James Anderson is clearly modern cricket’s marvel. This week he completes 18 years in Test cricket and one can think of only Imran Khan among fast bowlers to have lasted this long. The former Pakistan captain had a 20-year Test career starting from 1971 and it is undoubtedly a great feat being an all-rounder and leading the side too. But for any fast bowler to continue for 18 years and being as effective today as he was when he was much younger speaks volumes of his skill, durability and adaptability.
Indeed, 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. He completes 39 in July but still retains a boyish enthusiasm for bowling which perhaps is the chief reason for his tremendous success. His judicious mix of pace, swing and cut gives the batsman no respite and at an age when fast bowlers have already 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 played 160 Tests since his debut in May 2003, sent down 34,326 deliveries – something unheard of for a bowler of his pace – and with a tally of 614 wickets is the most successful fast bowler of all time and fourth in the list of wicket takers. Surely it is only a matter of time before he overhauls Anil Kumble’s haul of 619 wickets leaving him behind only Shane Warne and Muthiah Muralitharan. Indeed, only the three spinners have sent down more deliveries than Anderson – the ultimate tribute to his zeal, fitness and longevity.
It’s not been an easy road for Anderson. He has had his share of setbacks and injuries but it has been his never say die attitude, his willingness to take all this in his stride and come back stronger that has stood him in very good stead. He has had a big heart – a prerequisite for a fast bowler – and this has enabled him to keep going when conditions are loaded in favour of the batsmen or when things are not going well.
When he made his Test debut a couple of months short of his 21st birthday with a five-wicket haul it was the heydays 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. He is England’s pride and joy. With Stuart Broad he has formed the most successful pair in Test history with the duo accounting for a total of 1131 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 required it was provided during the Chennai Test in February. Needing 420 for victory, India were cruising along comfortably towards a draw at 92 for two on the fifth morning. In one over Anderson, with his adroit blend of pace and swing, bowled Shubman Gill and Ajinkya Rahane and the fate of the match was decided. For good measure a little later he removed Rishabh Pant making sure that England’s victory would be hastened.
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 208 wickets from 65 Tests at an average of just under 32 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 – “our Jimmy” to his legion of England fans – 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 and in his 19th year of international cricket – he first played for England in ODIs as a 20-year-old – he shows no indication of riding away silently into the sunset.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal)