It is now less than a month until the start of the international summer. The first Investec Test, against Sri Lanka at Headingley starting on Thursday May 19, will stir a few mixed memories for England’s senior players and especially Jimmy Anderson – in the equivalent fixture two years ago, his defiant rearguard action ended agonisingly short of salvaging a draw.
Across the Pennines at Anderson’s home county ground of Emirates Old Trafford this week, the Lancastrian and his international new-ball partner Stuart Broad made their first appearances of the summer – and from an England point of view, the signs were highly encouraging.
Admittedly, there was some mischievous press box speculation on the second afternoon that the pair might go through the match without taking a wicket between them. But even then, Anderson had improved steadily, and been increasingly unlucky not to break through, in his 16 overs in Nottinghamshire’s first innings – and Broad had shown some encouraging signs with the bat, with 43 from 45 balls.
Broad then took three of Lancashire’s last six wickets, including the extra satisfaction of having Anderson edging to Chris Read. But Anderson was to make a more decisive contribution to the outcome either side of lunch on day three, breaking Nottinghamshire’s opening stand by removing Steven Mullaney’s off stump, and then pinning Riki Wessels lbw.
He ended with figures of 22.5-9-29-3, and won plaudits from a knowledgeable opponent when the England team-mates met on the square for a Sky Sports News interview before the start of day four.
— Lancashire CCC (@LancsCCC) April 19, 2016
“Jimmy’s bowled fantastically well,” said Broad. “There’s not much pace in the pitch so the edges aren’t really carrying, and you have to bowl at the stumps.”
Even Anderson was surprised to find himself bowling an 11-over spell from the Pavilion End in the afternoon session. “It was one of those where you find yourself having one more, then another, then another,” he explained, much as he had done during his match-winning performance at a humid Trent Bridge in the first Test of the 2013 Investec Ashes series. “But it felt pretty good, considering it’s early season.”
He was also feeling “surprisingly good” when he met Broad on the square the following morning. That was the first time they had spoken during the match. “Jimmy’s been his normal smiley self,” Broad joked. “I don’t talk to him much when we’re playing for England,” Anderson responded.
But they had both enjoyed the contest, despite the spring chill of the first two days. “Monday was the coldest I’ve ever been on a cricket pitch,” Broad confirmed.
“It’s been good to play in a high-quality Championship match, with other international bowlers like Jackson Bird and Neil Wagner, and on a Test-quality pitch,” Anderson said.
— David Fulton (@DaveTavFulton) April 20, 2016
“Lancashire have always been good to me so it’s good to have the chance to play a few games in early season, and hopefully do my bit in getting the team off to a good start.”
Certainly the commitment of Anderson and Broad was unmistakeable, whether in Anderson’s growing exasperation as he searched for that first wicket, or Broad’s crossness when Luke Procter survived a top-edged hook to long-leg in the second innings. And for young players on either side, such as Lancashire’s recent England Under-19 graduate Haseeb Hameed or Nottinghamshire’s rising England Lions star Jake Ball, the experience of playing against or alongside Anderson and Broad must be priceless.
They both have a week’s break now as Lancs and Notts miss out on the next round of fixtures in the Specsavers County Championship, which should feature Ben Stokes’s first appearance of the season for Durham against Middlesex at the Emirates Riverside, and a heavyweight clash between Warwickshire and Yorkshire at Edgbaston.
Then Anderson will head down to Taunton for Lancashire’s game against Somerset, and a contest with an old Ashes rival Chris Rogers, while Broad will welcome Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and the rest of Yorkshire’s star-studded team to Trent Bridge in a game that will be televised by Sky Sports, with Alex Hales available for the first time this season to boost the Notts batting line-up.
With all the other England Test incumbents and hopefuls in action, there should be plenty more talking points over the next few weeks of county cricket. And with Bairstow, Alastair Cook and even Liam Plunkett already in the runs, England are on course to be nicely primed when they face Sri Lanka in Leeds.