Barring unforeseen circumstances, such as the end of the world for instance, when the umpire calls “play” to start the first Test between England and West Indies in Barbados this week, James Anderson will take his place in the front rank of the undisputed champions of world cricket.
And this should be the signal for those who make such decisions to begin the process of conferring on him the granting of a second knighthood for a current England player in a calendar year.
The 36-year-old leader of England’s attack arrived in the Caribbean having played 145 Test matches, the same number as Shane Warne.
One more and he will add the honour of being the most capped specialist bowler in the history of Test cricket to his long list of extraordinary achievements, and, in the process, add to it by becoming the tenth highest capped Test cricketer of all time.
Lean, fit and, as always, looking hungry for more wickets, only Anderson knows how much he has left to give to get them.
But, while playing on until he’s 40 has been mentioned only as a possibility, and maintaining form and fitness cannot be taken for granted – and will not be by him – a moderately bullish estimate of another couple of years taking the new ball would provide him ample opportunity to earn the 17 more Test calls he needs to take him past Sir Alastair Cook’s total of 161 as the most capped England cricketer ever.
Some may say that, as with his former England colleague and captain, it would be better to wait until he finally follows his friend from the international stage before he is summoned to bend the knee at Buckingham Palace.
Those two events may yet coincide to allow him the kind of fairy-tale ending Cook enjoyed at the Oval last summer.
If not, why wait?
If it’s “services to cricket” you’re after, has anyone, including Cook, made a greater contribution to the game in this country than Anderson?
Frankly, unless he does something Stokesish between now and then, if he’s not named in either of the next two Honours lists of Queen’s Birthday and New Year, it really will be time to abolish the monarchy.
This is in no way to call into question Cook’s elevation in status, which was entirely fitting, no matter what some in dark corners believe wrongly about his role in the sacking of you-know-who.
But as well as the sheer number of times both men have played for their country, consider, in the context of like-for-like deserving causes, just what Anderson has already achieved.
Cook played 13 seasons of Test cricket, scoring 12,472 runs at an average of 45.35, with 33 hundreds, making him England’s highest run-scorer and century maker. He finished fifth on the list of all-time run-scorers, behind Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis and Rahul Dravid.
Anderson is entering his 17th year in Test cricket. He has taken 565 wickets at an average of 26.98, making him England’s highest wicket-taker, with 26 five-wicket-hauls and three ten-wicket matches, in both of those categories just one shy of Ian Botham’s England record. He is currently fourth on the list of all-time wicket-takers, behind Muttiah Muralitharan, Warne and Anil Kumble and the highest-ranked among pace bowlers, of whom he has also sent down the highest number of deliveries.
And think further on that, for a moment, for the following stat illustrates arguably the most impressive aspect of Anderson’s commitment.
To date, he has run in to bowl 31,746 balls in his Test career, at an average of 15 paces per run up, approximately 476,190 yards or 270-and-a-half miles, more than enough to cover the distance from Burnley Cricket Club to Lord’s with a few left over.
If you add the number of miles he has spent running in to bowl in tour matches for England, in limited overs internationals and for his beloved Lancashire, and not forgetting the nets, the mind and the legs boggle. All this after recovering from an injury that might have persuaded someone less in love with the game to limp away from it.
And that deep and lasting passion for what he does and to keep on working as hard as he needs to do it as best he can underlines the true nature of Anderson’s outstanding contribution, his “service to cricket”.
Cook understands all about that, which is why the retiring England hero tried, but failed to persuade Anderson to join him in leaving the field side-by-side on that final day of the summer Test series against India at the Oval to celebrate the match-winning wicket with which he overtook Glenn McGrath as the highest wicket taker among quick bowlers in Test history.
Anderson knows how much Cook had given too, which is why he had to fight back the blubbing when trying to pay tribute to him in the aftermath of victory.
As for clues as to how long he can continue to make it, his words after going past McGrath gave some of his thoughts away, but not many.
“I don’t really think about it,” he said. “I play my best when I focus on what’s ahead of me, the next game, the next series, whatever. I read that Glenn McGrath said he went into the 2006 Ashes with no intention of retiring and by the end of it he thought his time was up. That could happen to me.
“If you look too far ahead you take your eye off the here and now and that’s what I like to focus on.”
But he’ll know. The true undisputed champions generally do and if that is after one final Ashes victory here this summer, if it hasn’t already happened, that surely will be the time for the tap on the shoulder.