James Anderson became only the third pacer to join the illustrious 500-club © Getty Images
James Anderson became only the third pacer to join the illustrious 500-club © Getty Images

In my life spanning over eleven-and-a-half thousand days, there have been a handful I will truly cherish and recall with extreme fondness. November 19, 2011 was one such. Dressed in a crisp white shirt and jet-black trousers, I was at the Mumbai International Airport to receive James Anderson and Jonathan Trott for CEAT Cricket Rating Awards. I had the privilege of meeting Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and a young Virat Kohli the night before.

Anderson’s number buzzed on my phone. I provided him with my location with some anxiety. A few minutes later, there stood two gentlemen whom I had only seen on television and admired their skills. Soft-spoken, polite and strikingly handsome, Anderson greeted me, as did Trott, as the chauffer helped them with their luggage, and our journey to South Mumbai began…

***

Three months prior, Anderson had played a huge role in thwarting my plans. India’s World Cup triumph was a big moment. My then organisation — PMG, a sports management firm, co-owned by Sunil Gavaskar — had come up with a novel idea of coming up with a book Unforgettable Moments in Indian Cricket. Chosen as co-writer, I had worked hard on it from May to July; we had set a tentative release date in end- August, during the India-England ODI series.

Anderson and his partner-in-crime Stuart Broad dismantled the Indians touring England that summer. Broad claimed 25 wickets at 13.84 while Anderson supported him with 21 at just over 25. The 0-4 whipping was one of the lowest points in Indian cricket. The book release had to be cancelled, and this dude had played a big role for that.

I had forgiven him. He remains amongst my favourite cricketers…

I couldn’t help the nostalgia getting the better of me. My mind raced back to the tri-series in Australia in 2002-03 when I saw Anderson for the first time. A couple of months back, during the FIFA World Cup, the avid David Beckham fan in me had been rooting for the English. Now, here was a talented man from the same county — Lancashire — who strikingly resembled my football hero.

Anderson had looked decent till the Adelaide match, when England, defending 153 against the world-class Australians, made it tough for the hosts. Anderson seemed impossible to score off: he registered figures of 10-6-12-1.

Then came that unforgettable World Cup tie at Cape Town. Fans remember it for Shoaib Akhtar breaking the 100-mile barrier and top-scoring for Pakistan despite batting at No. 11. Defending 247, England shot out Pakistan for 134, Anderson was bowling bananas with the white ball. He dismissed Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf (then Yousuf Youhana) off consecutive deliveries. He bagged figures of 10-2-29-4.

Anderson celebrates the wicket of Inzamam-ul-Haq at Cape Town during the 2003 World Cup group match.© Getty Images
Anderson celebrates the wicket of Inzamam-ul-Haq at Cape Town during the 2003 World Cup group match © Getty Images

The study gaps during board exams helped me watch most of the matches. It was due to these gaps that I could watch witness of Anderson. I wouldn’t be recalling them today otherwise.

Anderson, then 21, was England’s star in yet-another miserable World Cup campaign but it made me want to see more of him, but with the red ball.

Lord’s was the venue and making his Test debut came in 2003 summer. I remember the five-for against Zimbabwe quite vividly…

***

Trott had a lot to look around in Mumbai while ‘Jimmy’ stayed composed. I had no clue on how to break the ice. I had interacted a lot with Kohli the night before but here I was getting a bit overawed with the situation.

He was a very good bowler, I thought at that stage. At that point he had played 63 Tests and bagged 240 wickets at 30.57. To be honest, never did it cross my mind even at that stage that six years later he would end up bagging his 500th Test wicket.

We were crossing Santa Cruz. Jimmy looked at the under-construction Sahara Star Hotel and broke the ice, “Hey Suvajit, is this a new stadium coming up?”

“No Jimmy. It’s a hotel,” I said.

“Is it? Interesting. It looks like The Colosseum.”

Trott was busy clicking pictures with his iPhone.

With an almost child-like enthusiasm, Jimmy asked, “Can we see Shahrukh Khan’s house on our way to the hotel?” (What?)

“That’s not on the way actually. It’s on the other side of the town. But if you insist, we definitely can,” I replied.

“Don’t bother. How about the Ambani house?”

“Yeah, sure; that’s on the way.”

At the Worli Sea Face we saw a taxi with at least 10 members, mostly children, whizzing past. The driver lowered the window glass and spat out the chewed beetle leaf that resembled blood red.

“Did he spit out blood?” an alarmed Trott asked.

“It’s some leaf or powder, right?” Jimmy confirmed.

“Yes. It’s the beetle leaf. We call it paan,” I was enjoying this.

Mukesh Ambani’s Anitlia soon arrived. We parked the car on the road-side…

“Are you kidding me, Suvajit? This is a house for a single family?” asked Jimmy.

