England seamer Jimmy Anderson recently became the first fast bowler in Test history to reach the milestone of 600 wickets. His 600th wicket puts him above several storied cricketers in Test cricket history, all of whom were considered greats at some point but were unable to scalp nearly as many wickets.
Part of the reason for his superior success is due to the increased frequency with which international cricket is now played - Wasim Akram, in the late 20th century, played 110 fewer innings, although both bowlers have thus far had a career spanning 17 years.
Certain players also had long bouts of injury-related layoffs from the game, which took away years of peak performance from their careers.
This article looks to examine the particular sources of Anderson's success - his ability to outperform other cricketers who played for the same duration, his staying within the selectors' radar throughout his career, and so on.
Here, we look at three reasons that contributed to Jimmy Anderson becoming the first man to reach 600 Test wickets among pace bowlers.
#3 Jimmy Anderson has played a majority of his Test career in favourable home conditions
Out of all bowlers to have played Test cricket, Jimmy Anderson stands at second in terms of wickets taken at home, with as many as 384. For reference, this means he took 64%, or nearly two-thirds of all his Test wickets, in England.
The others in the top three are subcontinental spinners - Anil Kumble and Muttiah Muralitharan - who exploited slow, turning pitches at home. Stuart Broad is fifth in the list and interestingly, he too has 64% of his wickets at home. This is a higher percentage of home wickets than any other bowler in the top 10 Test wicket-takers, barring Rangana Herath who has a similar number.
Jimmy Anderson has also played 58% of his matches at home. Why is this significant?
When bowlers play a large part of their career in home conditions (save for special circumstances, such as the Pakistan Cricket Team playing in the UAE), the ability of those conditions to assist their bowling is a huge determinant in the trajectory of their international careers.
Anderson, in particular, relies on generating generous swing and lateral movement to get wickets, which the overcast weather in England for most parts of the year duly assists with.
While Anderson has enough wickets in away conditions (216) to merit an esteemed position among Test bowlers, he is merely 10th when it comes to the list of highest away Test wicket-takers, falling behind five other quick bowlers.
This makes us wonder - had players like Akram and Courtney Walsh played nearly as many home games as Jimmy Anderson has, where would they be in the wickets tally?
#2 Jimmy Anderson has always had a strong supporting cast
Successful Test bowling involves a lot of externalities aligning in a bowler's favour - the match situation when they come on to bowl, the mindset of the batsman taking strike, as well as the tendency of the batsman to play a specific way.
All of these can be set up well by a fine bowler from the other end who puts pressure on the batsmen, either by taking quick wickets and exposing new batsmen, or by giving away very few runs and making the batsmen restless.
For a large part of his career - the past 13 years - Jimmy Anderson has enjoyed the support of someone of the quality of Stuart Broad as a new-ball partner. The duo have formed one of the best Test bowling partnerships of all time, with a total of 876 Test wickets in matches together - about 50 short of the famous West Indies pairing of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.
Broad also bowls well in swinging conditions, and can put the batsmen on the back-foot with his pace and bounce, therefore setting them up for Anderson's accuracy and swing.
Additionally, Graeme Swann, who had a relatively short Test career (2008-13), was massively influential during the early 2010s. The off-spinner set up matches with his drift and turn, making an immediate impact on turning pitches, but also in controlling the run-scoring on pitches suited for seam bowling.
Often functioning as the lone spinner, Swann exerted the necessary pressure onto batsmen which allowed Jimmy Anderson to thrive. It is no secret that having strong bowlers from the other end directly impacts a bowler's wicket-taking ability.
#1 Jimmy Anderson's adaptability and consequent longevity
Where most gun pace bowlers eventually fall short in the longest format is in their ability to stay a potent threat throughout their career. This could be due to frequent injuries, the opposition working them out, or the presence of younger competitors within the team edging them out.
Not only has Jimmy Anderson largely stayed injury free, he has also made subtle adjustments throughout his career to stay relevant.
At the start of his career, Anderson looked to bowl unplayable deliveries often at the risk of giving the occasional hit-me ball. In a bid to increase his pace, he then lengthened his run-up, at the cost of accuracy and economy.
However, instead of burning out as a top-level Test quick, Anderson took the call to revert to a shorter run-up, looking to preserve accuracy and swing even if it meant a slight dip in pace. This, along with his fitness, ensured he could be a frugal and potent threat in all conditions.
Till date, Jimmy Anderson is the spearhead of the English Test bowling attack, and it is no wonder why.