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Jimmy Anderson still hungry but accepts England are thirsty for change

<span>Jmmy Anderson posing in his final England team picture, on the eve of the first Test against West Indies at Lord’s.</span><span>Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Action Images/Reuters</span>

<span>Jmmy Anderson posing in his final England team picture, on the eve of the first Test against West Indies at Lord’s.</span><span>Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Action Images/Reuters</span>

Jmmy Anderson posing in his final England team picture, on the eve of the first Test against West Indies at Lord’s.Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Action Images/Reuters

A couple of years ago New Scientist magazine received a letter asking whether composers will eventually run out of new combinations of notes with which to create original melodies. The answer, in practical terms, was no, although the sentiment behind the question comes to mind when trying to sum up Jimmy Anderson.

Such has been the number of milestones reached and breached by Anderson over the years that the rolling tributes have begun to struggle for new material. The artistry, the skill, the fitness, the wobble seam, the references to things that did not exist back when he made his Test debut in 2003, such as the iPhone, Facebook or Shoaib Bashir – the story of England’s record-wicket taker has been told and retold, from those formative, shy years in Burnley through to the bona fide British sporting great who bows out at Lord’s this week, starting on Wednesday.

Related: Jimmy Anderson: his six best wickets for England, from Ponting to Sharma

Not that Anderson feels sated. About to turn 42 at the end of this month, and with 700 Test pelts already above the mantelpiece, he remains convinced there was more to come. Stuart Broad recently called him a bowling “addict” and it took something akin to an intervention at the end of April to tell him it was time to hang up the spikes – for England, at least. Anderson smelled a rat when invited to a meeting with what he called the “big dogs” – Rob Key, Brendon McCullum, and Ben Stokes – at a hotel in Manchester.

So here we are, 10 weeks on, ready to say farewell and felicitate a cricketer who has never enjoyed much of a fuss. It was always optimistic that the news of England’s head coach flying halfway around the world to move on a legend would hold until the final moment and Jimmy, in fairness, was an absolute gent the day word got out. He understood it was an unignorable development, asked for a couple of hours to inform the friends and family he was yet to contact, and has since said he understands why, with an Ashes series in 18 months, those big dogs are looking to blood a new breed.

On the face of it, a cricketer into their fifth decade being given the tap on the shoulder should come as no surprise. And even accepting unconducive conditions for him in India, the march to 700 had become a bit of a crawl, with only 15 wickets in his past eight Test matches at 50 runs apiece. On that heady final day of the Ashes at the Oval last summer, when Chris Woakes got the replacement Dukes ball zipping around and Broad choreographed his own departure as if he was auditioning for Strictly, Anderson’s low key series ended with little lateral movement and a blob in the wickets column.

Yet with Anderson there was too much credit in the bank, fire in the belly and skill from those fingertips not to think that he could still make hay against West Indies and Sri Lanka this summer. Although the reason folks will be misty-eyed this week is perhaps not so much being denied what might have been, as being reminded of their own mortality; the final outing for a wonderful player who has supplied an abundance of memories for more than one generation of cricket lovers and, in recent times, offered hope for those of us of a similar age who struggle to get out of a chair without making involuntary grunts.

To date 515 cricketers have played either with or against Anderson in a men’s Test match – roughly one sixth of the 3,178 to take the field since 1877 – and the final inductees will be sworn in at Lord’s on Wednesday. On the English side of the ledger are the wicketkeeper Jamie Smith and the fast bowler Gus Atkinson, both set for debuts after Stokes named his XI two days out. Bashir, born 21 weeks after Anderson announced himself with that five-wicket haul against Zimbabwe, will also get his first cap at home. All three newbies represent a fresh chapter in the Stokes-McCullum axis (not to mention a bit of a disconnect with the domestic game given their roles at their counties).

In some ways West Indies are apt opposition for Anderson’s farewell. They hold the Richards–Botham Trophy after that 1-0 win in the Caribbean two years ago when he was dropped. They also welcome back Jason Holder after he sat out last winter’s tour of Australia – including that historic win at the Gabba – because the truly dystopian International League T20 in the United Arab Emirates was offering more cash. Last Friday, at MCC’s lofty World Cricket Connects forum, its chief executive, Johnny Grave, was on a panel discussing the future of Test cricket but only after three big cheeses from India, England and Australia had left the stage. A direct debate between the haves and have nots might have been more worthwhile.

“Test cricket is literally the reason that I am the person that I am,” said Anderson on Monday, when asked about the future of the format. “It has taught me so many lessons through the years, built my resilience to a lot of things. I think the fulfilment you get from putting in a shift in a day’s cricket is different to anything else you can do in the game.

“I know you can earn a lot of money from bowling four overs, but for me personally I would never get the same sort of joy or fulfilment from taking wickets that are caught on the boundary [compared with] really giving a batter a working-over and figuring someone out. There’s no better feeling. I just hope there are enough kids and young professionals out there who still want that to be the case, rather than going chasing the dollar.”

Anderson’s rise to greatness and this viewpoint are of course a product of England’s bumper schedule and bumper central contracts, while far starker choices are faced outside the so-called Big Three. Composers may never run out of original melodies but unless a more equitable financial model is found for Test cricket and fast, the teams who still make it work for themselves will begin to run out of opponents.

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