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NASSER HUSSAIN: It was my privilege to hand genius Jimmy Anderson his first England cap 17-years ago

When you have the privilege as captain of handing a young player his first England cap, as I did Jimmy Anderson more than 17 years ago, you have no idea how far he will go.

It would certainly have been ridiculous to think he would play 156 Tests and take 600 wickets.

But what you do know, if you have any kind of gut feel, is that you have a highly-skilled cricketer on your hands and I quickly realised I had never seen a young English bowler quite like Anderson. He was unique in being able to swing the ball so late and in both directions.

Almost immediately he would bamboozle our batsmen in the nets and he quickly bamboozled the Pakistan batsmen under lights in Cape Town in that 2003 World Cup.

What I didn’t know then was how Jimmy would progress and where he has had a bit of luck is that he has stayed pretty much injury free apart from that early period when it was suggested to him by the England hierarchy that he change his action to be preventative.

That backfired and he did get injured but once Anderson went back to the action that came so naturally he has pretty much been fine. 

What we haven’t seen is all the hard work and training that sees him still, at 38, a perfect physical specimen for bowling.

Where he was certainly fortunate was coming along in the early years of central contracts because both Jimmy and Stuart Broad have been products of the benefits of becoming full-time England bowlers.

He has 600 Test wickets and only another 375 first-class victims, and before contracts it would be the other way round. This is the way it should be because great bowlers should be taking the bulk of their wickets for England.

The rest of it comes down to sheer hard work and desire, especially being a fast bowler. There must have been so many days when Jimmy has dragged himself out of bed following a day’s Test cricket with every part of his body hurting and there must have been times when he has asked himself whether he still wanted to go through it all.

Bowling fast is bloody hard work because our bodies are not made to run in one way and hurl it down at up to 90 miles per hour. Jimmy has done that for England for more than 17 years and has shown a phenomenal mental toughness to do so.

Jimmy was a very quiet, shy lad when I first captained him. He was literally just out of Burnley Cricket Club and the Lancashire second team and even though he hasn’t changed much over the years he is a lot more confident in himself these days.

Anderson remains a master of his craft. He will set up a batsman brilliantly by bowling length, length, length and then producing a full delivery they will nick off. 

At Sky we will do a pitch map and ask why Jimmy is not bowling fuller but then we will realise that he is waiting to lure a batsman into a big booming drive that proves their downfall.

When England’s old bowling coach David Saker said Anderson was the most skilful bowler in the world a few years ago people raised their eyebrows because Dale Steyn was at his peak and No 1 in the world but Saker knew exactly what he was saying.

Even Steyn himself, when he came on one of our podcasts during lockdown, said for the first time how much he admired the skill of Anderson. Everyone talks about the importance of the wrist to a great bowler but with Jimmy the way he gets his fingers behind the ball and delivers with the seam up is pure magic.

This really is an incredible achievement. Jimmy is so far ahead of every other seamer in Test history and if you look at his career graph his returns are simply not diminishing at all. 

At an age when most of his contemporaries are putting their feet up he is actually getting better.

All he has had is that one ‘bad’ game against Pakistan at Old Trafford earlier this season and in truth even that wasn’t that bad. It was just that Jimmy was judging himself by the very highest standards he has set for himself. And we can allow him that.

I love the fact he is still grumpy. Don’t ever try to take that away from him because it makes him the cricketer he is. Some players wear their heart on their sleeve and Anderson has always shown his passion for taking wickets for England on the field.

How long can he go on for? Well, I would keep him going for as long as possible because we will never see his like again. We know how good he is now but we will really know it when he is not there demonstrating his unique skills for England.

Jimmy Anderson is still on a different level. He’s just a freak. It was an honour to give him that first England cap, it’s been a pleasure to watch him take all those wickets firstly alongside him but mostly from the commentary box.

And it was an honour to be one of the few there on Tuesday to see him reach a quite magnificent milestone.

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