Going full steam

Should James Michael Anderson maintain the same fitness and form, he could become the first England bowler to take 400 Test wickets. By G. Viswanath.

immy Anderson, with 320 wickets in 84 Tests, has surpassed the legendary English fast bowler Freddie Trueman (307). The Lancashire-born pacer is now on the verge of getting the better of another illustrious fast bowler, Bob Willis (325), and could overhaul the mighty Ian Botham’s record of 383 wickets.

After almost 11 summers in international cricket, the 6-foot 2-inch tall seamer, with exceptional skills to make the Duke ball obey his commands in home conditions, became the fourth England bowler to cross the 300-wicket mark — nearly 19 years after Botham had passed that milestone.

Anderson is placed third in the overall list — behind Botham and Willis — but taking into account the victory quotient, he is at the pinnacle with 193 of his 320 wickets coming in a winning cause. Trueman (177) is second, followed by Botham (172).

The history of cricket tells us how batsmen around the world quivered in their boots as ‘Fiery Fred’, running in from the top of his bowling mark, approached the bowling crease with menace and pounded his leg before delivering a lethal delivery. By all estimate, the Yorkshire thoroughbred, who played Test cricket for over a decade against Australia, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies, was regarded as a genuine fast bowler.

Trueman became the first man in Test cricket to scalp 300 victims and they included great names such as Rohan Kanhai, Frank Worrell, Norman O’ Neill, Neil Harvey, Bill Lawry, Bobby Simpson, Garfield Sobers, Richie Benaud, Pankaj Roy and Vijay Manjrekar.

Fred was the dominant bowler of the famous English new ball pair of Trueman and (Brian) Statham. He bid adieu after playing in 67 Tests and bagging 307 wickets at an average of 21.58 and left a legacy that only a handful of England fast bowlers have attempted to match. No one in the mid 1960s perhaps believed that another England bowler would surpass Trueman’s exemplary record.

The bowler om form. Man of the Match James Anderson (right) shakes hands with his captain Alastair Cook after guiding England to a 14-run victory over Australia in the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge.-AP

However, it fell by the wayside after 19 years, when the gangling Willis shot past the 307 mark. A year later, Botham crossed that landmark.

Willis and Botham have figured in terrific triumphs for England. While Willis was quick, ‘Beefy’ Botham was fast medium and armed with several tricks up his sleeve.

England is obviously thrilled that Anderson, who began with an impressive five for 73 on his debut against Zimbabwe at Lord’s in 2003, was able to overcome a lower back ailment and action-related issues to become an integral part of his country’s seam attack. England captains such as Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook and coaches like Duncan Fletcher, Peter Moores and Andrew Flower have deployed Anderson cleverly and with purpose.

Clearly, Anderson’s exploits in the more helpful home conditions have yielded him 204 wickets at 26.52, with the Lord’s cricket ground turning out to be his favourite hunting ground where he has taken 61 wickets. His numbers at other venues are 49 at Trent Bridge, 26 at The Oval, 24 at Birmingham, 15 at Chester-le-Street, 10 each at Manchester and Leeds, 5 at Cardiff and 4 at Southampton. He has taken 116 wickets at 35.20 at 29 other venues in Australia, India, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

One amazing fact of Anderson’s remarkable career is that he has missed — because of various factors, including injuries — 49 Test matches after having made his debut in 2003. Whenever Anderson played, England has recorded a success percentage of 48.81 (41 wins in 84 Tests). And in matches he hasn’t played, England has a success percentage of 46.94 (23 wins in 49 Tests).

After a good debut year in 2003, when he took 26 wickets, Anderson had a lean period in the next three years taking just seven, two and eight wickets respectively. He made a good comeback in 2007, taking 19 wickets and thereafter Anderson hasn’t looked back, capturing 46 wickets in 2008, 40 in 2009, 57 in 2010, 35 in 2011, 48 in 2012 and 32 this year.

However, the one question that remains to be answered is whether Anderson, who turned 31 on July 30, 2013, can maintain his fitness and form and proceed to become the first England bowler to take 400 Test wickets. Only time will tell. As of now his collection of 583 wickets (320 in Tests, 245 in ODIs and 18 in Twenty20) makes him the highest wicket taker for England in international cricket.