It’s funny how people described as “ageless” are always, always, without exception, old.
People age in different ways. This is a phenomenon that first becomes apparent, and is arguably at its most jarring, when you’re in your late 20s or early 30s.
At some point during that period, you’ll bump into someone from school having not seen them for 10 or 15 years, and you’ll discover that they have aged considerably more rapidly or slowly than you.
If you’re only now starting to look like a full-grown adult, they’ll have peaked too soon and will already be barrelling through middle-age at pace. Or maybe they look exactly the same, throwing your grey beard and slapped-back hairline into sharp relief.
Lifestyle and genetics mean that you’ll probably only move further apart as the years wear on, but it’s this first revelatory ‘oh hey, some of us are REALLY ageing’ moment that tends to stick with you.
The divergence tends to be less marked in professional sports people for two reasons. (1) They tend to look after their bodies slightly better. (2) They’re all still pretty young in the grand scheme of things.
There are differences though.
Knock off early… or arrive late
Some players’ international careers ended far earlier than you probably think. Tim Bresnan was 28 when he played his last Test, while our man Rob Key was finally set aside at the age of 25.
Then there are players like Mike Hussey, who made his Test debut at 30 and yet still found time to squeeze in a 79-match career, or Rangana Herath, who took 233 wickets at 26.83 after he turned 35.
We once picked a whole Middle-Aged XI comprising players who performed exceptionally when most of their contemporaries had retired.
The interplay between physiology and experience means that players hit their peaks at different times.
None of this is what we want to talk about today though. What we want to talk about today is a word we rarely hear – ‘spry’.
Jimmy Anderson is starting to look spry.
As we’ve been saying, people age in different ways. A lot of people pile on the timber and even those of us who don’t balloon tend to at least solidify a touch.
But then very rarely you get someone who goes the other way. Anderson is one of those people.
Early years Shoaib Akhtar was a fairly normal-shaped human being, but as his career wore on he became more and more square.
Early Jimmy was not hugely dissimilar in shape to early Shoaib. They were both whippy bowlers who tended to attract words like ‘lithe’. Maybe there was a moment back then when it seemed credible Anderson’s body might have gone the same way as Shoaib’s, but it’s hard to imagine that now.
Early Jimmy’s was not a body that was partway through a journey from teenage skinniness to middle-aged heft, it was one that had really already reached its endurance athlete end point.
If anything, 18-year-old Jimmy was the chubby one. He was then exactly the same weight for 19 years before a bit of time off and some focused training that seems to have left made him even leaner in 2021.
Unlike most people his age, losing weight has aged Anderson. He is bowling as well – or better – than before. He is as fit – or fitter – than before. But wiry and sinewy and with less body fat, he currently has that look of an older person who is gradually being stripped back to the bare essentials.
James Anderson has become spry.
Or maybe he was just a bit dehydrated.