Jimmy – A feat of endurance for the ages

Jimmy Anderson is a bloody good bowler, of that there is no doubt. Sure, he’s had his ups and downs, but over the last seven or eight years, it’s been him and Dale Steyn running the world fast-bowling cartel. You want to get wickets as an England bowler? You’ll have to snatch them from Jimmy’s cold, dead hands, because otherwise he’ll get them before you. Whether on a road in Kolkata or a spicy first-dayer at Trent Bridge, he’s got them everywhere.

You’ll hear a lot of names bandied around in the same company over the next few days. Botham – sure. Willis – yep. Trueman, Barnes, Bedser, Larwood. The list goes on. Where does Anderson’s achievement stand compared to theirs? Is he the ‘best ever’? I’ve never seen any of those other bowlers bowl to the extent that I have watched Anderson. I’m sure they were all bloody good but it’s not an easy question to answer.

When you’re looking at a record for most of anything, what you’re really examining is endurance, and that’s where the difference is. Jimmy has played more Tests than any other English paceman, other than Botham. Beefy played the last eight years of his England career primarily as a batsman (he only took 106 of his 383 Test wickets between 1984 and 1992, the other 277 came from 1977-83), owing to being totally crocked most of the time.

Looking at some of the other most capped seamers, Willis played 90, again, large parts of which he was basically on no legs, having had surgery on both knees as early as 1975. Flintoff, ditto – he survived on an unpleasant cocktail of Red Bull and painkillers for the last few years of his career (see the run out he effected in his final Test as evidence of his lack of mobility). Even going down to Trueman, who played 67 Tests, when he became the first player to 300 Test wickets, he was asked if anyone would beat his record. “If they do, they’ll be bloody tired” came the response.

And that is what is so amazing about Anderson. I’m sure he gets a bit stiff at the end of the day; he can’t bowl as fast as he used to; he probably has the odd paracetamol when he’s just sent down another 25 overs, but, unlike many before him, he has not been broken by his Herculean effort. In fact, barring being rested, he’ll play another Test match on Tuesday, and another the week after that. He’s only 32 – he could do this for a while longer yet.

Part of that is down to modern methods of course. His action is minutely dissected by specialist sports scientists; he doesn’t bowl in hob-nailed boots, he gets to wear specially designed space boots (sort of); he gets rub downs and massages more often than you have hot dinners. There must be half a dozen people whose primary jobs are pretty much just ‘make sure Jimmy can start and finish a Test match in one piece’.

But then there is his action. It is easy, repeatable and rhythmic. It’s like the angled brush stroke of a great artist. Compare that with Flintoff and Botham lumbering up to the wicket – even Willis with arms and legs all over the place, or Angus Fraser looking like he’s blown a gasket on the way to the bowling crease. Anderson’s action has an economy of movement and it makes the whole thing look pretty easy, really. Matthew Hoggard was not too dissimilar, in fact.

Then there is the sheer amount of Test cricket, and the lack of other cricket. Anderson’s career spans thirteen seasons so far, but he only played nineteen Tests in his first five seasons (to October 2007), so he’s crammed over 80 Tests into the following 8 years. At the same time, he’s been shielded from county cricket, certainly compared to some of the players above, who played for their counties six days a week on top of their Test match workload.

I’m not trying to do down Anderson (though there is a ‘but’ coming). He’s skillful, intelligent and extremely fit. And of course, he’s been good enough to merit playing 100 Tests. But his is a perfect storm of sorts. He has had the good fortune to not be beset by injuries (how many wickets, for instance, would Trueman or Frank Tyson have got, if they had played 100 Tests?), to have a superb support team ensuring this and to play in an era where ten Tests a year is pretty much the baseline.

What I’m saying is that we should be cautious about crowning him ‘the best England fast bowler ever’, just because he has the most wickets (I said a similar thing about Tendulkar’s 100 hundreds). I’m saying it’s too hard to compare.

An all-time great, though? Definitely. Let’s stick him in that pantheon.

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