We are now well over half-way into a summer of Ashes cricket that has encompassed all of the predictable drama, tension and controversy that we have become accustomed to whenever these two great cricketing rivals fight it out over this little, yet greatly significant, urn.
After England comfortably retained the Ashes after just three tests and set their sights on an all out series win, one of the most enduring images of the contest so far has been that of Jimmy Anderson celebrating yet another test wicket for his country, even after his slight drought in the third test at Old Trafford. As Anderson continues to terrorise the old enemy this summer with his fine blend of controlled, metronomic and destructive swing bowling, it is worth appreciating a cricketer who could soon be joining the likes of Sir Ian Botham in English cricketing immortality.
So what has caused the great swing bowler Wasim Akram to describe Anderson as ‘the best bowler of his era’? What is it that has lead double-Ashes winning Captain Andrew Strauss to define him as ‘one of the most the complete bowlers in the world’?
The stats are the perfect place to begin. At the end of the third test he has 322 Test wickets, placing him third in England's all-time list behind Botham and just three short of second placed Bob Willis. He is also England’s leading wicket taker in ODI’s with 245. Along with his 18 T20 victims, his total strikes for England stands at 585. At the age of 31, many more are sure to follow. Do not be surprised if he surpasses Botham’s grand total of 383 test wickets. In the past three years since the start of the summer of 2010, Anderson has taken 152 test wickets at an average of 24.73, lower than any other England pace bowler who has reached 150 wickets, with the exception of Trueman, who never bowled in India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka.
Some may challenge that his current career average of 29.66 is significantly inferior to Dale Steyn’s 22.65, the South African who heads the ICC bowling chart. Yet, there are few who can compete with Anderson’s mastery of swing. He is one of the few players capable of swinging the ball, old or new, both in the orthodox fashion and through reverse swing, with total control and devastating results. He can now deliver two variations of away and in-swing – one which goes normally and the other even later, done with a flawless command of line and length. The major enhancement in his game has been his ability to find just enough movement in the air or off the surface with an older ball.
Furthermore, he is a formidable operator in all conditions. Under cloud with the new ball via conventional swing he is lethal, whilst under different circumstances when the ball has abraded he is equally as deadly, hiding the ball behind his hands before delivering so as to offer no clues to watchful batsmen looking for the shine of the cherry. No one else has his range of adaptability and skill.
Anderson is at the forefront of England’s ball management in order to maximise potential swing. It is he who you will see time and again cradling the ball delicately between his thumb and forefinger to avoid getting sweat on the leather, he who shines the ball at the stumps from mid-on before deliberately bouncing the ball in dirt around the wicket-ends. He will even bowl many wobble-seam deliveries that land by the side of the seam rather than on it.
His appetite for taking wickets, his immense levels of fitness and his willpower to deliver for his side in any way possible are all parts of the Anderson package. His performance in that nail-biting first Test at Trent Bridge is a fine example, where he took 10 wickets as England clung on for a 14-run victory. On the final day he delivered a 13-over, one hour and a half spell of supreme and unwavering bowling in extreme heat. He probed unremittingly around off-stump tempting the Australian batsmen, questioning their technique and conceding only three boundaries in the process. Despite an increasingly sluggish pitch and cramp, he fought on after lunch to appropriately take the winning wicket to thwart Australia’s valiant fight back. The man of the match award naturally, and deservingly, ensued.
Sports fans often reminisce about great players long after they have hung up their kits; therefore it is important that we admire this talented and relentless wicket taker whilst we still can. English cricket can be safe in the knowledge that, injuries aside, they will have one of the most gifted, resilient and determined bowlers in the world for a little while longer yet. Anderson will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest bowlers to have donned the blue cap of England. He has evolved into the foremost exponent of swing bowling in the world. Jimmy Anderson is the King of Swing, and he is on the verge of sporting greatness.