Sunday, 19 April 2015

James Anderson - 384

Sunday, 19 April 2015
There have been a million and one richly deserved tributes to James Anderson over the past few days, and I wanted to add a few words of my own. After 100 tests - an incredible achievement for any cricketer - and now 384 wickets, the boy from Burnley with the highlights in his hair has now become England's leading test wicket taker, the man at the top of the list.

He's had a bumpy ride. He burst onto the scene at the end of 2002, breaking into the test team the following summer in style with a five wicket haul at Lord's on debut. Far from the finished product by this time, the promise was clearly there and he was ever present in a changing bowling attack. The wickets were harder to come by against South Africa after a flying start against Zimbabwe, and despite another five wicket haul burnout soon struck. Over the winter and the next few years he was in and out the side, never really getting another good run. And whilst the England bowling attack was ascendant during the 2005 Ashes win, Anderson had become the missing man. Most had prospered under the coaching of Troy Cooley, but for Anderson the story was different. Adjustments to his natural action - where his head was pointed at his feet at the time of delivery - mostly seemed to lead to injuries. A low came on the 2006/7 Ashes tour when he was one of several players lacking full fitness to be selected at the start of the series; five wickets at 82.60 in three matches was the result. Whilst there was the odd good display, he was never getting a run in the team and his talent was in danger of falling by the wayside. After playing seven straight tests in his debut summer, only thirteen more had come by the end of 2007.

Things changed as 2008 begun. After defeat in the first test against New Zealand, it was all change for England: Harmison and Hoggard out of the team; Anderson and Broad in - faith being put in the new generation. And the return was immediate - a five wicket haul with the new ball as New Zealand were dismissed for 198, and from thereon he was a mainstay of the side. The following summer saw 34 wickets come at 25.76. He was starting to become the player he could be, staying fit and becoming a generally more skillful bowler - controlling his swing, developing new deliveries, and not always going for that wonder delivery. His economy has steadily fallen too, and even on pitches that aren't ideal for swing bowlers, he's still found ways to succeed - in India he averages just under 30; while England struggled in the UAE, Anderson came away with an average of 27.66; and in the 2010/11 Ashes he picked up 24 wickets at 26.04. His record remains considerably better at home than away, but he is more than a one trick pony.

In this time Anderson has become England's talisman, the one who inspires the team and they rally around, the one to go to when a breakthrough is needed. And he's a fan favourite too - how many times do we hear the chants of 'Oh Jimmy Jimmy' when he comes on to bowl? There's that endearing shyness, but he's a warrior on the field - even if that on-field persona can be a bit much, as in the summer during the spat with Jadeja (he was best when the bowling did the talking - and swiftly revived England's fortunes too). There's more to him than just his talent with the ball as well - his fielding is among the best in the side, and he's no rabbit with the bat - 54 innings without a duck from debut to 2009, not often batting above ten. And who can forget that test in Cardiff in 2009, England's unlikely hero for saving the match; or a maiden first class fifty just last year, his nickname going from the 'Burnley Express' to the 'Burnely Lara'.

Playing 100 tests is a fantastic achievement for any test player, especially so for a bowler. It's a testament to the player he's become. And at 32 and relatively injury free - the problems that dogged him in earlier years being put long behind him and his action solid - there's still plenty more to come. 400 wickets is certainly in site, and he should be able to go a way beyond. But for now, it's just a fantastic achievement, and his name will be forever up there with England's finest.

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