When a young James Anderson conceded a no-ball as his first act as a Test bowler and went on to concede 17 runs in his first over, he might have been wondering if he’d last long enough to get even one Test wicket. He certainly wouldn’t have dreamt of collecting 650.
Because back then, that number was pie-in-the-sky stuff. Courtney Walsh was the holder of the all-time record with 519 at the time Anderson was bounding in, all youthful exuberance and bleached-blonde hair, while England’s best was the 383 recorded by Ian Botham between 1997 and 1992. Botham, in fact, was still the last English bowler to break the 250 mark back when Jimmy was bowling that ignominious first over.
Just two overs after that nightmare start he clean bowled Zimbabwe opener Mark Vermuelen middle stump and would go on to take 5 for 73 in his first crack with the ball. Since then he has gone on to be an absolute legend of the game.
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He is by some distance the most successful seam bowler in Test history and on Monday he bowled New Zealand’s Tom Latham to register the 650th wicket of his sensational career. At 39 and recently recalled, Anderson shows no signs of wavering, with only spin wizards Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan ahead of him in the all-time list of bowlers.
His incredible consistency is something previously unseen in global cricket. Only Sachin Tendulkar has played in more Test matches (200) than Jimmy’s 171, and while that says a lot about the increased toll on players in the modern game, it also speaks to just how well Anderson has looked after his body.
Since 1993, only Tendulkar (24 years, 1 day), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (21y, 47d) and Rangana Herath (19y, 48d) have had longer Test careers, and no fast bowler has sent down more deliveries than Anderson’s 36,828 up to tea on day four, with teammate Stuart Broad closest to that mark having broken through 31,000 during the Second Test at Trent Bridge.
Now that new coach Brendon McCullum and skipper Ben Stokes have publicly insisted that they are in the business of picking their best players whenever possible, the days of Anderson and Broad being rested regularly are also set to come to an end. And that could give Jimmy a crack at Warne’s total of 708 career wickets even if Muralitharan’s 800 remain some way in the distance.
For a player who people have been linking to retirement for the last five years, Anderson remains as dangerous with ball in hand as ever. Long may he continue.
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