Depending on when you read this, James Anderson will be, or is already England’s highest ever Test wicket taker.
But what does that even really mean, and how should we rate him on this lonely isolated statistic?
It is no secret that I have over time, set out to share some inconvenient and indisputable truths regarding this particular fast bowlers performance.
Some of these I will repeat again shortly, for I fail to see how any objective case can be made that Anderson has been anything more than ‘highly serviceable’ with the odd ‘really good game’.
For many a year now, the English press, the English cricket fan and even Wasim Akram have waved the James Anderson banner as hard as possible. They claim that his ability to consistently swing a new red ball for an over or two is, in itself, a reason to bestow greatness.
However, this narrow thoughtband does an immense disservice to fast bowlers who actually had a consistent impact on matches, helped win games or could dominate a series. All attributes that with proper research are linked to Anderson tenuously and spasmodically at best.
For illustration, only once has he won a Man of the Match award while playing away from home.
England have played close to 1000 Test matches. Before Anderson takes / took the record for most Test wickets, the leader of the English pack was an all rounder.
No, not a specialist quick. It was Ian Botham with 383 Test wickets.
For context, that’s less wickets than Ntini took and slightly more than India’s Zaheer Khan.
If you play enough matches, you will take enough wickets to appear on a fancy table somewhere. But that in itself defines very little.
England don’t produce great quicks. They produce average ones. If you have a trick like being able to swing it for a few while, you’ll play 100 Tests.
If I told you that James Anderson averaged only 3.8 wickets a match, you might be impressed.
However, compare it to some of the modern benchmarks, and that sentiment quickly falls away like a bride’s nightgown.
For example, Glenn McGrath took 20% more wickets per match. It would be unfair to mention Dale Steyn, because he takes almost 35% more per match.
Hell, even good honest triers like Merv Hughes and maligned spinner Harbhajan Singh averaged more wickets per match.
If James Anderson was Australian, it is highly unlikely he would have played for as long as he has.
Compare Anderson’s situation to that of Peter Siddle.
Statistically, their averages and strike rates are almost identical. Do you view Siddle as a strike bowler? No. He’s a decent first change. He plays when other strike bowlers are not available. He also doesn’t play on seam friendly English wickets very often.
Anderson only has taken a 5’fer three times when playing away from home. The same as Peter Siddle.
Zaheer Khan did it 8 times away from home.
Strike rate is possibly the best way to judge a lethal, match winning opening bowler. We’ll use it to judge someone with James Anderson’s record just for fun.
His is 58.2.
Essentially, that means he is taking a wicket every 10 overs he bowls. Dale Steyn’s strike rate is 40% better. What this says is that by the time Anderson has taken 5 wickets, Steyn has taken an extra two.
Morne Morkel has a better strike rate, as did Hoggard, Chris Cairns, Merv Hughes, Darren Gough and even Andy Caddick.
None of these names appear on anyone’s list of fast bowling greats. Very good? Of course. More than that? Nup.
I won’t bore you with the analysis that shows Anderson’s home record isn’t even that good, or bother to discredit the myth that his past few years have been so much better than his earlier ones. Someone else has already done that for us.
For the record, his best year statistically was 2010.
Longevity is a thing.
But England have a history of holding onto average players way too long. For example, Nassar Hussein played 96 Test Matches averaging 37. Mike Atherton played 115 tests with the same average. Strauss played 100 averaging 40.
Players like Ed Cowan, Scott Muller, Stuart Law, Brad Hodge or Brendon Julian would have loved that many Test match opportunities.
This phenomenon occurs when no competition exists for your spot. Anderson’s rivals have included Rankin, Tremlett, Finn, Sidebottom, Onions, Pattinson, Plunkett and Mahmood.
But what about the fact he got Sachin out more than anyone else? So what? Siddle got KP more than anyone else. Harbhajan got Ponting more than anyone else. What does it prove?
It’s a stat that means nothing unless you are struggling to find a way to raise the stature of Anderson’s record.
So English people, feel free to rejoice in the Anderson hype. For that is all it is.
Yes, he took some wickets. However, they were expensive and massive gaps of time sat between each one when compared to his peers.
I don’t hate James Anderson. He has done me no wrongs.
However, he is clearly overrated.
Not because he can’t bowl.
But because of how his achievements are consistently overplayed.