Just Reward For a Game Trier and Skilful Bowler
When Freddie Trueman became the first bowler to take 300 Test wickets in August 1964 he was asked whether anyone would break his record. The fiery England fast bowler said ''Aye,but whoever does will be bloody tired.’’
Now 56 years later we have another England fast bowler who has doubled that figure and yes, he must be tired. But the great thing about James Anderson is that he doesn’t really show it. Over 17 years and 156 Tests he has had his share of injuries, his body has now and then buckled under the pressure of the heavy workload that comes with being England’s premier fast bowler.
But each time he has fought back through sheer will power and now stands on the pinnacle as the first paceman to take 600 wickets. The only bowlers ahead of him are the three spin bowlers Muthiah Muarlitharan (800), Shane Warne (708) andf Anil Kumble (619)
It is a tribute to Anderson’s skill and durability for there are not many fast bowlers to last through 17 years in Test cricket. At 38, there is no talk of retirement and why should there be when he is bowling with fire and accuracy, his late swing luring the best of batsmen into error. He is just plain indefatigable even after sending down 33,717 deliveries in Test cricket a monumental effort for his bowler of his pace. The next highest by a fast bowler in Tests is 30,019 balls sent down by Courtney Walsh who played 132 Tests. And if anything he is getting better with age – something rare for a fast bowler. His work ethic has ensured that even at 38 he is in excellent shape and is arguably bowling better than ever.
Indeed Anderson is nothing short of a marvel. He has lost none of his youthful zest for the game. He still loves to bowl, still loves to bowl fast and make the ball dart this way and that. What England would do without Anderson is too frightening even to contemplate. Besides his 156 Tests he has figured in 194 ODIs and 19 T-20 internationals. As a tireless workhorse Anderson has few equals in cricket history. Captains from Nasser Hussain to Joe Root have placed the ball in his hands knowing fully well that he can be expected to deliver quite often when it matters most.
A common criticism against Anderson is that he is a master in home conditions but not so effective abroad. This is not exactly true though the away stats do not measure up to his fabulous record in England. But this is true of almost every great bowler when it comes to comparing home and away figures. And like the other greats Anderson has won Tests for England abroad too with sterling performances the latest being the five-wicket haul against South Africa at Johannesburg in January this year. The figures though make for interesting reading. In 89 home Tests he has taken 384 wickets at an average of 23.83 with 22 five-wicket hauls and a strike rate of 50.1. In 67 away games he has 216 wickets at 32 apiece with seven five-wicket hauls and a strike rate of 66.9.
More than his pace Anderson is renowned for his swing bowling. As Glenn McGrath succinctly put it ''when he is swinging the ball both ways and is in control there is no one better’’. As a master of late inswing and outswing Anderson has had few equals in the game. His accuracy means that the batsman has to play and frequently he either edges the ball behind or to the slip cordon, is bowled or is palpably leg before. According to McGrath who held the record for a fast bowler with 563 wickets till Anderson went past him he has raised the bar for fast bowlers just as Sachin Tendulkar did. ''No one is going to catch up with Sachin in Test cricket in the tally of runs he has amassed or the matches he has played. Jimmy has done the same for fast bowlers.’’
So where does Anderson go from here? Well, hopefully another Ashes campaign Down Under in 2021-22 when he will be 39. He still feels that he has plenty to offer to the England team. 'I am working hard on my fitness, I am working hard on my game,’’ he said on Tuesday after reaching the landmark. With a little bit of rest and rotation there is every reason to believe that Anderson will be ready to go to Australia a little over a year later.