This is surely not quite the end of James Anderson's indefatigable, incredible international career. If he's still got the hunger to push for yet another comeback (and he certainly gave that impression in tweeting that he expected to be back from his rib injury in "weeks") then he demonstrated beyond all doubt at Cape Town that he's still got the form.

But nevertheless, Anderson's departure from England's tour of South Africa might yet prove to be the final send-off for a significant and much-debated subset of a truly great Test career. Is this the last hurrah for his overseas Test record - one of the great injustices of public perception?

For Anderson had already signalled his intention to skip the tour of Sri Lanka in the spring - a trip for which he may not now be fit, but where the spin-dominant conditions had left him with a walk-on role in last year's 3-0 series win. And as for that ultimate unsated ambition, the next tour of Australia (no country for old men at the best of times), that does not come around until 2021-22. He will be into his 40th year by then, and no matter how willing his spirit may be, it would be quite some indictment of England's bowling resources if he was called upon to lead the line for a fifth Ashes tour.

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And so, could this be it? If so, it was quite a way to go - becoming, at the age of 37 years and 159 days, the oldest England seamer to claim a five-wicket haul since Freddie Brown in 1951 (and Brown, a habitual legspinner, had only been bowling seam-up that day to exploit the damp Melbourne conditions). Not only did Anderson prove, for the umpteenth time, that he could do it overseas, he did so at an age when most self-respecting quick bowlers are eyeing up a comfy chair in the commentary box in exchange for a few "in my day" anecdotes.

But instead of the easy option of a well-deserved retirement, Anderson has now hoovered up 216 wickets at 32.05 in 67 Tests outside of England, which is more than John Snow (202) or Angus Fraser (177) managed in the whole of their own fine careers, and just a few scalps shy of a slew of the men alongside whom he honed his craft - Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Caddick, Darren Gough, Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff.

One could still argue that the most outstanding aspect of that haul comes in its sheer longevity, but it is significantly better than average by any standards. Moreover, in the last decade of overseas action, dating back to the victorious Ashes tour of 2010-11 - where Anderson's 24 wickets in five Tests included four-wicket hauls in the first innings of each of England's three innings wins - that average dips to 28.31, and at an economy rate of 2.63 that confirms the respect with which his spells have been negotiated.

But of course, when your home Test tally (368 at 23.76) exceeds the overall figure with which Dennis Lillee (355) once held the Test wickets record, then all other achievements are destined to pale by comparison. Like those who quibble that the only true mark of a great allrounder is the size of the gap between one's batting and bowling average, so Anderson's greatest misfortune is that his stunning home standards render his away form mortal.

He also remains tarred, in some people's estimation, by the player he used to be. Lie back and think of Anderson, striving for breakthroughs on a foreign field, and what image swims in front of your eyes? The canny, leathery old pro, shuffling in on that familiar direct approach to the crease, and whipping down another imperceptibly subtle swinger on that full and uncuttable length? Or the rabbit-in-the-headlight tyro, who toured the world with a single stump in his hold-all, condemned to endless lunch-time training sessions on the edge of the square, only to be thrust into the heat of Johannesburg 2004-05 or Brisbane 2006-07, and confronted with a vengeful Herschelle Gibbs or Ricky Ponting?

It seems insane that a player who has achieved so much over so many years can still be judged by standards that he set before he truly knew his own game. And it also misses the point about how his role has evolved in a Test team that may have pulled off some remarkable away wins - that Ashes tour for one, and the India win two years later - but which for long periods of his career has lacked the all-round components to be competitive abroad.

Anderson has consistently been the best of English abroad - MS Dhoni, no less, stated that his haul of 12 wickets at 30.25 in that 2012-13 triumph was "the difference between the sides" - but all too often his efforts have been undermined by deficits in other departments. Batting line-ups unable to put the scores on the board required to create pressure on flat surfaces, for instance, or the English system's long-term failure to produce mystery spinners and consistent 90mph quicks - issues that hark back to Anderson's earliest days in the fold under Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher.

After all, speed has never been his forte - for all that he could be brisk when the mood took him. And therefore comparisons with his longest-standing contemporary Dale Steyn - Test cricket's Christmas No.1 for seven consecutive seasons from 2009 to 2015, whose natural pace was a point of difference over and above the buzz of that lethal outswinger - are broadly futile. It's like comparing Andy Murray to Novak Djokovic: the fact that Anderson may not be the absolute best of his generation, let alone of all time, does not diminish the fact that there is still daylight between his standards and the best of the rest.

Besides, Anderson's extraordinary longevity surely entitles him to be compared to himself first and foremost - a player who has come through for his country time and time again, and evolved - like Richard Hadlee before him - from tearaway quick with all of the skills and little of the subtlety, to a master craftsman with the patience, technique and stamina to administer death by a thousand dots.

And maybe, just maybe, there are a few thousand more to come yet. Anderson is, after all, just 16 wickets shy of becoming the first fast bowler to 600 Test wickets (and to think that Fred Trueman was "bloody tired" after half that many - although his first-class workload had more than a bit to do with that…)

What's more, Anderson has shown in the past that there is no point in writing him off, not even when there's a seemingly futile assignment waiting in the wings. In 2016 for instance, a long-term shoulder problem threatened his participation on that winter's tour of India - a trip that a less-driven competitor might have chosen to duck out of, given the relative strengths of the two sides at the time.

But Anderson was in no mood to relinquish his status as England's attack leader - and positively bristled at the suggestion that, at the age of 34, it was time to be more selective in the contests that he thrust himself into.

"I've had a couple of injuries here and there in the last 18 months, which is pretty much all I've had in my career," he said at the time. "I don't think that's going to deter me from wanting to play in every single game that I possibly can.

"I love playing the game, I love playing for England and I don't want to miss any cricket."

You sense the same is probably still true now. Even as he cruises at 30,000 feet back to London, he'll be plotting his way back to the front line. And preparing to render all attempts to pension him off redundant.