Mitchell Johnson: What does Jimmy Anderson’s retirement mean for ageing Australian greats?

Mitchell Johnson
The West Australian
What does Jimmy Anderson's retirement mean for the likes of Nathan Lyon and Usman Khawaja?
What does Jimmy Anderson's retirement mean for the likes of Nathan Lyon and Usman Khawaja? Credit: AAP

Even at 41, England’s greatest Test wicket taker Jimmy Anderson needed a tap on the shoulder before conceding it was all over.

Coach Brendon McCullum, just a year older than him, had to fly from the other side of the world for a round of golf with the fast bowler where he would deliver the news that it was time for the team to move on without him.

What was initially mooted as a farewell English summer for Anderson has become one farewell match in the first Test of the summer at Lord’s, against the West Indies in July.

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Andrew McDonald and the hierarchy at Cricket Australia might be looking on with interest, because it is an issue they are going to confront repeatedly over the next few years given our ageing Test team.

Usman Khawaja, 37, Nathan Lyon, 36, Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc, both 34 and Josh Hazlewood, 33, are the older players in the side.

Retired former white-ball captain Aaron Finch was asked about England’s handling of Anderson this week, praising the way the EBC and McCullum dealt with a legend of the game.

Finch also made an interesting observation when he said history would suggest that CA don’t always get it right when it comes to the exits of players and coaches.

Anderson had hoped for one last Ashes series in 2025-26 when he would have been 43. The ECB looked ahead and made a positive decision - not based on what a great player has achieved, but instead on what the future looks like for England cricket and the direction they are going in. It looks to have been done in a professional and respectful way.

England coach Brendon McCullum and retiring seamer Jimmy Anderson.
England coach Brendon McCullum and retiring seamer Jimmy Anderson. Credit: Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Lyon has already signalled he wants to return to England for the 2027 Ashes, when he will be 39, and been backed in that aim by captain Pat Cummins.

Khawaja never thought he would find himself back in the team and, turning 38 in December, says every day is a gift and he will keep rolling with it while he can. That’s a great attitude to have because we know it can end at any moment.

As we have seen recently with Australia’s Test team and again with the squad for the T20 World Cup, the selectors love backing in the older players and keeping the same group together.

But all good things come to an end and we know that eventually, decisions will have to be made. Either by the players themselves or by someone giving them the tap on the shoulder.

We know the players have great records, there’s no doubting that, and if you are still performing then you hold your spot, but for how long?

There are so many factors that come into play. Are there younger players who selectors want to give chances to? Will they be wary of losing too much experience at the same time and come up with a plan to stagger the departures of the senior core?

At the moment, Australia seem very content with where they are. But there comes a point when the future of the game is important as we can see knock-on effects.

It will be interesting over the next few years to see how CA deals with it. Will there be more players talking about playing into their 40s? Will we see more farewell Test matches or even series like David Warner had last summer?

I’ve never really understood the farewell lap, tour, or series, however you look at it.

Cricketers are all different in the way they see their careers finishing. But there haven’t been too many farewell summers or storybook endings.

It also creates questions when you have to decide which players qualify for that sort of treatment and which don’t. How many games do you need to have played and in which formats?

Having decided to pull the plug on my Test career during a match early in the 2015-16 season, some people have said that I should have announced my looming retirement before the series so I could have been celebrated and fans could come to watch one last time.

One, I didn’t really know I was retiring at the start of the series and two, I don’t see why that matters so much.

When I retired at the WACA Ground, I told my teammates mid-Test and I had friends and family there but I never wanted a big fuss.

I just wanted to enjoy that last moment with my teammates, have fun and finish the game happy - just how I started it when playing as a kid.

In the end, Cricket Australia were kind enough to invite me to do a lap of honour around the WACA Ground during a one-day international, which I was going to say no to before my wife convinced me to do it.

Cricketers are all different in the way they see their careers finishing. But there haven’t been too many farewell summers or storybook endings.

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