“You pick your best XI,” said the legendary football manager.
If Clough was managing the England cricket team, he would surely apply this principle to James Anderson’s future.
If Anderson is still good enough to play in the 2021-22 Ashes series, the player’s stated aim, then he should play; if not, then he should be left out. Simples.
Anderson’s future is back in the spotlight after he captured his 600th Test wicket – the first pace bowler to achieve that landmark.
It was a wonderful achievement by a wonderful bowler who will be 39 years old when the next Ashes starts.
Personally, I believe these three things:
1) That Clough was right.
2) No player has a divine right to be picked.
3) Age is no barrier whether young or old.
I repeat, if Anderson deserves to be picked then Anderson should play, and that decision should be taken at the time and judged on its merits –not on how good Anderson is in English conditions, or whether he plays on the sub-continent this winter.
English cricket is seemingly always looking to the future rather than dealing necessarily with the here and now.
It cannot always be blamed for this; after all, plenty of stick flies around whenever England are exposed on foreign soil and accused of a lack of foresight/planning.
You can not expect to win an Ashes in Australia with an attack best-suited to winning in England, but nor should you rip up the script completely and just focus on the Ashes.
It strikes me – and intending no disrespect to either player – that Anderson and his pace bowling partner Stuart Broad have a little too much power. You get the feeling that England are forever tip-toeing around them.
If Anderson had been left stranded on 599 wickets, for example, you suspect that they would have felt obliged to take him on tour this winter even if they did not want to pick him in ill-suited conditions.
Clough would not have run it along those lines – what Clough said went, and there was no “player power”.
My only hope, as someone who has marvelled at Anderson’s skill like everybody else, is that when he eventually does call it a day, he does so at the right time.
If Anderson goes to Australia next year and does not perform well, it would be unfortunate if it had to be acknowledged that a mistake had been made and that it was, as it turned out, a tour too far for him.
It might be, of course, that Anderson keeps performing well for some time yet and that there are plenty more wickets left in the tank.
But rather like one of those great rock singers of the 70s/80s, who sadly cannot cut it as they used to but cannot give up performing either, you would not want it to get to the point where Anderson was permitted to carry on for too long.
England need to be strong on the Anderson/Broad situation and make the right choices at the right time and for the right reasons.
Anderson’s drive, his relentless dedication to practice, his fitness levels, his enduring talent – no-one can deny he is still the great bowler.
England should pick him for as long as he remains in their first-choice team for any given match.
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