597 to 600: Anderson's eventual victory over drops and bad weather
A journey that should have been brief considering James Anderson's impeccable standards gradually stretched into a prolonged painful wait. With no fault of his own, Anderson had to experience a significant delay to reach the astonishing milestone of 600 wickets as an awful fielding performance from his teammates and wet weather sapped the momentum of a historic moment. Four wickets from a rampaging Anderson in the visitors' first innings signalled a dash to the 600-mark but his compatriots in the ground had other plans and the rain gods didn't spare him either.
Barring all the obstacles lying in his path, it only seemed fitting that Anderson signed off England's home Test summer, plagued by the unprecedented coronavirus situation, with a stunning achievement which appears to be more and more unreal the further you read into it.
There is no denying the fact Anderson is synonymous with longevity. A tenacious character and a fighter who continues to brave troubles with the simple formula of consistency. Such superhuman levels of sharp accuracy sustained throughout a 17-year long career can never be matched by the mere mortals populating this planet.
Perhaps the only dampener on the perennial champion's blaze of glory on Tuesday was the empty stadium, which silently stared back at his heroics. Although the absence of spectators – a grim reminder of the times we live in – was compensated by a cacophony of applause from the England camp, the warmth of a crowd cheering on his every major accomplishment was missing.
As the world celebrates yet another testament to the greatness of the Lancashire legend, here is a recap of the tribulations, close shaves and the ultimate moment of triumph for the 'King of Swing' in the last three days.
86.3, Pakistan's 1st innings
In fading light, Rory Burns drops a regulation chance from a flashy drive off the centurion Azhar Ali's bat. The ball arrived at the opener in a jiffy making him react to it quickly but then it just popped out of his hands to travel to the boundary fence, leaving Anderson rather bemused.
86.5, Pakistan's 1st innings
Frustration piles on for the veteran when he is not even given enough time to recover from the shock of the Burns' miss that he now has to deal with a drop from Zak Crawley at fourth slip. The ball shaped away nicely to take the edge of tail-ender Mohammad Abbas but Crawley, perfectly positioned to take a waist-high catch, has somehow spilled it. "Anderson is gonna explode" is how Ian Ward in the commentary box sums up the reactions.
88.6, Pakistan's 1st innings
Butterfingers everywhere! In the space of 10 deliveries, England drop the third catch off Anderson's bowling, intriguingly each one easier than the preceding chance. His longtime new-ball partner Stuart Broad fumbles a dolly lobbed straight to him by Azhar. Broad surprisingly pulls off a run-out in the proceeding chaos after the drop but celebrations are mute and the deservedly grumpy Anderson does well to keep his cool.
James Anderson is unimpressed with all the drops off his bowling ©Getty Images
92.6, Pakistan's 1st innings
The excruciating wait for No. 598 is finally over and Dom Sibley succeeds in grasping the ball in slips. Anderson's reaction is more relieved than happy but he is certainly grateful for the 29th five-wicket haul of his career.
4.3, Pakistan's 2nd innings
If the curse of the drops seemed like a thing of the past in low visibility, it's back again to haunt Anderson. An ugly wobble on the ball off an edge from Shan Masood gets the better of Jos Buttler, the wicketkeeper who completed three spectacular grabs on day three. There is despair in the air and Anderson trudges back to his run-up with a wry smile.
49.5, Pakistan's 2nd innings
A lengthy vigil on the flat track is eventually disrupted by Anderson right when Pakistan look to be safely batting time. Anderson exploits the reverse swing on offer to get another inch closer to history. Abid Ali is caught playing an incoming delivery on the backfoot. The lbw call is marginal but luck is favouring the English protagonist for a change.
61.2, Pakistan's 2nd innings
Hours of rain and soggy outfield can't keep Anderson out of action, who immediately strikes with his 14th ball of the day to bring up Test wicket No. 600 in style! He produces a jaffa when you least expect it as Azhar is outwitted by the sudden bounce on the lifeless pitch. The fractionally short ball jags away from the batsman to catch the shoulder of his bat while Joe Root times his jump brilliantly to hold onto it. It's not the typical set-up that Anderson usually thrives on but it is exceedingly effective as it is a remarkable delivery in the circumstances. He is absolutely ecstatic and his joyous teammates clap enthusiastically for him. He holds aloft the special cricket ball, imprinting his presence in uncharted territory. This is it...the pinnacle of excellence is here. The moment, the day, the world...everything belongs to James Michael Anderson.