Almost two years ago during the Ashes in England, I posted a blog for Sport Lived about the quality of a certain Jimmy Anderson and our need to appreciate him while we’ve still got him. The article also predicted that he would become England’s all-time leading Test wicket taker. Well, nearly 24 months on we have still got him – the wickets are still tumbling, the performances still inspiring and that record previously held by Sir Ian Botham? It’s just been broken.
Sport does, every now and again, have a real poetic beauty to it. Anderson becoming England’s all-time leading wicket-taker in Test matches during his 100th cap for his country is just another fine example. The first of the three Tests currently being played out between England and the West Indies in the Caribbean may have ended in a whimper but the highlight of the match, and one that will very much go down in the history books, belonged to England’s new history man. The magic three-hundred and eighty-three wickets has been met and surpassed. Remarkable. The 400 barrier is soon to be smashed too.
The magnitude of his achievement is put into further perspective when you consider that the record he has broken stood for 30 years and was held by a player who is viewed as the greatest English cricketer of all-time. Anderson may not be quite worthy of that particular title, Sir Ian Botham lest we forget was also a magnificent batsman, but he undoubtedly deserves the mantle of England’s finest ever bowler. What’s more, he has become only the second English fast bowler to reach the landmark of 100 Tests. He has been, and continues to be, a complete bowler who England turn to in times of need – be it to get wickets, run the hard miles during the middle of an innings or come up with the reverse swing when the chance arrives. His wonderful fielding ability is also invaluable.
The comparisons with Botham aren’t just from the number of wickets accumulated. Both perfected the skill of swing bowling. In fact, some may claim that the Burnley man isn’t merely alongside Botham but ahead of him – he has taken swing-bowling to another level altogether because of his variety. As stated by Ex-England captain Michael Atherton, Anderson is a ‘Master of Deception.’ From the way he tilts his wrist or alters the pressure applied to the ball he can move it both ways late in its journey towards the quivering batsman without losing pace. He has a wobble-seam ball that straightens when it pitches and is always looking to change the angle of attack by moving around the crease. Anderson toys with batsmen, probing them until they crack. He is a lot more than just your everyday international fast-bowler. The fact that he is also England’s leading wicket-taker in ODI’s with over 250 wickets demonstrates how he has been able to adapt and remain as effective in other forms of the game. Anderson has brilliantly led the England bowling attack ever since he first struck up a partnership with Stuart Broad in 2007.
Anderson’s character is so endearing to English fans because of its rarity for a type of sportsman whose success on the field is defined by the totting-up individual stats. He’s tenacious and aggressive in his yearning for wickets (just think of those slagging matches with Australia’s Michael Clarke) but it has always been about the team for Anderson, not individual honours. Listen to him in previous interviews talking about the prospect of becoming England’s leading wicket-taker and his humbleness, his almost unease at the idea, is genuine. Bowlers have to be arrogant and persistent creatures, certain that they will get their man no matter how many times a chance goes to waste or a delivery gets flung to the far reaches of the ground. Anderson has always had great confidence in his ability but his feet have never left the ground. It’s what enabled him to trust his instinctive, unusual action and come through a difficult, early phase in his career – indeed his debut had come two years before the famous bowling attack he was absent from that dismantled Australia in the 2005 Ashes.
It was rather fitting that it was Anderson who was still thundering in during the final over of the first Test, trying desperately to get the winning wickets his side needed. It won’t be the last time. Every delivery in every over of Anderson’s international career in all-formats of the game have been characterised by a gritty determination and desire on top of the obvious pace and masterful swing ability. He has reached the century landmark by being able to overcoming significant mental, physical and technical challenges. He will thrive whatever the conditions, an ability owed in part to his supreme physical attributes. Like all leaders of their sporting art, Anderson is rarely impaired by injury. His consistency of wicket-taking is matched by his consistency of appearance. He has given everything to the England cause and will do so until he hangs up his spikes – and what a sad day for English cricket that will be.
With England still being so reliant upon their main man, these 17 matches in 9 months, including the Ashes, will challenge Anderson once again. This summer could be the perfect send-off for an astonishing international career. Anderson will go down in history as one of the finest ever bowlers to don the England cap. Fortunately for England, that history is still being written…