by Jordan Crick
The ‘greatest of all time’ tag gets bandied around a lot these days. From a cricketing standpoint, you could probably think up a list of five candidates in your head before you’ve finished reading this sentence. But how many would include James Anderson?
While Anderson is by no means underrated in cricketing circles, he rarely figures in discussions on the game’s greatest fast bowlers. More and more these days commentators and journalists alike are stuck focusing on McGrath, Akram, Walsh, Pollock, Hadlee and other bowlers of their ilk, completely ignoring Anderson’s equally impressive record. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact many commentators have played against these individuals. Perhaps they overlook Anderson because he is still plying his trade – although this does little to explain the ongoing obsession with Steyn. In any case, Anderson should be at the forefront of any conversation around fast bowling now that he is the most prolific test fast bowler of all time.
The criticism constantly levelled at Anderson is that he struggles outside of England. Opposition fans label him ‘Jimmy Clouderson’, taunting him for his inability to swing the ball in dry conditions. There are figures to back these claims up. For instance, with the exception of the 2010/11 Ashes series, Anderson has rather failed to master Australian conditions. But the fact still remains that he has gone past the big name fast bowlers that so often usurp him on the list of cricket’s greatest players. Wickets aren’t the only sign of a good bowler though. Averages must also be considered. That being the case, Anderson’s average of 26.93 stands up against the best of the rest.
This season could well decide how Anderson is remembered in retirement. He has been a vital member of England’s Ashes triumphs, and this summer will be no exception. With two largely inexperienced batting line-ups facing off against each other, the bowlers could decide the series. That is not to say there is a shortage of experience in the batting departments of both sides; between Root, Buttler, Stokes, Smith and Warner (pending selection) there is plenty. But for every experienced player, there is a test newcomer or struggler to cancel them out.
There is plenty of cricket to be played ahead of the Ashes, though. Anderson lined up for Lancashire as they began their season against Middlesex at Lord’s, collecting six wickets in the match as the Red Rose won by seven-wickets. With the World Cup to take up a large chunk of the season during May, June and July, Anderson will likely play a significant role in Lancashire’s tilt at the Division Two crown - barring injury or forced rest for the Ashes.
The World Cup will also force a significant portion of County matches away from the major venues and onto the reserve grounds. Anderson bowling in Division Two is a tantalising prospect enough. But Anderson with the new ball on those wickets is a dream for lovers of swing and seam bowling.
With just 80 wickets to go until he passes the 1000 mark in first-class cricket, there are plenty of reasons to follow the Burnley Express this summer. He might not figure in conversations with the likes of Akram and McGrath yet, but once he has 1000 wickets under his belt, his GOAT status can be denied no longer.
Beyond statistics, Anderson has inspired a generation of young cricketers. It is such a shame the UK public has had limited access to cricket on terrestrial TV for over a decade. Had the game been readily accessible, he may have reached out to thousands more.
Anderson’s bowling action is poetry in motion and his swing and seam a thing of beauty. Much can be learned from his approach to the crease, gather and release for cricketers of any age and ability. Such skills are barely considered in the T20 trade where knuckleballs and cutters have replaced words like line and length. The art of swing and seam will be lost with the increasing saturation of T20 cricket. Anderson may be the last great exponent of the craft.
Our talented Australian writer pens his thoughts on the county game all the way from the other side of the world. You can follow Jordan on Twitter @Crickey_1997.