Kraigg Brathwaite has written his name into history. It happened in dramatic fashion, when his forward drive was beaten by a thrilling inswinger/nip-backer type thing that smashed into his middle and off stumps. It was a wicket that signed off on the bowler's career - not that the career is over, just that James Anderson has bowled more thrilling deliveries than most others who have played the game and this one beautifully illustrated his collection .
It was, of course, Anderson's 500th Test match wicket: a tremendous achievement. He may or may not be England's finest ever seam and swing bowler but it doesn't much matter either way, he's bloody good and the record book reflects exactly that. Only Glenn McGrath and Courtney Walsh, among fast men, have taken more Test match wickets and, seriously, one is inclined to back Anderson to pass them. He is fit, strong and eager. Nothing of his ability has waned, not even the yard of pace that went AWOL awhile ago.
The first of the 500 was on this same ground at around about the same time in the evening of a late May day, 14 years ago. It was the 18th ball Jimmy bowled in Test cricket and the victim was Mark Vermeulen of Zimbabawe who, like Brathwaite, heard in horror the death rattle behind him.
You might then have thought him to be a promising talent but you'd have been a bullish sort to have suggested he would sail pass Fred Trueman and Ian Botham. They, and only they, can be compared with Anderson. Bob Willis, the other English leather-flinger with more than 300 to his name, was more about pace, bounce and line than movement in the air. Bob was magnificent for England but never quite the craftsman in the way of Trueman, Botham and Anderson.
Much goes into the art of fast bowling, not least stamina. The body is subjected to immense impact and strain. The hips, knees and ankles take a daily pounding; the back, particularly the lower back in the sacroiliac area, is forever under review. It is an art that requires deep concentration from a practitioner whose mind is engaged and able to withstand the outrageous fortune that so often leans the way of the willow-wielder. Even the laws favour the batsmen, for the umpires are bound by a mythical code that has overridden the game since the days of stick, stone and wicket gate, demanding they, and they alone, should receive the benefit of doubt. It is not written anywhere - never has been - but it is a given, as is the fact that the game loves its batsmen.
Who said the following? "There are a lot of tips about how to get good at fast bowling: hip drive, use of the left arm, flow of the run-up, good speed, strength at the crease, control, head still, energy going down. But you have to have that something else ...Your whole body has to work in sync to get the ball down to the other side at maximum pace, so I need to make sure all my energy is behind the ball. That means my wrist needs to be behind the ball. An easy way to tell is, am I landing it on the seam or am I missing the seam? If I'm hitting the seam, my wrist is good. Wrist is everything."
Not Jimmy actually, but Dale Steyn. At his most menacing, Steyn is quicker than Anderson but does not have quite the mastery of the inswinger. Steyn is a little skiddier too, whereas Anderson gets that awkward kick from an iota back of a length. Let's hear from Steyn again.
"The pitch doesn't matter at all. I prefer bowling on low, slow wickets like in India, as opposed to bowling at the WACA, where there is big pace and bounce. I know my economy rate will be low; I have the possibility of the ball reversing; it will squat; I can bowl those fast cutters; I can bowl straighter lines. Maybe at the WACA you have to bowl slightly outside off stump. The difference between a good fast bowler and a brilliant fast bowler is the wickets column."
So Jimmy has nailed the wickets column. Having knocked over Brathwaite yesterday afternoon, he found a killer ball for Kieran Powell that angled in from around the wicket, pitched on a perfectly upright seam and zipped away to trim the off bail. This was a ball from some other place, a piece of artistry that drew gasps as the replays filtered around the ground and away into cricket's global ether.
Anderson was always an outswing bowler but one senses that he has had the most fun since mastering the inswinger. It was as if Pandora's Box had opened before his eyes and its evil secrets were his for display. Given he bowled his outswingers with that idiosyncratic drop of the head away to the left side of his body, the inswinger was easy enough to disguise and now he frequently outrhinks his opponent with the old one-two - a couple of outers and then the spearing innner.
It is a fantastic skill to bowl at good speed and swing the ball away. It is as if there is magic in the wrist and springs in the heels. Let's hear from Anderson: "I've worked really hard at the skill element of what I do and at studying the way different batsmen look to counter me. I've worked at fitness and flexibility and, yes, I'd like to go on for as long as I can justify a place and am enjoying playing. I suppose if you're taking wickets, you're going to enjoy it." Are Walsh and McGrath in sight? "I hope so!"
Writing about him at Old Trafford a month or so ago, I was struck by his relationship with the crowd. To them he is a truly heroic figure, a no-nonsense sportsman of charismatic ability and inspirational effect. Lancashire had chosen to name the Pavilion End of the ground after him and this match was the first in which he was able to push off from a place given his name. He is a Burnley boy, one of the county's own and much loved for it. The noise, the affection, the motivation that day was really something:
Like the crowd at the Colliseum, Manchester roars as Anderson turns to face his enemy. The volume increases with each skip and reaches a deafening crescendo as Dean Elgar plays at a full ball that whistles past the edge of his bat and the stumps too. Two balls later he is not so lucky. Anderson is possessed. Responding to the cacophony and recognising the moment, he tears in to deliver a perfectly cruel inswinger that smashes into Elgar's front pad. 20,000 people, one of whom is Anderson himself, scream a blood-thirsty pleasure to the umpire. The usually impassive Aleem Dar is moved to respond and, like the Emperors of Rome, he slowly unveils his hand of judgement. This is not a thumb that points north or south but a finger that signals the death of all batsmen, however good, at one time or another. Elgar does not bother to review. Anderson has number 481 pinned to his wall. The celebration is as electric as the reaction of the crowd. He arches back, fists clenched by his side, face tight with effort, emotion and joy, vessels expanding from his neck and cheeks. He is a warrior. The circle of life favours him. By the close he has three more victims, each crushed by desire and excellence.
Being Lord's and being a damp day, this afternoon's number 500 was a little less electric than number 481 at Old Trafford. The moment did not, however, lack a sense of occasion and afterwards Jimmy said how special it was to have got across the line at Lord's, of all places. He is not given to hyperbole, so one can only imagine how he felt deep down within the flesh and bones that have held him together, the heart that his driven him on and the soul that made it all possible in the first place. Bravo Jimmy. Bravo.