When you talk about passing of the torch, there has been none significant in recent times than that of Glenn McGrath passing it on to James Anderson. Anderson, who turns 38 today, has been one of the best pacers since McGrath’s retirement in 2007 and needless to say the England fast bowler is the leading wicket-taker in Tests since the Australian great’s retirement. Not many fast bowlers have managed to play 100 Tests, let alone 150-plus. It is a testament to Anderson’s commitment, hunger and fitness levels that has brought him this far, much like McGrath’s who had the same attitude and broke Courtney Walsh’s long-standing record of 519 wickets.
Now Anderson stands on the brink of 600 wickets, which is unprecedented for a fast bowler. With each passing day, Anderson has upped the bar with his stupendous performances and we may never see a quick bowler of his aptitude and perhaps even lesser bowlers who could break his record. The closest in all likelihood could be his team-mate Stuart Broad, who notched up his 500th wicket recently.
Anderson has aged like fine wine. His performances since turning 30 is what has made him the beast of a bowler he is today. Often misunderstood as someone who could only operate when there is swing, Anderson has proved that he is a man for all seasons and conditions. Anderson has the entire package be it swing, reverse swing, bowling accurate lines and lengths, the cutters or the slower deliveries. He is perhaps the most skillful bowler in Test cricket today and it is down to sheer hard work and determination to keep going. Anderson has already achieved post 30 that most cricketers fail to do their whole career.
It was not all hunky-dory for Anderson though. He was thrown into the deep end when he made his debut for England in a One-Day International (ODI) against Australia at MCG in 2002 after playing just five List A games – two of them for Lancashire. His talent was good enough for him to be picked in the 2003 World Cup, where he was England’s leading wicket-taker with 10 scalps at 22.50.
Anderson had picked up a hat-trick for Lancashire in 2003 and a week later, he made his Test debut against Zimbabwe at Lord’s where he also picked up his maiden five-wicket haul. His love-affair with Lord’s continues even to this day and he has more than 100 wickets at the venue. Other than Anderson only Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath have more than 100 wickets at a venue.
Anderson had to miss most of the 2006 season due to a stress fracture of the back, so much so that the ECB had advised him to bowl just three to four over spells so that he doesn’t further aggravate his injury. Following a successful Test debut, Anderson also had a successful ODI series against Pakistan in which he became the first England bowler to pick up a hat-trick in the format. But he underwent a further slump especially in the Test series against South Africa, when Graeme Smith butchered him for 157 runs at a strike-rate of 90.23, but Anderson still remained the highest wicket-taker for England in that series.
Anderson had a unique action: at the time of delivery, his head bent down and he was not looking at the ball when bowling. When he tried to rectify this, he lost some pace and then reverted to his old action after a brief experimentation in 2008. Many including Bob Willis claimed at that point that he will not be able to play at the highest level for more than five to six years.
However, the changed action would pay dividends in 2008 during the tour of New Zealand when Anderson produced a match-winning spell of 7 for 130 in the second Test at Wellington to help his side level the series, after he and Broad replaced Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison respectively. This was the first time Anderson and Broad played together and that series really paved way for one of the most successful fast bowling duos especially in Tests, which to his day continues to terrorise the batsmen. While batting partnerships get their share of acknowledgement, bowling partnerships too are equally important, if not more. There’s none better than Anderson and Broad to prove that.
Even when it came it to ODI cricket, Anderson gradually picked up his game, with 2003 being his best year with 41 scalps at 22.53. He gradually lost his way closer to 2008, but then bounced back as the years rolled on. But England, closer to the 2015 World Cup, made a few drastic changes, which included sacking Alastair Cook and appointing Eoin Morgan as the new skipper. England however, gave the likes of Anderson, Broad and Ian Bell among others one more crack at the World Cup, but England crashed out in the group stages, which included an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Bangladesh.
It has been more than five years since Anderson played an ODI, yet, he is still England’s highest wicket-taker in the format with 269 scalps from 194 ODIs. The closest to that among the current regulars are Adil Rashid with 146 wickets and Moeen Ali with 85. That’s some catching up to do.
Due to the decision by England five years ago, Anderson, along with Broad have managed to extend their Test careers. Anderson remains one of nine players to play 150 Tests or more and is inching close to 600 wickets, which only three cricketers have achieved before. With Broad too crossing 500 wickets recently, we get a rare glimpse of two bowlers with those number of wickets bowling together.