By Rob McHugh @mchughr @TLE_Sport
As the old sporting cliché goes; form is temporary, but class is permanent. English cricket has the ultimate proof of this saying in their team currently, with Stuart Broad and James Anderson going into the final match of the Test series against Sri Lanka as the world’s second and top ranked bowlers, respectively, in Test cricket. Both of these players have gone through difficult periods in their careers, with Anderson struggling with injury and a disastrous attempt to remodel his bowling action early in his career, and Broad facing severe criticism at times for inconsistency, bowling the odd magic spell but offering less threat in between.
That England stand on the verge of a Test series whitewash of Sri Lanka is testament to the progress made under Coach Trevor Bayliss and assistant Paul Farbrace. The last time Sri Lanka visited England for a bi-lateral Test series, England narrowly missed out on a victory in the first Test, needing a wicket from the final over. In the 2nd and final match at Headingley, England slumped to a heart-breaking defeat, which left James Anderson in tears after losing his wicket in the final over of the match, attempting to hold out for a famous draw.
This defeat was symptomatic of the team’s performances under doomed coach Peter Moores, but what Bayliss has done well is to take what was good from the Moores regime, and use that as the foundation to advance to a position where England look like they could be genuine contenders to become the world’s best Test-playing nation again, as well as challenging for major limited overs tournaments.
Broad and Anderson will play a key role in whatever success England have in the next 2 years as well as eyeing personal milestones; both men will retain aspirations to reach 500 Test wickets. If either is successful, Anderson being the closest after taking his 450th wicket in the last Test versus Sri Lanka, they will become the first Englishman to achieve this feat.
By whatever measure you choose, Broad and Anderson must be recognised amongst the greatest opening bowlers England has ever produced. It is very likely they will end their careers as England’s leading wicket takers, with only an injury to Broad likely to prevent this from happening. Broad and Anderson are only the third and fourth England bowlers respectively to top the world rankings for tests, following in the footsteps of Ian Botham in 1980 and Steve Harmison in 2004. Their figures as a partnership also put themselves in the top 10 ranking by wickets taken of all time, and they are the most successful active partnership.
Unfortunately though, in professional sport, not even class is permanent, as time marches relentlessly on. Anderson, although supremely fit still, is nearing the end of his glittering career and Broad is approaching his 30th birthday. Now is the time for England to begin their succession planning so that they do not find themselves short when Anderson does decide he has bowled his last delivery at international level. The country’s fast bowling stocks are not in the rudest of health and there is no battery of young fast bowlers waiting to explode into the Test team, although the highly rated Jake Ball, who has spent the beginning of the summer in the squad, does have the potential to have an impact alongside the returning Mark Wood when he recovers from a second ankle procedure.
For now though, England fans can simply savour every moment of magic that James Anderson and Stuart Broad produce, as who knows how long it will be until England produce a pair of opening bowlers who are capable of tearing all-comers to shreds, both in English conditions and abroad.