Jimmy Anderson prefers beer to wine. He happier with a tinny than a Tempranillo. In fact, he probably only knows two varieties of wine: white and red. It won’t get him far in ECB circles. But his career has certainly endeared him to England supporters and connoisseurs of vintage cricketers around the world.
Jimmy today surpassed Glenn McGrath’s record total of 563 test wickets. He’s taken them at an impressive average of 27, despite struggling early in his career: he didn’t average under 30 until his eighth year as an international bowler. Take those early struggles out of the equation and his record would be simply remarkable. He’s indisputably England’s best swing bowler of the modern era, and possibly our best all-rounder seam bowler since Bob Willis or Ian Botham in their pomp.
I like to use the wine analogy because Jimmy really has improved with age. Every year I expect his powers to diminish but if anything he seems to keep improving. Since his 31st birthday he’s put up extraordinary numbers. In his last five years as a test bowler he’s averaged 22, 23, 24, 18, and 21 while picking up 223 wickets.
As a bowler who has never relied on pace – although he was quite nippy in his youth – age has not withered Jimmy one bit. Instead his skills have improved with experience. Like Alastair Cook, his longevity is incredible. In fact, Anderson’s feats are arguably even more impressive as his job is far more demanding physically.
Although most will remember Jimmy as the sultan of swing on overcast days in Notthingham, my memories of him wiping the sweat from his brow and running in again and again in unforgiving places like the UAE are just as strong. In fact, it was his performances in the West Indies when he first started leading the attack that really made me think ‘this bloke can bowl’. He needed swing to be great, but he never needed swing to be very good.
Yes Jimmy has had his critics over the years. Some have questioned the dissent he occasionally shows; plenty have questioned his record outside England with the Kookaburra ball. However, I don’t think England fans are trying to argue that Jimmy is the best seam bowler ever – just like sensible cricket observers never claim that Alastair Cook is the best opening batsman of all time. Longevity is impressive but it doesn’t improve averages. Sadly Jimmy isn’t as good as McGrath or Malcolm Marshall, just like Cook isn’t as good as Sunil Gavaskar, Graeme Smith, or Matthew Hayden.
However, nobody can deny that Anderson is very, very, good. I accept he’s rarely bowled well in Sri Lanka or South Africa, but his average everywhere else is more than respectable. Indeed, the fact he’s taken 22 wickets at 21 in the UAE, where there’s less swing on the cricket field than there is swing music in public (and the pitches have about as much life as Mars) proves he’s far more than a one-trick pony.
The thing I love so much about Jimmy is his style. We’d call it panache if he was a batsman. His action isn’t strictly orthodox, as he doesn’t look at the wicket when he releases the ball, but it’s certainly aesthetically pleasing. His run up is relatively short and rhythmical, his action is smooth and economical, and he’s probably the most athletic fast bowler England have ever had. In terms of fielding he’s right up there with Phil DeFreitas and Chris Lewis. His natural athleticism is why he’s been able to play so long, and why he’s still so fit at the age of 36.
I really hope that Anderson gets as many plaudits today as Alastair Cook enjoyed over the last week. Although mild mannered Alastair has always been the nation’s sweetheart in many ways, Jimmy’s achievements are just as great if not more so. After all, he has now taken more test wickets than any other seam bowler in history. That means he really is a record breaker by international standards.
Whereas Cook is 5th on the all time leading run scorers list, with an average significantly lower than the players immediately above and below him (sometimes by more than ten runs), Jimmy’s record is comparable with anyone from the recent past. And his average is better than Anil Kumble’s, Kapil Dev’s, and only a smidgeon lower than Shane Warne’s. One could therefore argue that Jimmy is a true great of the game, even if it’s true that he’s better at home than overseas.
But here’s some food for thought. If one looks at the stat books, you’ll find that most bowlers are better at home. Murali averaged 45 in India and 75 in Australia; he would’ve killed for Jimmy’s statistics away from home against these toughest of opponents. Meanwhile, Shane Warne averaged 43 in India and 40 in the West Indies. Very few resumes are perfect.
The other remarkable thing about Anderson is that he might eventually become England’s most capped player. That honour, at the moment, belongs to Cook with 161 caps. Jimmy has now played 143 matches, far more than any other English bowler. In fact, the only other bowler who comes close is Stuart Broad on 123. All the other cricketers in England’s top ten are batsmen for obvious reasons. If Jimmy is still playing in eighteen months time he’ll probably go past 600 test wickets and become England’s most durable cricketer in the process.
Being an England supporter isn’t easy as you know. We suffer more ups and downs that most. We’ve had Ashes whitewashes to endure, defeats to Ireland and the Netherlands in major tournaments, plus pompous officials whose policies and attitudes sometimes make one ashamed to be English. What’s more, we’ve had no truly great cricketers to celebrate in recent years.
Whereas other counties have had a Glenn McGrath, a Shane Warne, an AB de Villiers, an Allan Donald, a Sachin Tendulkar, a Rahul Dravid, a Murali, a Sangakkara, a Kane Williamson, a Richard Hadlee, a Curtly Ambrose, a Brian Lara, a Wasim Akram, or a Younis Khan, we’ve had cricketers who are very good but far from being all-time greats. And that’s pretty sad really.
James Anderson is the closest thing we’ve had in decades. So we should cherish him every single day.
Love ya, Jimmy.