Under the SKanner: ‘Oh Jimmy Jimmy’ Anderson
There’s something different about a Roger Federer forehand. The ball flows from his racquet like it was meant to only in that manner. The founders of this game, when they discussed the forehand, must have pictured just that!
When the people who first played cricket in the form that it is played in today talked about swing bowling, I’m sure what they had in mind was James Anderson’s swing bowling. The way he runs in, loads up to the bowling crease and releases the ball, all of it is like magic. Like a river running through a silent valley with green mountains on either side.
Quaint, classic, beautiful, soothing; use any adjective you want to, an on-song James Anderson fits most. He is like a bowling machine calibrated to perfection.
But it hasn’t been easy for England’s leading wicket-taker in Tests. He has had to make some very tough decisions, battle career-threatening injuries and through all of that, spearhead England’s fast-bowling department.
In his first 20 Tests, Anderson averaged 39. He suffered a stress fracture as a result of which he had to remold his action too. Not signs that indicated he would achieve a feat that only two fast bowlers before him had: 500 Test wickets.
In front of a packed Lord’s crowd, Anderson bowled his first ball in Test cricket, and like a Bollywood movie with an assiduous talented protagonist, he came back to the same ground, the home of cricket, to complete a feat that no other English bowler had achieved ever before. Not only that, he ended the Test with his career best figures of 7-42.
“There’s no reason I can’t play until I’m 40,” said a beaming Anderson ahead of the final momentous Test against the Windies. This, coming from a man who, not so long ago, stared at an untimely end to his career owing to several injuries, sounded eccentric. But this was confidence speaking, this was all the hours at the gym and those strict discipline regimes speaking. Surely there’s no stopping Jimmy who seems to have just hit his peak. And the numbers corroborate that for him.
The best period of his career, one that has spanned almost a decade-and-a-half, has been since the Edgbaston Ashes Test in 2015, to the recently-concluded final Test against the Windies at Lord’s. In this span, he has averaged 18.76. Compare this to his first 20 Tests. That’s a difference in average of almost 20, which is colossal.
To answer the question of where lie Anderson’s strengths, just repeat his bowling action in your head. Repeat it again. Let the ball carry through to the keeper. What is it that you see? Do you see the ball shaping in either direction from the batsman? Do you see it doing something even after it has passed the batsman? Oh, you do!
That’s Jimmy’s biggest weapon. He can hold the seam in the direction of first slip and bamboozle the batsman with that gorgeous outswinger. Alternatively, he can point that seam to leg-slip and pierce the gap between bat and pad, however small that may be.
For years now, the 35-year-old has made English crowds go gaga over their wonder-boy and his ability to rattle batsmen from across the globe in typical English conditions. He is, of course, the owner of everything within five yards on either side of a batsman with the new ball, but he is as lethal with the old ball. Yes, the one that reverses.
His quick-arm action helps him hide the shiny side of the ball and deceive the batsman. In an interview last year, he admitted that it was tough for batsmen who had to face him whilst he steamed in with the old ball.
506 international Test wickets; the most for any bowler from the country which gave the world this beautiful game. Do you really think this man has a weakness at all? And yet, despite all those staggering numbers which only seem to be getting better, he does.
Like any other swing bowler, when the conditions don’t suit his style of bowling, at his pace, Anderson's margin of error reduces to a wisp. This means that outside England, in countries like India, Australia etc. he struggles to control batsmen which can be frustrating for the team at times.
He averages 33.46 in away Tests, which is almost 10 runs more than his average in England. Of course, he has grown as an away bowler too. He has found ways to keep batsmen quiet and rattle them at times.
No other Test bowler who averaged more than 30 in their first 20 Tests went on to take 500 wickets. Not even 400 wickets. But then, maybe no other bowler gave their game so much thought either. There’s a reason why he is loved everywhere.