“He may not have the swagger of Steyn, the precision of McGrath, the intimidation of Ambrose or the flair of Akram. But what he does have is 564 wickets, more than any of them, and still counting”
The middle-stump was uprooted, the outstretched arms greeted the crowd and James Anderson had an impish, yet wide grin, spread across his face. He had reached the pinnacle among fast bowlers in the history of cricket. No fast bowler in Test cricket has taken more than 564 Test wickets and James Anderson’s record is unlikely to be breached any time soon.
People like to talk about pace, swing, seam, overhead conditions and variety when talking of fast bowling. To do all of this and more relentlessly for a long period of time is why James Anderson is where he is. He has bowled close to 250 overs more than any fast bowler in the history of the game and has been England fast bowling’s lynchpin for quite some time now, shaking off constant criticism regarding his lack of penetration in difficult conditions.
At 36, Anderson is an aged war-horse, one who has gotten used to his daily rigours and tirelessly slogs putting the team ahead of himself. When he brought one back into Mohammad Shami late on day 5 to seal England’s win, Anderson had pushed back Glenn McGrath to sit on top of the world.
“It’s hard to explain, and I don’t want to play it down too much, but it doesn’t mean a great deal to me. I guess my mum and dad will be happy because they don’t have to come to Sri Lanka!”
“I have said this throughout my career that when I finish, it will mean a hell of a lot to me to be able to see what I have achieved. But right now it’s hard when you just put all your energy into the present and try to perform well for England, that’s all I really focus on,” Anderson said after his 564th as revealed by Cricbuzz.
That the massive achievement has not yet hit Anderson is a reflection of his innate maturity and willingness to perform for the team rather than for himself. Over the years, from being Darren Gough’s and Steven Harmison’s understudy to taking over the mantle of fast bowling spearhead, Anderson has been a dream bowler for English captains.
He was largely kept out of the attack for the majority of day 5 of the Oval Test but returned late in the day with Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul going strong. From then, Anderson went about proving why he is regarded as one of the best fast bowlers in the history of the game.
The Lancashire seamer bowled 13.3 overs on the trot, bowling 9 maidens and conceding a mere 12 runs. Stats would show just one wicket against his name in this session but the immense pressure he exerted on the Indian duo looking to take the attack to the English bowlers can easily be underestimated.
This has been the story of Anderson’s career. From warding off comparisons with Dale Steyn and Glenn McGrath to proving his detractors wrong in unfavourable conditions, Anderson’s career is a fairytale like no other. It is easy to push him aside as a conditions-based bowler given the kind of influence he generates when conditions do suit him.
But does that mean he has been average in alien conditions? Take a walk down memory lane into some of England’s best Test series wins with Anderson in the side and you would see the fast bowler has had a profound influence on the series.
Even in the Panesar – Swann gala feat in India in 2012, Anderson was the silent assassin with 13 wickets in the series with MS Dhoni reserving special praise for the seamer. In a closely fought series, Anderson was the difference between the sides. Even in the latest Ashes debacle in Australia, Anderson picked up 17 wickets at 27.82 even as England’s other seamers appeared sorely off-colour.
From a red-headed fiery fast bowler with pace, Anderson has turned into a seamer less reliant on pace, forever fine tuning his other skills. “What Jimmy has achieved and what he is capable of still achieving is astounding,” Root had said after the Oval Test. “He’s probably bowling at his best. Throughout this summer, he’s been outstanding.
“We have to do everything we can to prolong his career. Hopefully, there’s still going to be a number of series where he’s leading the attack and terrorizing the batters.”
People are quick to brandish him as a home track bully but what those people probably don’t realise is how ineffective England’s bowling can be abroad in the absence of Anderson. With steadiness and unwavering commitment, Anderson is a workhorse and strike bowler all moulded into one.
The series began with talks of England thinking of resting Anderson once the series was won. He played all five, emerged as the leading wicket-taker and played a quintessential, yet easily forgettable role, in England’s series win.
From his dream debut against Zimbabwe to his Trent Bridge show off against Australia in 2013 to his Headingley menace against Sri Lanka, Anderson has truckloads of searing performances to line-up if asked about his impact. But perhaps his biggest achievement, and one which could easily be buried in the memories of a few who really acknowledge his skill, is his effectiveness when not being at his best.
A niggardly bowler, Anderson depended on conditions like any fast bowler would. But was he ineffective outside of his comfort zone? Was he ever dismissed as unthreatening in any condition? He may not have the swagger of Steyn, the precision of McGrath, the intimidation of Ambrose or the flair of Akram. But what he does have is 564 wickets, more than any of them, and still counting…..