James Anderson has ran his body into the ground
Easing himself gingerly into a stiff-backed plastic chair just outside the umpires’ rooms in the concrete basement of the MCG, the salt sweat stains were still visible on his skin and the grass stains on his whites were mixed with blood on his right knee.
As he leaned down obligingly to roll up the trouser leg and show the battle scar underneath it was a toss up which looked the more flexible, him or the chair.
“I should sleep well for the next few days,” he said. “But hopefully I should pull up okay. The Tests are not completely back-to-back and I’ll do what I can in the next few days, use the physio, try to get my body back. It’s the same for all of us.”
That is not strictly true. With nearly 15 times his body weight going through ankles, knees and lower back each time he went through the crease, Anderson bowled 59 overs here on an brutal and unforgiving deck.
It is a workload he has bettered only twice before in his 14 and a half years and 133 match Test career when bowling 60 overs against Bangladesh in 2010 and 61 overs against West Indies in 2012.
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I should sleep well for the next few days
Both of those were at Lord’s in May though, not Melbourne in 35 degree heat. And both of those came when he was in his third decade, when he was 27 and 29, respectively, not the 35 he is now.
He said: “It just takes so much out of you. The pitches over here are absolutely rock-hard, the foot-holes get so uneven, so it takes it out of your ankles and knees. It’s important to recover.”
For all that Anderson will take it as easy as he can between now and Thursday he will be ready to put everything on the line again in Sydney. And when it is put to him some have suggested that after the Ashes were lost in Perth the rest of the tour did not matter, his eyes narrow.
“Obviously everyone wants to perform in every game and you want to get the hundreds and five-fors in the more important ones but it doesn’t always happen like that,” he said.
“No-one was more desperate to score runs in those first three games than Alastair Cook. He worked his backside off to try to do that. But it’s not happened for him. The more the series has gone on, the harder he has worked.
Joe Root’s England lost the Ashes
“The class that he has eventually came out but unfortunately for us, it is a bit late. But, at the same time, every time you take the field, put the shirt on, you want to show people what you can do and help the team towards a victory.
“Yes, ideally, the team performance we are after would have come a bit sooner but I’d feel disappointed for this group if we didn’t get a win on this trip because we’ve worked so hard.
“One last push at Sydney to get a win. It would mean a lot to the lads and all the support we’ve had over here.”
Mitchell Starc looks likely to miss out again – a younger casualty of the physical impacts of bowling fast who missed the draw in Melbourne with a bruised heel.
But standing in their way again will be Steve Smith – a brick wall England have been banging their heads against all tour.
It is not the rocket science but getting him out early looks the key to victory.
“I tried a fair bit but that pitch was so unresponsive. I know my speed dropped off into my 58th and 59th overs,” said Anderson with a wry smile. “But on that pitch I was bowling it, looking up at the speed [on the big screen] and then looking back to see him hitting it! It’s quite demoralising when it gets to that point.
“He’s a world class player in the form of his life. It’s going to take something special to get him out.”
Anderson has been England’s closest thing to ‘something special’ with 16 wickets. Moreover, he was the last man to get Smith out, although the fact it was in the first innings in Perth when he scored 239 says plenty.
Just don’t say he hasn’t been trying. In fact, don’t say any of them haven’t been trying. And for all that Anderson wishes a something special might have come sooner, don’t say that a victory would not mean an awful lot to this group.