James Anderson revealed inspiration from former Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis is helping him prolong his career.
Aged 38 years and 177 days, Anderson became the oldest Test bowler to take five wickets or more in Asia with figures of six for 40 against Sri Lanka. The haul saw England dismiss the hosts for 381 in their first innings, ending day two on 98 for two in reply.
Not only was this Anderson’s 30th five-wicket haul, but it came from 29 overs across almost two days in baking heat at Galle. Within them were 13 maidens.
It was a nod to how England’s premier wicket-taker has maintained his brilliance with the ball while improving his fitness. Last year he credited lockdown for giving him the chance to recover fully from a rib injury sustained at the start of 2020 and then allowing him more time than usual to hone his body for the rigours of fast bowling.
As part of that, Anderson has studied footage of Lewis to pick up tips on developing a sleeker, less impacting running style. The American sprinter was famed for his light touch underfoot, winning nine Olympic gold medals across four different Games.
“I have done a lot of work in the gym and I have sort of got obsessed with watching sprinters as well,” said Anderson, who now has 606 Test wickets. “I am obsessed with Carl Lewis at the minute, watching him run. I don’t know if you can see a comparison with me chasing the ball to the boundary…
“It’s about trying to take pressure off my body. If I have got good technique doing stuff then hopefully muscle injuries don’t come around as much as they can do as you get older. I feel as though I can get quicker and that I can improve on my fitness, so I am trying to find ways of doing that.”
This is not the first crossover of English quick and American speedster. In December 2016, four-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson came across a BBC Sport tweet about Stuart Broad signing a new contract with his county Nottinghamshire. “That's great running technique!” commented Johnson on the accompanying picture of Broad, knees high, midway through his run-up.
That's great running technique! https://t.co/wXFz6CTIAL
— Michael Johnson (@MJGold) December 23, 2016
Anderson’s continuing excellence in his twilight years are evident in his numbers. Since turning 35, only three others have taken more than his 126 dismissals - Nathan Lyon (152), Pat Cummins (149) and Broad (142) - but none at a better average than his 20.47. His haul of 338 after the age of 30 would rank fourth of the leading English wicket-takers, a list which he tops outright.
While the rest of the world watches on in amazement as he continues to perform into his 19th year as an international cricketer, Anderson remains level.
“I don't think I'm surprising myself,” he said. The more work you do, the more effort you put in, the more rewards you get generally.
“I’ve worked really hard on my fitness the last 12 months. Lockdowns have actually helped that quite a bit. I feel in really good shape.
“I don't see why I can't keep improving just because I'm getting older. On the skills stuff, bowling in the nets here, seeing Stuart bowl in the first game use his leg-cutter really well, I've been working really hard to make sure those sorts of skills are up to scratch.
“The more work you put in, generally this game will give you rewards and that's how it felt the last couple of days.”
He did at least give himself a pat on the back for thriving in tough conditions. “The weather has been rocket hot and to bowl the amount of overs, get the wickets I've got and the rewards certainly feels very good.”
There is still more work to do over the next three days. England still have a 283-run deficit to overcome before trying to avoid defeat in this Test to take the series after winning the first match. Last week’s seven-wicket victory saw Broad put in an admirable display with three for 20 in the first innings, which set off Sri Lanka’s 135 all out.
Broad sat out here for Anderson as the selectors look to manage the workload of their marquee bowlers overseas with 15 more Tests to come in 2021. Could that be revised come Chennai on 5 February?
“I'd like to think so,” answered Anderson on the prospect of being reunited with his opening partner. “I’m sure the coach and captain have got their thoughts, the selectors will have their thoughts. All we can do as bowlers is try and perform when we're given the chance.”