It has always befuddled. In an era where every rising superstar is termed as the next legend in the making when exactly does that term lose its meaning? Score three successive hundreds in a domestic game; you are called a future legend. Score six double hundreds in a year; you are notified as a future legend. Stamp your authority in a bi-lateral series or make an impressive debut in international cricket and you are immediately shortlisted as one. So what exactly does the term “legend” mean?
Does it take into account longevity or performances alone? At home or away? Does it see the skills possessed or the hard work done? Is it all about numbers or is it about bamboozling the opposition at regular intervals? Is it surpassing the record-holder for the most number of runs in your country or in the vast cricketing history? It remains as puzzling as the Bitcoins recent upsurge in the stock markets.
Welcome to the strange world of James Michael Anderson. The most successful English bowler with 514 Test wickets. The most skilful bowler of the generation; one who is capable of swinging the ball both ways with a subtle variation in his wrist position and his actions that make him a deadly threat to the rivals. Or will he be known as a bowler who contained the potential to fare better than his average of 27.34 and a strike rate of 56? Does his average of 34.8 and his strike rate of 67.8 do him justice, or is he even close to the other mighty bowlers who have taken the field in this era? It all remains relative- his skills and his talent; his numbers and his figures.
Yes, Anderson burst out in the English cricket scene with just six professional matches to his name and hence can be excused for the lack of impressive records in his early career. His peak began from 2010 and ever since he has been averaging 24.30 with a strike rate of 54.1, which is still much higher than the career average of Dale Steyn, widely regarded as the best bowler since the retirement of Glenn McGrath.
The Australian himself averages 21.73 in 195 innings. Wasim Akram ended with 23.17 and Shaun Pollock with 23.25. When viewed in totality, Anderson hardly stands a chance against the bowlers who have stamped their mark with shattering performances on a regular basis.
The Englishman averages 3.8 wickets a match- numbers which might seem vastly impressive on first glance, but when it is known that bowlers like Merv Hughes and Harbhajan Singh have averaged much better than Anderson, the eyebrows start to rise in doubts. Morne Morkel, Chris Cairns, Darren Gough and Andy Caddick have pitched in with a better strike rate, but they will hardly ever feature in one’s list of the best fast bowlers of any generation? Then what sets Anderson apart?
Yes, he is highly durable and consistent in his trade. His ability to curve the ball in either direction with accuracy and precision is awe-inspiring. Each wicket narrates its own tale, with Jimmy building up a dismissal with an outswinging delivery, only to follow it up with an inswinging crusher. His wobble ball that has accounted for Sachin Tendulkar many a time and has wreaked havoc amongst the Australians in 2010-11 is still a nightmare but his ineffectiveness in conditions that offer swing has hardly gone unnoticed.
In India, where spin and flat wickets are the norms, the fast bowler has picked up 26 wickets at an average of 33.46 and a strike rate of 71.5, which is in great contrast to Steyn’s figures, who averages 21.38 in the land. In South Africa, Anderson averages 39.92 and in Australia 36.21. A look at the table puts into perspective the performances of the former greats against a bowler who is being touted as one.
|Averages of bowlers in different conditions|
|Bowler||In the subcontinent||In Australia and New Zealand||In Africa||In England|
Though he picked up a 5-wicket haul in the second Ashes match at the Adelaide Oval, his first ever in Australia and only 5th overseas, his inability to get under the skin of Steven Smiths and David Warners has not gone unnoticed. He has plucked up just three more wickets in the remaining three innings of the ongoing series and it once again gives rise to the authenticity of the tag that has been bestowed upon him.
But cricket is more than just mere numbers. It is an amalgamation of emotions and memories; of nostalgia and feelings. Anderson is brilliant in those aspects of the game. The very sight of witnessing an undecipherable delivery blow off the stumps of the batsman on a chilly morning at Lords will always stay put but till the numbers improve, the debates will forever remain. Is Anderson indeed one of the best bowlers of this era?
*All figures till the second Test match between Australia and England at the Adelaide Oval