“Yes, and it’s the most expensive one in the world. It’s valued over a billion US dollars!”

“So that means even MS [Dhoni] can’t afford it with his big IPL contracts?” a curious Trott asked.

Jimmy wanted to step out and click a picture of the building. At this stage I had to intervene: “Please, Jimmy, do not step out on the streets. I am not trained to handle mobs. Welcome to India!”

I clicked the photograph for them.

The rest of the journey was filled with interesting conversations, ranging from Bollywood to IPL to why cricket is a religion in this land.

***

They checked in at the Trident, Nariman Point. I spoke of the horrors the very lobby witnessed three years prior on November 26. Jimmy was aware. He was a part of the English side that had been touring India then. It was an unsuccessful tour for him but he knew of the horrors that forced England to return.

We spent the afternoon at the pool. There were a few interviews lined up. India were set to tour Australia in December. While half the media were focused on Tendulkar’s 100th international hundred, the other half were keen to take insights from the mind of Jimmy, who had claimed 24 wickets in the Ashes 2010-11 at 26, and was one of the chief architects of England’s rare triumph Down Under.

“I think Australia is a bit weak at the moment. Do you think India can beat Australia Down Under?” I asked Jimmy.

He thought for a moment before replying: “I am not sure of that. India will not win if they play the way they did in England. Despite the transition, Australia are formidable at home. Your experienced batters will have to be at their best. But Zaheer [Khan] has the right skills. He has to lead the pack of bowlers in Australia. I follow Zaheer because of his skills and I learned to hide the ball from him.”

Zaheer had broken down on the first day of the England tour earlier that year, at Lord’s. He played no further role in India’s disastrous 0-4 campaign. Jimmy was honest enough to cite that as a reason for England’s edge.

“India were partly unlucky to not get Zaheer’s service in England,” he admitted.

Before all that, India had to take on West Indies in the third Test at Mumbai. The news headlines read: Will Sachin Tendulkar get his 100th international hundred at his home turf in Mumbai?”

Trivia: Tendulkar came close but was dismissed for 94 by Ravi Rampaul.

“I would hate to be Sachin. That thing [the 100th hundred] has been haunting him since England,” Anderson told me at the pool.

“You are partly to be blamed for tormenting our master,” I quipped.

He smiled and chuckled with modesty.

Tendulkar had remained century-less at Lord’s. Jimmy trapped him leg before for 12 in what turned out to be his last innings at Lord’s. Four days later, at Trent Bridge, Tendulkar again fell prey to Jimmy’s inswing.

Anderson claimed Tendulkar's wicket 9 times in Tests © Getty Images
Anderson claimed Tendulkar’s wicket 9 times in Tests © Getty Images

Andrew Flintoff had famously remarked once that while he wanted to get Tendulkar out on the field, a part of him also wanted to impress the batsman and earn his respect. Fellow Lancastrian Anderson is a different breed.

A year later, ahead of touring India, Anderson famously wrote in his Daily Mail column: “I cannot relate directly to what Freddie said, but I know what he is getting at. I do know that people have said they love watching him bat, and maybe too much of that kind of admiration could dull your competitive edge.

“I’ve never been aware of succumbing to that myself but maybe subconsciously, because you respect him for what he has done in the game — 100 international centuries is some achievement — and the way he has conducted himself, you want to get him to respect you back.

“The Sachin factor is quite something to experience. I’ve played in games here in which the Indian supporters seem more interested in his batting than how their team are doing, when Sachin getting out is the signal for a mass exodus.

“I will be seeking to make myself pretty unpopular with the locals in the weeks ahead. The bottom line is that we treat everyone with the same respect, whether they’ve played one Test or 100 — and that goes for trying to earn their respect, too.”

When I read this. I believed the lines. He is truly your-regular-shy-neighbour-Jimmy off the field. On it, he metamorphoses into a giant called James Anderson.

Trivia: In a span of 6 years, Anderson dismissed Tendulkar 9 times in Test cricket, the most by any bowler.

***

Now comes Walsh

That evening, Trott was dressed in a crisp suit. I had another guest to entertain — a man as calm as they make them: Courtney Walsh. We were at the bar, watching an EPL game and waiting for Anderson. The clocked ticked 6.30 and the chauffer was waiting. Anderson wasn’t taking calls.

Trott requested a hotel staff to go and knock. Walsh was calm. The big Jamaican was fine with waiting.

Anderson rushed to the lobby at 6.50, his eyes still red. He kept seemed to stop apologising: “Jet lagged. I really apologise to all of you.”

He was even more embarrassed that Walsh had to almost wait for an hour because of him. He greeted Walsh and it seemed they were interacting for the first time.

