A wizard is someone who baffles the wayfarers and on-lookers with his mind-bending, magical artistry: be it through a wand, a flick of playing cards, a sorcerer’s stone, or in Jimmy Anderson’s case, a glittering Dukes ball.
Yes, it’s no less than a riveting magic trick when you come with terms to what unrolled nearly a year ago at Lord’s. On what turned out to be a grimly (un)eventful second day between England and India, the stalwart English seamer pulled out from his pocket the most bewitching bits of a prolonged magic trick to befuddle the strayers hailing from Indian soils.
To everyone’s utter frustration, Day one of this highly-anticipated game had already been washed out and three-quarters of the following day bore no fruit, either. All it needed, though, was five deliveries for Anderson to conjure an awe-inspiring hoax: a kind of fascination that’s out of the ordinary.
Put yourself into Murali Vijay’s shoes and imagine what had been going through the bloke’s mind — facing a veteran fast-bowler upfront with 544 Test wickets, at that speck of time, under his belt. Behind the bowler’s arm and over the Pavilion End, the skies had turned awfully gloomy, as if already predestining what lied ahead for the man from Chennai.
James Anderson celebrates a wicket ©Getty Images
The cherry in the wizard’s hand bore a daunting, red-wine colour - the fearsome kind, the kind Anderson would have been licking his lips on. The Englishman, who bears a striking resemblance to Borden’s belligerence and Angier’s sagacity, begins his run-up. (Freeze-Frame)
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course, ... it probably isn't.” Cutter – The Prestige (2006) (Courtesy IMDB)
(Resume) Anderson floats up the first delivery, gently. Swivelling through the moisture in the air and with the slanted slope angling it to slips, the ball takes shape and flies through to the keeper. Vijay shoulder arms. The second ball is sharper with a bit more bite; half-beats Vijay as he tentatively plays inside the line of the ball. ‘Two gone, four to go’, Vijay must have muttered to himself as he battles for greater concentration.
Anderson runs back and bowls the next one on a fullish length, thus drawing the batsman forward. Vijay is equal to the task, though, as he notices the seam is still pointing away and rightfully leaves it for the keeper to collect. The fourth bowl is slightly wayward as the Englishman lets loose of an out-swinger. A sigh of relief for Vijay.
Quite ordinary till now, isn’t it? Vijay has premeditated well, so far. Not reaching out, not playing a country mile away from his body, keeping it slow and steady as he watches it right under his nose. ‘Will he bowl that wicked in-dipper, now?’ Vijay’s mind is jumbling like a crumbling pastry. Thus far, he has been wary of planting his front-foot a bit too forward and consequently falling prey to the nip-backer that Anderson bowls so well, occasionally. He is playing for the away-swingers, and he has done a good job, so far. Wide-eyed, Vijay takes his guard again as the clouds above him take a darker shade. (Freeze-Frame)
“The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret ... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled.”
(Resume) The grave mistake Vijay and 544 others before him have made was perceiving Jimmy Anderson as a fast-bowler. He is not just a fast-bowler. He is an enchanter, and he proves it, yet again, with a staggering piece of delusion. Anderson double-bluffs Vijay with a ripping out-swinger that pitched perfectly on middle stump. The seam pointed towards fine leg, leaving Vijay into an illusion that “It’s coming in! See, I knew it!”.
Since it’s pitched right up in the full-length area, Vijay fancies his chances of caressing a whip through mid-on and square-leg and get off the haunting mark. But it never was an in-dipper. The poor lad wasn’t really looking. He just wanted to be fooled.
The ball rips from the surface and jags away. Vijay is caught half-nudging, half-flicking at the ball as it squeezes past his outside edge and rattles the timberwork behind. Picture-perfect sight for any fast-bowler (read ‘wizard’) in the world as the top of off takes some beating. “The platonic ideal of an out-swinger” as Gideon Haigh would have described it. Not bemused but certainly stunned, Vijay looks down at the treacherous track, the fallen bails behind, his breathless partner at the non-striker’s end and then takes the long stroll back to the Lord’s dressing rooms.
A befuddled Vijay looks back at the stumps ©AFP
The guile of the man! Anderson leaps and roars in utter jubilation, knowing that he’s pulled off his master trick, yet again. The chicanery involved is unrivalled and unparalleled. Seconds later, the spellbound audience also thunders in ecstasy; still unsure of what had just unfolded in front of them. (Freeze-Frame)
“But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige".
(Resume) Most bowlers can pull off signs of brilliance of a similar kind, but few can repeat history and defy physics, every now and then. For that to master, a wizard-like approach is an absolute necessity. To be acclaimed as a magician, an illusionist, you need to harbour consistency. Jimmy Anderson is all about emulating himself; proving such instances are not mere flukes but magic tricks: the secret to which only he knows.
In a day’s cricket that lasted just above 35 overs, Anderson bowled just over 13 of them. He plucked away crucial scalps of KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane before routing away the Indian tail to complete an incredible five-wicket haul: his sixth on this prestigious venue. At 37 years young, he has surpassed the legendary Glenn McGrath and become the highest wicket-taker (fast-bowler) in Test Cricket history. With the Ashes looming just around the corner, Jimmy Anderson is 25 scalps away from reaching the incredible 600-wickets hallmark. The growing age doesn’t seem to be stunting his wizardry a wee bit. He is sizzling the ball around, awaiting the next time around he can show off another mind-boggling feat and flabbergast the cricketing world with his ingeniousness.