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Evergreen Jimmy a talent to savour after christening Old Trafford's Anderson End

131   //    06 Aug 2017, 00:02 IST
James Anderson - cropped
James Anderson takes the wicket of Dean Elgar at Old Trafford

"Opening the bowling for England from the James Anderson End… James Anderson." 

They say you don't always know what you've got until it's gone, and the old adage can ring as truly in cricket as anywhere else in sport and society.

English cricket, at least, cannot be accused of lacking appreciation for one of its chief blessings of the last decade and a half.

In May 2003, joining Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard in the attack for the first time, a 20-year-old Anderson, sporting both the haircut and fresh face of the NSYNC-era Justin Timberlake, took five-for on debut against Zimbabwe at Lord's.

While that haul was indeed impressive for a first attempt, few if any could have predicted what would follow.

Anderson, 14 years on and still the leader of the attack, has a strong claim to being considered the greatest bowler in the history of English Test cricket.

He is certainly the most enduring and productive, having played more matches (126) and taken more wickets (484) than any of his predecessors, with Ian Botham (383 wickets in 102 Tests) second on the list.

The scale of Anderson's achievements were acknowledged this week by Lancashire County Cricket Club, who renamed Old Trafford's Pavilion End in honour of one of their favourite sons. 

Plenty of the sport's greats have been recognised in such a fashion, but few, if any, have had the ceremonial accolade bestowed upon them with their career still active.

That is the unusual, flattering situation Anderson has found himself in, as he opened the bowling on day two of the fourth Test against South Africa, taking the key wicket of Dean Elgar, out lbw for a duck, in England's first over.

The evergreen 35-year-old's control and movement later accounted for Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis and Theunis de Bruyn, with no prizes handed out for guessing which end of the ground all four of those scalps arrived from.  

"I felt like I couldn't bowl badly," he told a news conference after stumps on a special day. 

"It feels very strange still. To hear it being announced, [I was] thrilled. And nice to get some wickets as well.

"This atmosphere was fantastic today. The crowd were absolutely amazing all day, obviously well-oiled and in good voice. A brilliant place to play when it's like that."

Sharing the responsibility of disrupting the Proteas in Manchester, albeit with slightly less reward on Saturday, was Stuart Broad. The other great gift of a golden fast-bowling era for England dislodged Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada late in the day. 

Four years Anderson's junior, the 31-year-old may not catch his team-mate but, with 377 scalps from 106 Tests, is certain to pass Botham and join his partner in crime as a fitting double act at the top of England's all-time bowling honours board. 

Rarely have two players emerged, at a young age and in relatively quick succession, to offer such consistent, reliable threat over a long period of time. 

Toby Roland-Jones has provided a reminder that there can be productive life after Anderson and Broad, taking eight wickets at The Oval, including a five-for in the first innings, followed by the scalp of Hashim Amla here.

But the Middlesex paceman's debut has come relatively late at 29, limiting the scope of his potential contribution.

And the same will be true of many others, with no guarantee England will unearth another Anderson or Broad any time soon, and there is even less likelihood of two such talents arriving in tandem and with time firmly on their side. 

So, unless you're an opposition batsman, savour the sight of Anderson steaming in from his eponymous end. He will have limited opportunities to do so and it may be decades before we see the likes of Lancashire's swing king again.  

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