In a league of their own

The English pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, of more recent vintage, has staked a claim to be included in the group of legendary fast bowling pairs. In Tests played together (96 of them), they have claimed 737 wickets. Among fast bowling partnerships, only Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh have more, 762 in 95. (All figures till September 4, 2017)

Stuart Broad and James Anderson... A couple of professionals, happy to get on with the job rather than make a song and dance over it, they tend to be passed over for more colourful characters.   -  Getty Images

When cliches work, there is usually much joy in sport. One of the more enduring ones has fast bowlers hunting in pairs. They hunt solo too — Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev, for example — but that lacks the romance of a partnership, where two bowlers succeed by dint of differentiation, claiming not only their own wickets but provoking the fall of their partner’s too.

Thus, Ambrose and Walsh, Wasim and Waqar, Donald and Pollock, McGrath and Gillespie. The English pair of Anderson and Broad, of more recent vintage, has staked a claim to be included in that group. In Tests played together (96 of them), they have claimed 737 wickets. Among fast bowling partnerships, only Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh have more, 762 in 95.

Click to read the most successful fast bowling pairs in Tests

Old-timers in Lancashire say Anderson’s whippy action brings back memories of Brian Statham. In fact, not since 1963 when Statham and Fred Trueman bowled together have the country’s two most successful bowlers operated in the same Test.

Yet, there is a strange reluctance to place the Anderson-Broad pair in the same class as their predecessors. Former captain Mike Atherton thinks the Trueman-Statham pair was superior, maybe even the Bob Willis-Ian Botham one. Perhaps this has to do with flamboyance and showiness. Trueman and Botham were extroverts who brought in the spectators. Statham and Willis were great supporting acts.

England top four leading wicket takers James Anderson, Sir Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Stuart Broad at Headingley on August 24, 2017. there is a strange reluctance to place the Anderson-Broad pair in the same class as their predecessors. Former captain Mike Atherton thinks the Trueman-Statham pair was superior, maybe even the Bob Willis-Ian Botham one.   -  Getty Images

 

Neither Anderson nor Broad is the tabloid writer’s favourite, although there was an attempt at one time to paint Broad as England’s “Enforcer”, full of strange oaths and aggression. Anderson is temperamentally diffident (although on the field he has sometimes sledged with the best of them), and Broad, despite his height (6-foot-five) looks like the sort of person you would bring home to meet your grandmother.

A couple of professionals, happy to get on with the job rather than make a song and dance over it, they tend to be passed over for more colourful characters. Their philosophy is best summed up by Anderson’s reaction after claiming seven for 43 against New Zealand. “When it didn’t swing,” he said, “I managed to find something.”

This self-confidence, this ability to “find something” even when the conditions are not entirely favourable, has been the hallmark of the duo.

Anderson, he of the skiddy pace, is four years older at 35, bowls with the wind at his back, and swings the ball with the kind of control that will crown him perhaps England’s greatest swing bowler ever. But he is currently a victim of the tyranny of proximity, too close to our times and too familiar on television to merit such grandiose assessments. Broad gains greater bounce, swings it in, and usually bowls into the wind. Each is distinct, special, and unlikely to be mistaken for the other — a crucial element in the success of partnerships.

In a recent article in UK’s The Daily Telegraph, Anderson summed up the working relationship thus: “Bowling in partnership with Broad is one of the reasons why I am still hungry to play Test cricket. Partnerships are not just about bowling in tandem all the time. It all is about helping the other guy get in the right frame of mind. We can be brutal with each other at times. We acknowledge we need one another and we push each other to get the best out of ourselves.”

Here’s Statham on his partner Trueman (from his autobiography Flying Bails): “If Trueman is knocking them over at one end, I might go a little harder myself to see if I can chip in with a couple…I don’t care if Fred picks up all ten when we are playing for England, as long as I am satisfied that I have bowled as well as I can…”

Camaraderie and competition are both productive when opening the bowling together.

Walsh explained this during a radio interview: “What paid off for me and Curtly is that we didn't compete against each other, we complemented each other. We were more than cricketing friends, we were like brothers. On my good days he would support me and on his good days I would support him — and when we both had good days batsmen were in trouble! He would die for me and I would die for him.”

It is tempting to imagine this is the template for success. Yet, the Wasim-Waqar relationship puts paid to that.

“We hated each other so much that we were not even on talking terms both on and off the field,” Wasim Akram said in 2007 of his fearsome fast bowling partner. His theory was that the intense rivalry actually benefited Pakistan as they tried to outdo each other. Waqar admitted last year that the issues between them did not help the team.

It is tempting to imagine camaraderie as the template for success among fast bowling pairs. Yet, the Wasim-Waqar relationship puts paid to that. “We hated each other so much that we were not even on talking terms both on and off the field,” Wasim Akram said in 2007 of his fearsome fast bowling partner.   -  AP

 

Friction between legendary pairs of bowlers is not uncommon. When Jim Laker was asked if his partner Tony Lock eased up to help him claim all 20 wickets in the Manchester Test of 1956 (Laker finished with 19 for 90), he said: “Lockie? Ease Up? He was appealing loudly for lbw with the ball hitting the batsman on the chest.”

If Anderson and Broad don’t roll off as easily off the tongue as Lock and Laker or Wasim and Waqar, blame the syllables in their name, or an accident of history or anything else but their record. Anderson claimed a wicket every 51 deliveries (Broad in 53) at home, but only every 67 deliveries (Broad, 66) away. This is not unusual, but has been used as proof that they succeed only in home conditions.

Neither “burst” upon the international scene in the manner of a Trueman or the two W’s. Rather, they developed gradually and eased into their position as the leading bowlers. In a different context, the poet T. S. Eliot once advised a young writer that it is often better to grow gradually, building an increasing circle of readers and critics to ensure longevity rather than to burst into public consciousness with a dramatic start that then imitates the meteor, burning out fast.

Perhaps Eliot’s advice holds good for fast bowlers too. In a few years, the Anderson-Broad combo will automatically lead the pack, and not even today’s doubters will cavil at this.

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