Opinion: Where does James Anderson rank among the all-time great fast bowlers?

England v India: Specsavers 5th Test - Day Five
England v India: Specsavers 5th Test - Day Five

Last week James Anderson created history by becoming the most prolific test wicket-taker among pacers. What is truly astounding is 'Jimmy' Anderson not only managed to play all five tests at the ripe age of 36 but emerged as the top wicket-taker in the bilateral series finishing with 24 wickets.

Anderson has made a habit of using the Duke ball effectively to trouble the accomplished of batsmen. His ability to swing the ball in both directions coupled with a razor sharp line has helped him bamboozle many batsmen and his penchant for scalping Indian batsmen is well documented.

Over the course of the series, Anderson emerged as the leading wicket-taker of Indian batsmen in tests too! With all this being said, where does he rank among the all-time greats?

Although Anderson is now the most successful fast bowler in tests, wickets alone shouldn't be the benchmark for comparison. The player whom he overtook to stake claim to the summit - Glenn McGrath had a ridiculously good bowling average of 21.64 in tests. Anderson's average to date is 26.84.

Anderson's ODI record pales in comparison with many greats like Glenn McGrath, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis. Anderson no longer plays ODI or T20 cricket and this has greatly helped him charge his batteries for the rigours of 5-day cricket. The table below compares the away averages and fraction of away wickets of the respective totals of a few fast bowling greats in Test cricket.

Comparison of away record of a few all-time pace greats in tests

We can infer that the bulk of Jimmy Anderson's wickets have come at home and that there is a significant difference between his home and away averages which is not the case with the other greats mentioned above. Now moving over to bowling strike-rate (number of balls bowled per wicket) which is another metric to gauge the effectiveness of fast bowlers :

Comparing bowling strike-rates in Tests

In this metric too, Anderson is way below the pecking order. Now moving to best ever rating points in tests, Anderson was given a rating of 903 points as on 13th August this year. Waqar Younis and Dale Steyn logged a career-high rating of 909 respectively. Malcolm Marshall managed to attain 910 points and McGrath had a career-high of 914 points.

After comparing many metrics apart from only wickets taken, it can be said with a certain degree of clarity that James Anderson although one of the all-time greats of the game, cannot be equated to be on the same pedestal as the likes of Steyn, McGrath, Marshall etc. All said and done, it doesn't look unlikely at all that Anderson can go ahead and overtake Anil Kumble's tally of 619 wickets.

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Edited by Rohit Nath


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