Hunger game: how Jimmy Anderson dodged long list of bowling casualties | Andy Bull

“What’s the secret?” Nasser Hussain asked Jimmy Anderson before the start of this Test. “A lot of it is luck,” Anderson told him. “I’ve been born with a body that can cope with the pressures of bowling.” The rest, he said, was “hunger”, the appetite to work at getting better every day for the past 6,596 days, since he made his Test debut in May 2003. In that time he’s played 162 games, which puts him top of the list, one ahead of his great mate Alastair Cook. Luck and hunger. It’s a short reply to a question that, judging by the long list of fast bowlers England have picked in Test cricket in the past 17 years, has a lot of answers.

That first summer, 2003, England also gave a debut to Richard Johnson, who took 16 wickets in three Tests before his career was ruined by a persistent knee injury. And another to James Kirtley, who won man of the match in his first game, before he was forced to remodel his action after he was accused of chucking. And Kabir Ali, who was reckoned to be one of the brighter prospects in county cricket. He got to play one solitary Test at Headingley and took five wickets in it, too, but was dropped because of what Wisden described “as mutterings about his girth” and his parallel career as a male model.

The all-rounder Rikki Clarke played that year, too, fast-tracked into the Test team after a handful of first-class matches. He played two games, was dropped, and never got another, though goodness knows his county form deserved it.

Martin Bicknell was a little luckier. He was finally recalled 10 years after his debut, too late for anything but an Indian summer, so everyone was left wondering why he hadn’t been picked in the meantime. And Darren Gough was in the team that season too, running off fumes. The cartilage in his right knee gone, so that his leg swelled up to twice its normal size and he quit Test cricket after taking a pasting from Graeme Smith. Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison were playing, men whose Test records seemed so formidable to Anderson back then, but which he’s long since outstripped.

Anderson says that it was only when Peter Moores picked him and Stuart Broad ahead of the two of them in 2008 that he really began to believe he was good enough for Test cricket. By then Hoggard had lost his zip, and his bowling was a little flat and lifeless. Harmison seemed permanently homesick, struggling with injuries and his mental health. He was suffering with depression. So was Andrew Flintoff. The 2005 Ashes was a peak the three of them had a hard time coming down from.

Graham Onions at Taunton in 2018; he ended up having a steel plate put into his back.
Graham Onions at Taunton in 2018; he ended up having a steel plate put into his back. Photograph: Harry Trump/Getty Images

At least they had the chance. Simon Jones didn’t. His career was finished by ankle and knee injuries after only 18 Tests.

Then there was Liam Plunkett, who had to reinvent himself to get back into the team after seven years because the coaches tried to make him into a swing bowler. And Saj Mahmood. England were convinced he was the man to help them win the Ashes. When it turned out he wasn’t, they never picked him again.

The next summer they gave a single game to Jon Lewis, which felt like a lifetime achievement award for all those years plugging away in the county championship. Likewise Ryan Sidebottom, back after spending six years out because the coaches didn’t think he was quick enough. Chris Tremlett was playing, too, when his body allowed him.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Darren Pattinson got a cap. His own captain didn’t really know why. Amjad Khan got another, at the tail end of a tour of the West Indies. Then he damaged his ankle. Ajmal Shahzad was given a single game against Bangladesh, took three wickets “in a spell full of nip and reverse swing”, served as travelling reserve till he fell out of favour at Yorkshire, which seemed to derail his career. And there was Boyd Rankin who proved he had everything he needed to succeed with Ireland, but got only one sorry match for England at the tail end of an Ashes whitewash.

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Then there were the people who promised for a time to make the double act into a trio. Graham Onions, who ended up having a steel plate put into his back, Tim Bresnan, another of the fall guys for a poor tour of Australia, and Steven Finn, thrown by his habit of clipping the wicket in his follow-through, and his confusion about what the team wanted him to do. They talked up Jake Ball till he took three wickets in four games. And Chris Jordan, who drifted into T20 cricket. And Toby Roland-Jones, who took eight wickets on his debut then went down with a stress fracture.

Luck and hunger. Like always, he makes it all sound so much easier than it really is.