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Atkinson steals the show for England to vindicate decision to axe Anderson



Atkinson steals the show for England to vindicate decision to axe Anderson

First Test, Day 1: England 189-3 (Crawley 76, Pope 57) lead West Indies 121 (Atkinson 7-45, Stokes 1-14) by 68 runs

LORD’S — Such is the fickle nature of sport that when one retiring hero exits stage left, it invariably doesn’t take long for someone else to come along and replace them.

That’s exactly what happened on the opening day of this first Test, a match designated as the official farewell to James Anderson hijacked by an exhilarating debut from Gus Atkinson.

The 26-year-old Surrey fast bowler only played his maiden first-class match four years ago. Indeed, he was a toddler when Anderson made his own Test debut here at Lord’s back in 2003.

But he completely upstaged the elder statesman on a thrilling first day of the Test summer, Atkinson taking seven for 45 to help blow away a brittle West Indies batting line-up for 121.

By stumps, with England 68 ahead on 189 for three after half-centuries from Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope, this Test looks as good as over as a contest already.

It will certainly be a long way back for a West Indies team who were not only undercooked coming into this series following one low-grade warm-up match against a County Select XI but seriously inexperienced given their entire team only has 60 more Test caps than Anderson’s 188.

No surprise then Bazball 2.0 has got off to the best start possible after a five-month hiatus following a 4-1 mauling in India.

With sights now firmly set on the next Ashes series in Australia in 16 months’ time, a performance like this from Atkinson goes a long way to vindicating the decision by England’s brains trust to force the retirement of a 41-year-old Anderson.

The tipping point for a debut that quickly transitioned from good to great came in the eighth over of the afternoon when Atkinson, who had taken two for two in a fine opening spell in the morning, took three wickets in four balls to remove Alick Athanaze, Jason Holder and Joshua Da Silva.

With five for 20 at that stage, he was on course for the best debut figures by an England bowler. Once he’d added the wickets of Alzarri Joseph and Shamar Joseph to his haul, Atkinson looked odds on to better the landmark seven for 43 taken by Dominic Cork on this ground against the West Indies in 1995.

By the end of the innings, brought to a close when Anderson finally got on the board with the wicket of No 11 Jayden Seales, Atkinson had conceded eight from his final over and the chance of claiming Cork’s record had gone.

However, it would be foolish to diminish the significance of this performance.

Atkinson’s rapid over

Gus Atkinson’s first over was the second-fastest by an England bowler on Test debut in
the ball-tracking era (since 2007).

  • Steven Finn 88.73 mph
  • Gus Atkinson 87.86
  • Mark Wood 87.78
  • Olly Stone 87.00
  • Jofra Archer 86.65
  • Jake Ball 86.64
  • Ajmal Shahzad 85.80
  • Chris Jordan 85.30

(Source: Cricviz)

Atkinson had made his England debut at the end of last summer in a T20 against New Zealand at Old Trafford. He has made 11 more appearances across both white-ball formats since, including against South Africa, the Netherlands and Pakistan during the doomed 50-over World Cup defence in India last winter.

He had looked promising but did not catch fire, no surprise given the way England’s white-ball environment has deteriorated in recent months. But having been an unused squad member on that Test tour of India earlier this year, Atkinson was given his chance here and he has grabbed it with both hands.

His afternoon rampage brought the best out of Bazball too, Stokes setting an uber-aggressive field for Atkinson’s hat-trick ball to Da Silva that comprised five slips, a leg slip, gully and short leg.

No matter Da Silva survived, he was gone next ball when Atkinson’s fellow debutant, wicketkeeper Jamie Smith, took a difficult chance off an inside edge.

For an English cricketing public seeking new heroes, Atkinson’s backstory is also one we can all buy into.

A player who suffered three stress fractures of the back early in his career, he has had to battle his way to this point. In the same age group at Surrey as Ollie Pope, Sam Curran and Will Jacks, Atkinson has taken longer than his peers to break through.

But the biggest thing he has had to deal with is the tragic death of his mother, Caroline, in a car crash in 2020. With his father, Ed, living in the United Arab Emirates, Atkinson relied heavily on his friends and team-mates at Surrey and did a lot of growing up in a very short space of time.

Speaking earlier this year, Atkinson, whose dad Ed was at Lord’s, admitted: “My mum pushed me forward almost behind my back. She’d get in touch with Surrey to make sure I was still in the loop when perhaps I might have been falling behind the others.

“Once my mum passed away my career could have gone one or two ways and I wanted to take it in the direction she would have wanted. So to be in this position is very special.”

There’s no better way to describe this performance.

Bazball-o-meter: 8

This all felt pretty pedestrian until an Atkinson-inspired Caribbean collapse after lunch moved this Test forward at warp speed. By stumps, with England’s batters leading the charge, the Bazballers were way ahead.

Bazball 2.0 is off to a brilliant start (Graphic: i)

Moments of the day

Gus you can

James Anderson toiled for five overs before Gus Atkinson was thrown the ball for the first time in Test cricket. It took the Surrey quick two deliveries to pick up his first wicket, West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite bowled via an inside edge. Atkinson, 26, still hadn’t conceded a run by the time he took his second four overs later, Kirk McKenzie edging to second slip.

The flying Yorkshireman

Ben Stokes back as a full-time bowler completely changes the balance of this team. Fully fit again after knee surgery last November, he was a handful here and got a wicket thanks to a stunning one-handed grab from Harry Brook at third slip that ended a decent debut knock from Mikyle Louis. Brook worked hard on his fitness over the winter. It was for moments like this.

Five-star performance

The eighth over after lunch – a triple-wicket maiden from Atkinson – was ridiculous. Alick Athanaze and Jason Holder fell in successive deliveries before Joshua Da Silva saw off the hat-trick ball. But he then fell to the next – sending an inside edge through to keeper Jamie Smith as both debutants combined. Atkinson had five for 20 at this stage.

Oh Jimmy, Jimmy…

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 08: James Anderson of England signs bats in the Long Room at Lord's Cricket Ground on July 08, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Philip Brown/Getty Images)
Anderson ahead of his final Test at Lord’s (Photo: Getty)

The man of the moment had to watch on as Atkinson stole his thunder. But when Anderson finally got a wicket, trapping Jayden Seales lbw to wrap up the West Indies first innings it produced the biggest cheer of the day at Lord’s.

Zak in his armour

Zak Crawley looked on course for a fifth Test century after reaching 76 late in the day.

But the opener, who’d been working his way through the gears during the evening session, was unable to keep out a brilliant yorker from Jayden Seales as England lost their third wicket with 153 on the board.

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