First over of the Test and James Anderson was on the Indian batsmen like a hawk. Four balls pitched perfectly outside off, swinging away from opener Murali Vijay. Then the fifth ball was bowled at the stumps, hinting at straying down the leg side only to change its mind midway and hit the top of off stump. In all fairness, Vijay would take that dismissal as a badge of honour.
Whenever England ace Anderson has the red cherry in hand and there is even a little bit in it for the bowlers, there is simply no respite for batsmen. Ever. Even at the age of 36. Among all fast bowlers the game has seen, Anderson must be considered as the best ever technician.
There are a few aspects to this view. One is the sheer volume of his work. Respectable fast bowling in Test cricket requires a certain pace and effort throughout the course of five days (or four as is generally the case now). The greatest away swinger bowled at 75mph will be swatted away with ease. That Anderson has lasted 140 Tests is a testament to his fitness and, more importantly, the technical efficiency of his bowling action. The fast bowler with the next best Test tally is Courtney Walsh with 132 matches.
There are many bowlers who bowled a lot quicker than Anderson and got more bounce. But for comparison purposes, we will just look at seam bowlers who took more than 400 wickets in Tests. That includes Glenn McGrath (563 wickets from 124 Tests), Courtney Walsh (519 from 132), Kapil Dev (434 from 131), Richard Hadlee (431 from 86), Dale Steyn (421 from 88), Shaun Pollock (421 from 108), Stuart Broad (419 from 120), Wasim Akram (414 from 104) and Curtly Ambrose (405 from 98).
Among all these great names, McGrath and Walsh are the only ones who can match Anderson’s wickets and match tally. Steyn would have easily been in this group but his intense bowling action put such a strain on is body that it resulted in serious injuries that all but derailed his career, underlining the importance of an action which is repeatable and sustainable.
Aussie legend McGrath’s stats make for great reading. His record away from home (260 wickets at an average of 21.35) is slightly better than his home record (289 scalps at 22.43). Plus McGrath has won every major Test series.
Anderson and Walsh average around 35 in Australia and have won series Down Under. But Anderson has a Test series win in India under his belt – in 2012 – something which Walsh hasn’t. So it makes sense to compare Anderson and McGrath.
Both McGrath and Anderson have actions that are simple, repeatable and allow for maximum zip and movement off the pitch. Economy of action allows both to raise the tempo even in the third or fourth spells. Where Anderson nudges just ahead of McGrath is that the Englishman forces batsmen to play and if the batsmen miss, Jimmy either hits the wickets, pads or the edge. McGrath, on the other hand, was famously denied wickets during an entire Test series against New Zealand in 2001 when the batsmen decided not to play him as his natural length sailed over the stumps.
That strategy does not work against Anderson. His line ends up on the wickets or just outside to catch the edge. Plus he can swing the ball in a mile. To top it, the Lancastrian is pretty neat with the reverse swinging ball as well, as he showed in India when the then captain MS Dhoni called Anderson the deciding factor.
Pakistan great Akram is arguably the greatest ever swing bowler. Steyn probably the finest out-and-out fast bowler due to his strike rate and success on the flattest of wickets. But Anderson is the one who has mastered his action and technique the most to become the second-highest wicket taker among Test quicks. Remember, when he started his career, Anderson suffered a stress fracture in his back as he tried to be a 90mph bowler.
It takes something truly special to deliver more balls than any other fast bowler in the history of the game – more than 30,600. And the latest ones at Lord’s are as lethal as they were a few years ago.