I am watching India play Sri Lanka at the Sinhalese Sports Club on Television and wonder why my Saturdays are turning out to be so awful. I blame it on BCCI for their obsession with playing Sri Lanka at least once a year in bilateral series’ apart from the Asia Cup, World T20, Champions Trophy, even the warm-up matches before tournaments aren’t spared. I am tired. Tired of 600+ totals matched against 180s and 200s.
I am waiting for 3.30pm IST, when the Proteas begin their second day of the final Test against England.
There is excitement in watching two top tier teams go head to head in a battle on a battlefield that is equally laid out for the two. The Test continues to see-saw between England and South Africa until the tea break.
I drag myself through dinner and wonder if I should just let the battle go on while I browse through some YouTube videos when the slippery James Anderson, shining the red cherry and running in from the James Anderson end at the Old Trafford Stadium, unleashes magic.
The first ball of his spell gave little indication of what was to follow. A short, wide one which Temba Bavuma, all of 5 feet 2 inches, thrashed past point to the fence. But I sense something special from Anderson here. I have seen him with that ‘magic oozing look’ multiple times.
There is a famous sledging video in cricket. Mitchell Johnson, at the non-striker’s end, laughs and questions England’s swing prodigy if he is frustrated for lack of wickets. An abnormally silent Anderson is dangerous. Johnson doesn’t know that then. Now, he would, because the beastly ‘King of swing’ ran in and cleaned up the batsman’s stumps very next ball, shutting up the chirping Mitchell Johnson.
He has that silent look when Bavuma thrashes him. That look famous for destroying opponents. Bavuma doesn’t know it either. He must have watched countless videos of Anderson weaving his magic but one can never ever be enough prepared for this man.
Two balls after the resounding cut shot, Anderson forces an inside edge that jumps over the stumps. Two more balls later, another inside edge is found. This time it is Faf du Plessis, 19 Tests older than Bavuma, yet clueless against the guile of this wonder from Lancashire.
Over 41. The seed for Bavuma’s dismissal has already been sown. Anderson has confused him with his angle and seam movement. Another one keeps low in the third ball of the over.
Bavuma is confused.
He just wants to get to the other end but he is a fighter, and a natural one at that. In runs Anderson, angling one into Bavuma, generating seam movement ever so slightly into the batsman.
Bavuma had seen Faf du Plessis leave four balls at The Oval and getting dismissed on two of them.
He doesn’t want to do that. Surely no. But this one is wide. “Let’s leave this” says his subconscious mind. He lifts his hand up and as though it thudded into his brain and woke up his senses, he realises that the red, round thing is headed right at his stumps. He lifts his leg up. Too late. The ball has crashed into his stumps. The fight has ended.
du Plessis at the other end is frustrated. They were just rebuilding after Amla’s freakish dismissal. This wasn’t what they wanted.
Now, du Plessis had that look too. The strong jawed, poker face look. He is determined to fight it out. But he isn’t going to leave any today. Not another time.
When Anderson runs in two balls later and lands one outside his imaginary fourth stump, du Plessis swishes and swishes hard. Not good enough. The ball takes the inside edge and crashes into his poles. They are five down now and the skipper is back in the hut.
Anderson is growling. He is on the prowl.
I think that Theunis de Bruyn would find it tough to survive this spell. Give the kid a breather. He was asked to open the innings on his Test debut when he is a natural middle-order batsman and after a hiatus returned to England, where the devourer of inexperienced batters lives. Meet Jimmy Anderson.
Surely this pair can’t get past this Anderson spell. I even tweet about it.
— Rohit Sankar (@imRohit_SN) August 5, 2017
A moment later Anderson delivers a rip roaring delivery, which takes off from the surface and thuds into the shoulder of de Bruyn’s bat to balloon up to gully where JetJennings (his Twitter handle goes that way) fails to grab what would have been a ‘save-your-face’ catch.
Now de Kock is dropped off Moeen Ali at the skip cordon. I am not interested. I want James Anderson bowling every over now. So does the crowd at Old Trafford.
Heck, I forget I am a Proteas supporter.
Anderson runs in soon enough to fulfill my dreams. He delivers a maiden to de Kock.
Fullish, angling across the southpaw, perfect Test match over. No drama.
Another Moeen Ali over. To me, this is the advertisement break. Bring on Anderson.
He jogs in again to continue his plan against de Kock.
Fullish angling across the southpaw, perfect Test match bowling. No drama until the fourth ball.
There is the change up. A pinpoint yorker outside off-stump. de Kock digs it out. Boy, this lad is good, I think. But I reckon Anderson was planning on hitting the stumps with that yorker. He had missed his mark.
Not the next delivery though. It whizzes past Theunis de Bruyn’s hung-out-to-dry bat.
Next over, Anderson is fuller to de Bruyn. The newbie likes to hang onto his back foot. I have watched him play in domestic cricket. He has a shady footwork, but it kind of works for him. Next ball is pushed through mid-on and past the boundary ropes. de Bruyn is up and running. Surely, that shot would give him some confidence.
But Anderson continues to pester him with a similar length and line. de Bruyn is more confident now. He flashes and the edge is found. The ball rests safely in the hands of the England captain. Fourth one for Anderson in the innings.
What a spell! After all the dreariness in the morning, my Saturday had finally come alive, so has Test cricket! Thank you, James Anderson!