Why James Anderson has earned our respect

Before the Ashes began, I wrote an article focusing on James Anderson’s poor record in Australia, compared with his excellent career record.

The ultimate question was whether he could produce a series performance that would put him in the conversation as an ‘all-time great’.

Although he didn’t set the world on fire, his 17 wickets at 27.82 is respectable. The most glaring difference I noticed this series, compared with his efforts in 2013-14, was his attitude and competitiveness.

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In 2013-14, his performances were ordinary, while his opposite, Mitchell Johnson, was tearing England to shreds. Anderson looked deflated, his confidence shot, he became uninterested, showed signs of a poor attitude and his bowling was punished accordingly.

This time around, he seemed conscious of his record in Down Under and perhaps wanted to make it right. Despite the lack of reward in the wickets column, he bowled with a lot of grit and determination, with little assistance from any facet of the game.

Australia had slow, flat wickets, he had catches dropped, and his batsmen rarely scored enough runs to allow Anderson to set attacking fields for long periods of time.

Another important aspect to a successful bowling attack is the ability to bowl in partnerships. Australia’s bowling attack complimented each other almost perfectly, however Anderson’s efforts with the ball were consistently brought undone by poor bowling from the other end.

Australia’s bowlers also had the advantage of being able to bowl fast and aggressive, which the 35-year-old Anderson is no longer physically able to produce. 

Watching Stuart Broad and Moeen Ali making little to no impact from the other end could have easily left Anderson feeling deflated and it probably did. But unlike 2013-14, Anderson often showed plenty of fighting spirit when he was called on by Joe Root for another spell, usually when the batsmen were set and high on confidence from facing the rest of England’s lackluster bowling.

Anderson was England’s best bowler by a country mile. He consistently bowled an accurate line and length, always asking questions, and picking up the prized wickets of David Warner and Steve Smith.

The one session where conditions actually suited his bowling, under lights with the pink ball in Adelaide, he was close to unplayable. So much so that even Smith struggled to get bat on ball against him during that session. There aren’t too many bowlers in the world that can match Anderson’s natural skill when the ball is swinging.

It’s a real shame that Australia (apart from Adelaide) couldn’t produce pitches where the battle between bat and ball was more evenly balanced. It would have resulted in a lot better quality of cricket.

Many would argue the world’s best bowlers can perform in any conditions and in any country, but if you put that argument in perspective, Shane Warne struggled in India, taking just 34 wickets at 43.12, and Muttiah Muralitharan had only 12 wickets at 75.42 in Australia.

What’s more, Australia’s batsmen have continuously struggled in England against the swinging and seaming ball, and with the sub-continent’s spin-friendly conditions.

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The point is, many of the ‘great players’ in history struggled in particular conditions, so it would be unfair to judge Anderson’s entire career on his stats in Australia alone.

Overall, his stats in Australia read 60 wickets at 35.43, including a solitary five-wicket haul, his 5/43 in Adelaide. His overall tally against Australia is 104 wickets at 34.56, which includes five 5-wicket hauls.

James Anderson may never be mentioned in conversation with the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Gary Sobers, Dennis Lillee, Curtly Ambrose, Wasim Akram and Glenn McGrath, but he certainly has earned the right to be known as England’s greatest fast bowler.

Anderson is almost certain to break Glenn McGrath’s fast bowling record of 563 Test wickets and could be the first quick in Test cricket history to crack the 600 wicket barrier, as he is aiming to play in the 2019 Ashes series in England, at the age of 37.

Many would simply put these achievements down to longevity, but credit where it’s due, to stay fit and being able to compete at the highest level for so long is a testament in itself.

Featured Image: Dan Heap