Monday, June 24, 2024

James Anderson’s unrivalled longevity makes him one of England’s greatest cricketers

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“Get ready for a broken f***ing arm.”

Although partner in crime Stuart Broad held the mantle of Australian cricket’s primary villain for nearly 15 years, James Anderson became embroiled in his fair share of hot-tempered moments in the Ashes furnace.

After whacking former Australian captain Michael Clarke over the head with a pad during the 2006/07 Ashes whitewash, he threatened to punch George Bailey during the 2013 Gabba contest, prompting Clarke’s infamous quote.

Anderson has always been a stubbornly stoic competitor, rarely offering his opponents a smile. His bluntness often rubbed rivals the wrong way, jousting the Australians with subtle barbs.

“I just like not knowing them away from cricket, not being mates with them,” Anderson said during an interview with The Telegraph last year.

“There was a time when (sledging) really benefited me as a player. It got me into a battle. I feel it got the best out of me.”

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Despite playing the Ashes antagonist since Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey tore him apart in 2006, even the most petulant of Australian supporters would don their cap in recognition of Anderson’s achievement throughout the second half of his career.

Since celebrating his 35th birthday, an age when most pace bowlers lose motivation to improve and decide to hang up the boots, Anderson has taken 220 Test wickets at 22.86 — more than Merv Hughes and Jeff Thomson achieved throughout their entire careers.

The seamer’s unrivalled longevity has defied what we’ve come to expect from pace bowlers in the modern era, where sports science dictates careers and national selectors prioritise youth.

“Can I see myself making the new ball talk at 41? Probably not,” Australian captain Pat Cummins confessed last year.

“I’m 30 and I feel 41.”

July’s series opener against the West Indies at Lord’s will be Anderson’s 188th and final Test appearance — only India’s Sachin Tendulkar has played more matches in the game’s longest format, a testament to Anderson’s fitness and skill.

But importantly, Anderson’s performance hasn’t dipped in quality over time, quite the opposite. Last year, a few months before his 41st birthday, he reclaimed the mantle of No. 1 bowler on the ICC Test rankings, leapfrogging the likes of Cummins and Ravichandran Ashwin.

However, the 2025/26 Ashes was deemed a bridge too far for the veteran bowler. Anderson will be 43 when England’s Bazballers travel to Australia, while his numbers with the red Kookaburra leave a lot to be desired — 59 wickets at 36.10 in 19 matches.

James Anderson of England. Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Since taking charge of England’s Test side, coach Brendon McCullum and managing director Rob Key have spoken time and time again about the importance of pace. With an exciting crop of quicks turning heads in the County Championship, Anderson’s fate was decided following a frank discussion with McCullum over a round of golf last month.

The motivation was still there, but England’s hierarchy decided the time was right to look to the future and integrate younger bowling options into the squad.

“Could a 43-year-old me make the Ashes in 18 months time? We came to the decision that, probably not,” Anderson told The Tailenders podcast this week.

“From my point of view, it feels like a stretch at this stage of my career. From their point of view, I think there are 15 Test matches before the Ashes, so it gives them time to get other guys Test matches and experience before that Ashes series.”

Anderson brings up 700th Test wicket | 00:59

Most Test wickets among pace bowlers after 35th birthday

220 — James Anderson (ENG)

180 — Courtney Walsh (WI)

139 — Sydney Barnes (ENG)

116 — Richard Hadlee (NZ)

82 — Glenn McGrath (AUS)

Anderson will retire as the leading wicket-taker among pace bowlers in Test history, having leapfrogged the legendary Glenn McGrath in 2018. Only Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan and Australia’s Shane Warne boast more scalps.

As T20 tournaments continue clogging up the cricket calendar, it’s fair to assume no seamer will come close to Anderson’s tally of 700 Test wickets.

“With the nature of the game these days, and the amount of T20 cricket, I believe no fast bowler will ever go past him,” McGrath wrote after Anderson pinched his record.

When reflecting on an international career that spans 22 years, Anderson’s feats during the 2010/11 Ashes series are an undisputed highlight. During what remains England’s lone triumph on Australian soil since 1987, the right-armer claimed 24 wickets at 26.04 to help Alastair Cook’s men lift the coveted urn.

Two years later, Anderson took 12 wickets during a Test tour of India that was otherwise dominated by spin. Rival captain MS Dhoni later claimed the Lancashire bowler was the difference between the two sides, with England’s 2-1 victory remaining the only series triumph by a touring nation in India since 2004.

The subcontinent has proven challenging for seam and swing bowlers over the past decade, yet during that period, Anderson has taken 50 wickets at 23.56 in Asia.

James Anderson during an England Ashes squad practice session. Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

James Anderson’s Test career

2003-2009 — 148 wickets at 34.85, ER 3.44

2010-2017 — 374 wickets at 24.37, ER 2.68

2018-2024 — 178 wickets at 24.11, ER 2.45

But of course, Anderson was at the peak of his powers with the Dukes ball, achieving magical things on home soil. When he’s not hooping the red pill around corners, his control and consistency came to the fore, conceding a mere 2.47 per over in Tests since 2014.

Despite rarely exceeding 140km/h, Anderson’s metronomic bowling action has allowed him to bash away at a nagging length for extended spells. It’s why his absence was sorely felt during the 2019 Ashes — none of his teammates were equipped to stem the flow of runs during Steve Smith’s record-breaking onslaught.

Fittingly, Anderson’s farewell Test, will take place at the Home of Cricket, the same venue where he made his debut 21 years ago. He retires as arguably England’s greatest cricketer, having earned the respect of the Australian foes he refused to befriend.

“I won’t be out there at 41, I know that much,” Australian bowler Josh Hazlewood said last year.

“Longevity in the game is something that’s huge. I don’t think you realise it until you play for quite a while.

“However many Test matches he’s up to now, it’s ridiculous.

“The skill that he has is unrivalled in England.

“It’s an amazing career.”

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