***

We headed to CCI for the event. I also had to attend to Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina and Kohli. RK was the host for the evening. I patted myself on the back as the script for the show was penned by me. There was a galaxy of stars present at the ceremony and it ended by 9.30.

Yes, Kohli and Anderson were a few seats apart.

Trott won the International Cricketer of the Year and Batsman of the Year awards; Anderson bagged the award for the Best International Bowler; and Walsh received a Lifetime Achievement award.

From left: James Anderson, Jonattan Trott and Courtney Walsh © Getty Images
From left: James Anderson, Jonattan Trott and Courtney Walsh © Getty Images

My manager asked me to take Walsh, Trott and Jimmy to the hotel for the dinner. Walsh wanted Asian cuisine while Jimmy and Trott were fine with anything that was not spicy. We decided on Thai curry and rice. Despite requesting the hotel staff to make it as mild as possible, Trott’s shiny forehead was sweating in minutes’ time.

Trott and I sat on one side of the table. Walsh and Jimmy were facing us. The three gentlemen were courteous enough to include me in their conversations.

“What’s you favourite football club?” Jimmy asked me.

“Manchester United. I bet you follow them too. You are a Lancastrian,” I replied.

“That’s so mainstream. No, I don’t support them. In India everyone is like United or Chelsea,” Jimmy replied before naming his favourite club, “Burnley FC. My home.”

“Mine is Tottenham Hotspurs,” Trott said with a wink.

Jimmy was curious to know about Chris Gayle’s ouster from West Indies cricket and queried Walsh about the baffling decisions Caribbean cricket keep taking. Walsh was extremely supportive of his fellow Jamaican and mentioned how corrupt cricket had turned in West Indies and how the likes of Gayles are victimised.

They did not exchange bowling notes, but Jimmy mentioned how he had always admired Walsh for the longevity. It isn’t easy for a fast bowler to play that long. Walsh mentioned on the importance of taking care of the body. Anderson had his bouts with injuries in mid-2000s.

Meanwhile, Trott was busy querying about England’s schedule to India next year and what the temperatures were likely to be at that time. I was busy scaring him with the heat stories while Anderson took notes of longevity from Walsh.

The English boys had a late night flight to catch. Walsh, in India for a commentary assignment, had to leave for his hotel in the western suburbs. I was settling the bill at the lobby when Jimmy walked to me with his credit card.

“If there’s something extra. I can settle it,” he said politely.

“Not at all. You are our guest. I will have it,” I replied.

“Are you sure, Suvajit? I see you are paying by your card. Will your company reimburse?” Jimmy was concerned.

“They definitely will,” I assured.

The chauffer was ready. The gentlemen stepped in. There were goodbyes. I wished them luck and vice-versa. Jimmy smiled at Walsh and ‘thanked’ him.

Six years on…

Recalling that day, I spent the entirety with a fine batsman and two out of three pacers to have entered the 500-wicket club in Tests.

The tips and the wishes of luck seemed to work. Since then, Anderson has played 66 Tests and has bagged 266 wickets at 24.51.

He was a bowler who mastered the out-swing. Ask Kohli about it.

Shai Hope, West Indies’ hero at Headingley, got a peach. Watch:

However, his rise as a bowler who could nip it in sharply back made him stand apart. Ask Tendulkar about it. It was fitting that he reached the milestone 500 in a dramatic way when he beat the other Headingley hero Kraigg Brathwaite’s forward stroke with one that nipped in and smashed the off and middle.

And here is the 501st.

Anderson seems to be ripening with age, keeping in tune the wine we had that night. He may not be a direct entry to England’s All-Time XI. Even if he manages to topple the names Bob Willis, Fred Truman, Brian Statham, Frank Tyson, John Snow and Ian Botham; what about the George Lohmanns and Sydney Barnes?

With numbers, the criteria of longevity should also be a considered factor while measuring greatness. Jimmy excels in looking after himself and where fast bowlers begin perishing while approaching mid-30s. This man is the new entrant to the No.1 spot in Test bowlers’ ranking.

His place in this illustrious club is safe.

Bowlers

M W Ave BBI SR

5WIs

Muttiah Muralitharan 133 800 22.72 9/51 55.0 67
Shane Warne 145 708 25.41 8-71 57.4 37
Anil Kumble 132 619 29.65 10/74 65.9 35
Glenn McGrath 124 563 21.64 8/24 51.9 29
Courtney Walsh 132 519 24.44 7/37 57.8 22
James Anderson 129 506 27.39 7/42 55.8 24

Anderson has bowled mostly in a batsman-dominated Test era. What is impressive apart from the fact that he is getting better with age.

Cometh the Ashes 2017-18, Anderson will have his targets set to Glenn McGrath’s number. By the end of 2018 season, 563 definitely looks in vicinity.

Like that November night, ‘Good luck, Jimmy.’