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500 not out

• Posted in Australia / Cricket • By JoeBaker

There are certain sportsmen and women who have transcended their individual sports. Think Federer, Nadal and Serena Williams in tennis, Messi and Ronaldo in football, Bolt and Farah in athletics or Froome and Hoy in cycling to highlight but a few. Another name, if it hasn’t already, should be scratched into the pantheon of sporting greats – the England cricketer Jimmy Anderson.

He may not be as glamorous, flashy or outspoken, yet there have been few people this side of the 21st century who have had more of an individual impact on their sport. This was emphasised yet again over the recent cricketing summer, when Anderson became only the sixth player in history, and the first Englishman, to pass 500 Test wickets. Along with the famous retired speedsters Courtney Walsh of the West Indies and Australia’s Glen McGrath, he is one of only three fast bowlers to have reached such stunning heights. After 129 marches over a 14-year Test career to date, the Burnley man sits on 506 wickets.

The remarkable thing, and the frightening one for opponents, is that right now Anderson does not exactly look like someone drifting off into the rich glow of retirement. Despite turning 35 this year, he is still England’s number one bowler and leader of the attack, working harmoniously in partnership with Stuart Broad, who himself became England’s second all-time wicket taker behind Anderson after he surpassed Sir Ian Botham this summer. The hunger to keep taking wickets has not going away.

If Anderson can continue to avoid serious injuries and now get over the little niggles that were starting to become more prominent in his aging limbs, who knows how many more batsmen he can send back to the pavilion? Especially with a current Captain in Joe Root who seems aware, and more importantly unafraid, of carefully managing Anderson and taking him out of the attack when he sees fit. The target of becoming the number one pace bowler in history by overtaking McGrath’s 563 must surely be on his mind.

Not that he would admit it. Indeed, one of the most endearing qualities of Anderson, and the one that has helped him remain consistently brilliant into the twilight years of his career, is his character and attitude towards the game. You’d think that once he started to achieve success in the international game that Anderson might have rested on his laurels and stuck to what he knew he did best. Yet like most athletes at the head of their profession, he has always kept striving to improve his bowling, and as shown by an 81 he scored three years ago, his batting too. The way he has recovered from injuries ahead of schedule also points to a terrific focus. This attitude – of never wanting to stand still and to keep pushing oneself – sets standards that lifts a whole group. He has been one of the most hard-working, as well as talented, players England have ever had.

If you go down the list of the finest bowlers to have played the game, you’ll see that many of them had a very specific, and extremely effective, way of getting people out. Then there are some whose skill with what they could do with the ball was such that they could manifest various ways of rampaging through a batting line-up. Anderson continues to be one of them. It is not normal for predominately swing bowlers to excel on different surfaces in the way Anderson has – that is purely down to the way he has worked hard to master different deliveries. He has thrived in English conditions, where the ball is more likely to swing on faster wickets often under cloud cover, with 329 of his 500 coming on home soil. However, the 171 away from home clearly shows his productivity on hard wickets such as in Australia, and those more suited for spin in India and Sri Lanka. His adaptability has been extraordinary, with a deadly reverse swinger and a scrambled seam delivery to outfox opponents, as well as a well disguised short ball.

You often find that the very best fast bowlers can be a little leaky in the runs department. Not Anderson. As well as taking wickets he can also hold an end and keep things tight when his side needs it. His bowling is metronomic at times – he can wear a batsman down into making a mistake as well as bowling jaffers that they simply cannot cope with. Having a bowler who can keep the pressure on and not give away any freebees is invaluable. The 10 over stint he pulled off in baking conditions against Australia at Trend Bridge during the 2013 Ashes is just one such example.

When the next instalment of the Ashes begins in a few weeks’ time, many will think back to the last time England won a series Down Under, way back in 2010/11. It says something about his durability and quality that Anderson is one of only three players from them who is still a regular for his country now. Anderson will rightly go down as the greatest player to bowl for England, so make the most of watching him play during this Ashes – it will almost certainly be his last. 

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