for now, they’re all at Mondli Khumalo. The former South Africa U19 star remains in a medically-induced coma at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, where he has since suffered a fractured skull in an attack in Bridgwater in the early hours of Sunday. He had celebrated victory for his club side North Petherton CC the previous Saturday.
Three times since his admission, 20-year-old Khumalo has had emergency surgery to remove clots caused by bleeding in his brain. The latest of these came Tuesday afternoon after a period of relative stability. Khumalo’s agent Rob Humphries and teammate Lloyd Irish were at his bedside the entire time. On Tuesday, they were asked more than once to have “a moment” with Khumalo as doctors could not confirm he would pull through. Luckily he did and remains stable.
The club have set up a donation page to fund Khumalo’s recovery, with Trade Nation pledged to donate £50 for all six and £150 for each ball hit the ground in Somerset’s T20 clash with Glamorgan on Friday night.