Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Gus Atkinson: England bowler shows he can be future on first day of West Indies Test at Lord’s – BBC Sport

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Video caption, Atkinson takes seven wickets on Test debut

  • Author, Stephan Shemilt
  • Role, Chief Cricket Writer at Lord’s

Life comes at you fast and Gus Atkinson bowls faster.

For all of the attention and emotion generated by James Anderson’s final appearance in Test cricket, it was Atkinson who eased into the slipstream and hinted at England’s tomorrow.

How perfect it would have been had Anderson presented Atkinson with his cap on a moody Wednesday morning at Lord’s – that honour went to debuting wicketkeeper Jamie Smith, with Atkinson welcomed to the England fold by Surrey team-mate Ollie Pope.

Instead, Atkinson had to settle for taking over from Anderson, literally replacing him in the attack 10 overs into the first morning of the first Test against West Indies, and responded with the best figures by an England bowler on debut for 29 years.

His name was on the famous honours board before the day was out.

“I walked in after and the board is right where I’m sitting, so it’s very special to see it up there,” Atkinson told BBC Sport. “I’m very proud. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.”

On an occasion all about Anderson, the stars (and dark clouds) had aligned to present what seemed the perfect conditions to end a legendary career with one final mesmeric spell.

Seldom do home crowds cheer quite so loudly when England win the toss and choose to field, but the Lord’s spectators recognised the grey sky and floodlights were prime Jimmy material.

There was a moving tribute video played on the big screen to England’s all-time leading wicket-taker, he led his team out for the national anthems and the entire Anderson family were on hand to ring the five-minute bell.

But this stage would not be filled by a greatest hits set, rather a thrilling debut album, one that will be music to the ears of the England hierarchy following the decision to pull Anderson from the dancefloor.

Not for one second is anyone trying to claim Atkinson is a better bowler than Anderson now, or that he will be in the future.

England, though, have nailed their colours to pace, consistently telling us that Test bowlers are most likely to be successful when they get up above 85mph.

And, for all of the encouragement offered to Anderson and Chris Woakes in the early going, West Indies openers Kraigg Brathwaite and Mikyle Louis were relatively untroubled by bowling in the low 80s.

Video caption, Vaughan analyses Atkinson’s fine first-innings performance

That all changed when Atkinson pushed down the slope at the Pavilion End in the 11th over. Quick steps, short delivery stride, high arm. His first delivery hit 89mph and his second, at 88mph, drew the usually obdurate Brathwaite into a wild hack and a drag-on to the stumps.

“I just wanted to get it down there in a good area. It wasn’t exactly where I wanted to bowl it, but it came off well, so I can’t complain,” said Atkinson.

“It was a bit of relief and nice to get the first one out of the way quickly.”

Atkinson’s average speed of 87.86 in that opening over is the second-fastest by an England bowler since such data has been measured, bettered only by Steven Finn in Bangladesh in 2010.

Slippery and skiddy, Atkinson made light of the slow pitch with a full length and a scrambled seam. In his third over, he added the wicket of Kirk McKenzie, drawn into an edge to second slip. Overall, his opening spell of five overs contained four maidens and the two runs he did concede were from a misfield.

Tellingly it was Atkinson, rather than Anderson, who was asked to begin proceedings after lunch, a decision repaid with a spectacular triple-wicket maiden.

Alick Athanaze poked to first slip and a squared-up Jason Holder was held at third for a golden duck. Joshua da Silva prevented Atkinson becoming only the fourth man to take a hat-trick on Test debut, but next ball inside-edged to give Smith his first catch as a Test keeper.

By this point, Atkinson had become the fifth England debutant to take a five-wicket haul in the two years Ben Stokes has been captain, following just two in the 13 previous years.

After Alzarri Joseph chipped to mid-on and Shamar Joseph got in an ugly tangle to be caught at backward point, Atkinson finished with 7-45, the best figures by an England bowler on Test bow since Dominic Cork on the same ground against the same opponents in 1995.

When Anderson trapped last man Jayden Seales lbw to leave West Indies 121 all out, the crowd sang Jimmy’s name, but it was Atkinson who led England from the field.

Those who know Atkinson say he is quiet, to the point of being shy. After he showed his well-earned match ball to the crowd as they applauded him off, he dropped it.

His father Ed was in the Lord’s Long Room, just as he was in the team huddle for the cap presentation at the beginning of the day, alongside Atkinson’s brother, sister and aunt. His mother Caroline passed away after a car crash four years ago.

“He’s a big cricket fan, to make him proud and my family proud is very special,” said Atkinson. “Walking through the Long Room at the end and seeing him there was pretty cool.”

At 26, Atkinson is something of a late developer. He did not make his Surrey debut until the age of 22 and this is his first first-class match at Lord’s.

“Gus Atkinson looks the real deal,” said former England captain Michael Vaughan. “He bowled with good zip and pace at the first time of asking.

“We know England are looking for pace. If you want to win a five-match series against India or Australia, you’re probably going to need five quicks that you can rotate.

“The hope for England by next summer is that they’ve got a group of bowlers that you don’t know who you’re going to leave out.”

Life comes at you fast. Very soon Anderson will be England’s past. Atkinson has made a speedy claim to be a big part of their future.

Video caption, ‘It was pretty special’ – Atkinson on seven-wicket debut

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