James Anderson became the first pace bowler in the history to reach 600 wickets in Test cricket
James Anderson is about craft, perseverance and longevity. The ageless – he is 38 – England seamer picked his 600th Test wicket with his 33,717th delivery in this format, when he dismissed Pakistan captain Azhar Ali at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. Anderson became the first pace bowler in the history of the game to reach 600 wickets in Test cricket. An achievement of such magnitude deserved a standing ovation from a full house. What a shame that the Covid-forced ghost games were played behind closed doors.
Anderson is a late bloomer. His real surge began post 30s. In the eight years from 30 to 38, he has picked 336 wickets. The great England fast bowler Fred Trueman, the first man to take 300 wickets in Test cricket, was asked about whether his record could be surpassed. “Aye, but whoever does will be bloody tired,” Trueman had replied. The great man from Yorkshire played 67 Tests and bowled 15,178 balls for his 307 wickets.
Fast bowling is indeed ‘bloody’ hard work. Anderson, the Lancashire legend and unarguably the greatest England fast bowler ever, has bowled 33,745 deliveries so far in the longest format of the game. He is still raring to go and eyeing 700 Test scalps.
In 2017, after the Ashes tour in Australia, Anderson had spoken about it would be his last series Down Under. But the seamer is now seriously thinking about another crack in Australia in 2021-22. “I have chatted to Joe (Root) about this a little bit and he has said he would like me to be in Australia,” Anderson said after the third Test against Pakistan. “I don’t see any reason why I can’t be. I’m working hard on my fitness all the time. I’m working hard on my game,” he added. Asked about the possibility of reaching 700 Test wickets, he replied: “Can I reach 700? Why not?”
For the first half of his career, Anderson was bit of a one-dimensional bowler, who thrived in English conditions, with a red Dukes ball. The four-match Test series in India in 2012-13 proved to be a real game-changer for him. He was one of the architects of England’s series win, claiming 12 wickets. His bowling in the third Test at Eden Gardens was a joy to watch, especially the way he got the better of Sachin Tendulkar in the first innings.
Anderson made one shape away off a length, with the shiny side of the ball facing the batsman. It induced an edge from Tendulkar behind the stumps. The master batsman was batting on 76, but he was done in by the trickery. Throughout the innings, Anderson had kept Tendulkar guessing, bowling conventional and reverse swing. The battle between the two greats was fascinating. Anderson has dismissed Tendulkar nine times in his career. He has accounted for ex-Australia captain Michael Clarke nine times as well.
In fact, Anderson’s global ascent had started during the 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia, where he took 24 wickets in five Tests in England’s 3-1 series victory. This is Anderson’s 17th season in top-flight cricket and discipline is a major reason for his longevity. Along the way, he has added many tricks to his repertoire. His fingers and wrist can still make the ball talk. He bends the ball at his will. He is the ‘Sultan of Swing’.
Pain is any fast bowler’s ‘old friend’. Two years ago, in a column for The Telegraph (London), Anderson had elaborated on how pain from being a fast bowler affected his normal life. “Mainly it is just about managing my shoulder. Bowling actually loosens it up. It is getting a balance between bowling enough to loosen it but not too much to cause a problem,” he wrote.
“It can affect me in normal life. Sometimes it hurts brushing my teeth or putting on a T-shirt in the morning, or anything else that gets me into an awkward position. It is just about working with the physio and doing exercises with a rubber band to keep the joint loose and the muscles around the shoulder strong.”
It’s good news for cricket fans that Anderson has his heart set on more. He is a once in a generation swing bowler and if all goes well, Indian fans will get to see him during the Test series in February-March next year. It could be Anderson’s Indian farewell and if the pandemic subsides by then, cricket might return to normal, stadium-attendance wise.
Can any other fast bowler get to 600 Test wickets? Anderson’s long-standing new-ball partner Stuart Broad is on 514 scalps from 143 Tests. He is 34 years old and the most likely candidate to reach the 600 mark after Anderson. But to paraphrase Trueman, whoever gets there would be bloody exhausted.