Lord’s, 22 May 2003. A 20-year-old named James Anderson was called up for his first Test match, against Zimbabwe. Having already played ODI cricket, including at the 2003 Cricket World Cup, he was not unknown, but the impact he has made on the country and the sport in the two decades since then could never have been predicted.
He’s simply the greatest bowler this country has ever produced.
Perhaps his five-wicket haul on his Test debut should have given us a clue as to what we were in for, yet it is his longevity and level of consistency which have blown us all away. To put his achievements in some perspective, he made his England debut alongside another debutant in Anthony McGrath. He retired from cricket in 2012.
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Meanwhile, 20 years after his own debut, Anderson has 685 Test wickets to his name. Only Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne have more in the history of the sport. Even now, while his game time is being managed and his injuries, like his latest groin complaint, are becoming more frequent, he will hopefully have a big part to play in this summer’s Ashes.
He’s come a long way from watching Ian Botham and playing with his parents at home.
"I'd watch Botham's Ashes on video, then when Dad was playing I'd get on to the field at tea, trying to hit some balls from mum,” he told BBC Sport. "I was constantly trying to do impressions or emulate people. If it was football, it would have been one of the Burnley players, or I was a bit of an Arsenal fan, so it would have been Ian Wright. In cricket I'd have been trying to bowl like Darren Gough against the garage door."
The Burnley-born kid quickly made waves in the high-profile Lancashire League, a competition which has featured the likes of Warne and Michael Clarke in the past. He got former West Indies international Roger Harper out for a Golden Duck, and from that point he was impossible to ignore.
Jimmy Anderson made his Test debut! 🤯🤯🤯
685 wickets and counting 🔢
#OnThisDay | @jimmy9
He was recommended to Lancashire academy coach John Stanworth and didn’t look back. He rose to the first team and then made a big impact for his country after he was called up to the one-day squad.
But Anderson’s ride hasn’t been completely smooth. In 2005, he was out of form and out of favour by the time the Ashes came around. In England’s most famous summer, he instead worked hard at Lancashire until finally being called up, but not selected, for the final Test.
If that stung slightly, he was back in contention for the trip to Australia 18 months later. England lost, but they had discovered Anderson’s quality. By 2009, he was the centre of the attack alongside Stuart Broad and his 12 wickets contributed to a 2-1 England series win over the Aussies.
But despite everything we have seen, perhaps 2010-11 was the pinnacle. England went Down Under with a serious hope of success and Anderson produced some scintillating bowling to tear the Aussies apart. He bagged 24 wickets in total, more than any other player on either side. It was a display of utter dominance on away soil and, given the rarity of success in Australia for England, one that won’t be forgotten for a long time.
Away from the Ashes, he bowled Sachin Tendulkar out nine times - more than anybody else in history - while he also hit 81 with the bat against India in 2014. He is a simply remarkable cricketer.
But Steve Smith and the Aussies have taken a stranglehold over the little urn in recent times, with England’s last win coming in 2015. If Bazball can skittle them this summer, Jimmy Anderson is guaranteed to be front and centre in the success. Twenty years on from his Test debut, he still has us all on the edge of our seats.
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