Monday, July 15, 2024

Gus Atkinson takes SEVEN wickets on debut to steal Jimmy Anderson’s thunder in his farewell Test, before Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope hit half-centuries to put England in command against West Indies at Lord’s

Must read

Not even four hours after Jimmy Anderson had led England out of the Lord’s pavilion to kickstart their Test summer and his farewell, Gus Atkinson led them back, quietly rejoicing in one of cricket’s most remarkable debuts.

Out with the old and in with the new: it has been the theme of the week as Ben Stokes looks beyond the retirement of Anderson and towards the promised land of an Ashes tour. But so quickly, so literally? It felt indecently hasty, but thrilling all the same.

By taking seven for 45 to skittle West Indies for 121 on his first day of Test cricket, Atkinson did not simply steal the headlines from a bowler who made his own debut when Atkinson was just five. He conjured up a vision of the post-Anderson years, in which the uplands may prove more sunlit than widely feared.

This was just the beginning, and there will be tougher tests ahead, in less helpful conditions, against more resilient line-ups. But in 147 years of Test cricket, only Dominic Cork in 1995 – also against West Indies at Lord’s – has produced better figures for England in his first Test. Whatever the caveats, it was historic stuff.

Atkinson was fast, hostile and – with the exception of an over in which Alzarri Joseph smashed four fours – economical: the very qualities with which Stokes and Brendon McCullum plan to hit Australia in 16 months’ time.

Gus Atkinson (right) had a dream opening day of his Test debut as he took seven wickets

Jimmy Anderson (right) had to settle for just one wicket in the first innings of his farewell Test

Jimmy Anderson (right) had to settle for just one wicket in the first innings of his farewell Test

England's fielding was excellent, with harry Brook taking a stunning one-handed catch as West Indies were skittled for 121

England’s fielding was excellent, with harry Brook taking a stunning one-handed catch as West Indies were skittled for 121

And the triple-wicket maiden he produced half an hour after lunch, when a brittle West Indies began their demise from 88 for three, confirmed why he had earned a Test cap after just 19 first-class matches.

Alick Athanaze prodded a rapid delivery to Joe Root at first slip, before Jason Holder – first ball – was hurried into a leading edge to Harry Brook at third. Joshua Da Silva survived the hat-trick, but was then beaten by seam movement back down the slope, providing Atkinson’s Surrey colleague Jamie Smith with his first catch as England wicketkeeper.

In the morning, Atkinson had bowled Kraigg Brathwaite off a thick edge with his second ball, and had Kirk McKenzie caught in the slips with his 14th. It all meant he was on the Lord’s honours board after just 53 deliveries; Shane Warne spent 944 trying and failing to do the same. The wickets of the two Josephs – Alzarri and Shamar – were a bonus.

As Atkinson quietly, almost sheepishly, ascended the pavilion steps, it felt as if England had found the only cricketer in the land more reluctant to embrace the limelight than Anderson. He may get plenty of practice in the years to come.

‘It’s great to have those figures on debut, but to be out there alongside Jimmy in his final Test was incredible,’ Atkinson said. ‘Being in the Long Room, walking out, Jimmy leading us on to the pitch was pretty surreal.’

A day that ended with England in complete control at 189 for three, thanks to half-centuries from Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope, had begun with a standing ovation for a man playing his 188th and final Test. As Anderson’s daughters, Lola and Ruby, rang the bell in front of the Bowlers’ Bar – where else? – there might even have been a tear in dad’s eye.

Zak Crawley looked in fine touch as he hit 76 before being bowled by Jayden Seales

Zak Crawley looked in fine touch as he hit 76 before being bowled by Jayden Seales

Ollie Pope also played nicely for his 57 as England moved into a first innings lead

Ollie Pope also played nicely for his 57 as England moved into a first innings lead

Like the crowd, the clouds had gathered, as if in his honour. Yet the long goodbye made a slow start: nine off the first over was the most expensive to begin a Lord’s Test since 2007. And while Anderson soon tidied up his figures, neither he nor the rusty Chris Woakes could extract much joy from a sluggish surface.

There has been plenty of anguish about Anderson’s enforced departure, but a lot of it – understandably – has been based on sentiment. His recent seven-wicket haul for Lancashire against Nottinghamshire made eyes only mistier.

But just once in the last 16 Test innings has he taken more than two wickets, and the West Indians handled him and Woakes with greater ease than they did Atkinson and Stokes.

The captain’s eight-over spell before lunch provided heartening confirmation that his left knee has responded well to surgery, and brought him the wicket – his 199th – of debutant opener Mikyle Louis, who in 2022 turned out for Stokes’s old club side Cockermouth. The balance his bowling brings to the side already looks invaluable. Shoaib Bashir’s off-breaks were not required.

Joe Root was unbeaten on 15 at the close of play, with England in the lead by 68 runs

Joe Root was unbeaten on 15 at the close of play, with England in the lead by 68 runs

Harry Brook ensured England didn't lose any momentum as he hit a brisk 25 not out

Harry Brook ensured England didn’t lose any momentum as he hit a brisk 25 not out

Woakes did tick off 150 Test wickets, but he needed a stunning catch at a shortish point by Pope as Kavem Hodge got hold of a square cut. Two championship games for Warwickshire last month brought Woakes one wicket for 220, and now he hovered below 80mph. Dillon Pennington and Mark Wood are waiting in the wings.

Anderson was not to be denied entirely, picking up Test wicket No 701 when he swung one into the pads of the left-handed No 11 Jayden Seales. That prompted a chorus of ‘Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy’ from spectators who, at 10.30am, had cheered Stokes’ decision to bowl.

At that stage, there was only one show in town. But Atkinson’s star turn was followed by a lively second-wicket stand of 94 in 19 overs between Crawley and Pope, who was in need of runs after tailing off in India over the winter.

Pope was eventually trapped for 57 by a full-length delivery from Jason Holder, before Crawley – still growing in stature – was brilliantly yorked by Seales for 76 from 89 balls. England’s run-rate of 4.72 confirmed a dominant day, but could not eclipse the performance of Atkinson.

Latest article