Aug 2, 2022: Ever heard of a fast bowler hurtling them down at the age of 40? It may sound unthinkable especially in recent times with so much cricket being played across three formats. But then with James Anderson around anything is possible. It’s true that he played his last limited overs international in 2015 and since then has played only Test cricket. But then to be playing the game’s traditional – and longest – format at this age is phenomenal. He is in his 20th year in international cricket and one has perhaps to go back to Imran Khan who was the last fast bowler to play 20 years. But even he did not go on till he was 40, playing his last international for Pakistan when he was 39. Anderson turned 40 on July 30 and has figured in 172 Tests second only to Sachin Tendulkar’s 200 but easily the most durable for any fast bowler. Naturally he has been very successful otherwise he could not have lasted this long but the fact that he remains effective today as he was when he was much younger speaks volumes of his skill, durability and adaptability.
If anything, like good wine Anderson is getting better with age and his average and strike rate have improved with each passing year of late. Even at this age and after having played international cricket for so long he still retains a boyish enthusiasm for bowling which perhaps is the chief reason for his tremendous success. His judicious mix of pace and swing gives the batsman no respite and at an age when fast bowlers have already long retired he is still able to take wickets consistently despite a workload that would have been deemed to be impossible for a fast bowler. He has sent down 37,077 deliveries in Test cricket alone – something unheard of for a bowler of his pace – besides around 10,000 deliveries in the two other formats. The fact that with 657 wickets he is the most successful fast bowler of all time and the third highest wicket taker behind Muthiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne has been well documented. In fact, only these two spinners and Anil Kumble have sent down more deliveries than Anderson – the ultimate tribute to his zeal, fitness and longevity.
When he made his Test debut in 2003 a couple of months short of his 21st birthday with a five-wicket haul, it was the heyday of Steve Harmisson, Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff. He took some time to cement his place in the side but from then on there has been no looking back. He has emerged as a reliable pro, the most dependable bowler who has always delivered the goods whatever the situation and conditions. With Stuart Broad he has formed the most successful pair in Test history with the duo accounting for a total of 1209 wickets between them.
Even now there is no talk of retirement for Anderson. And why should there be when he is as good as ever. If proof was needed it was provided during the recently concluded Tests against New Zealand and India when in three Tests he took 17 wickets at just over 18 apiece.
A bowler with his awesome record should be beyond criticism but Anderson has his detractors who say that his mode of bowling can bring him wickets only in England and he is not effective in other countries. The charge is not exactly true for Anderson has an admirable away record as a tally of 216 wickets from 68 Tests at an average of 31.62 will convey. Naturally it cannot compare with his eye rubbing and mind-boggling stats at home but then this is true of almost every great bowler who performs better at home than away.
In any case Anderson is already a folk hero having a stand named after him at his home ground in Old Trafford. His command of swing bowling has been the stuff of artistry bearing comparison with any swing bowler in any age. He first played for England in ODIs as a 20-year-old but 20 years later he shows no indication of riding away silently into the sunset.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)