England April 3, 2013

Anderson, greatness and England's lost generation

Over the course of England's next series, James Anderson should become the 26th bowler to take 300 Test wickets. That no Englishman has reached 400 - or 10,000 runs with the bat - is indicative of how the record books left them behind

James Anderson moved on to 298 Test wickets during England's tour of New Zealand © Getty Images

Barring injury and other disasters, James Anderson will, at some point next month, become the 26th bowler in the history of Test match cricket to take 300 wickets. He will be only the fourth Englishman to pass the mark, which, considering that Fred Trueman was the first to do so in 1964, puts him in elite company as far as the three lions go.

Trueman's landmark will be fifty years old come next summer. When he walked off the field at the Oval having taken the defining wicket of Neil Hawke, Fred was asked if he thought anyone would beat his record. "I don't know," he replied, "but they'll be bloody knackered if they do." To Trueman in 1964, the thought of 400 Test wickets was a distant Everest. The notion of a man taking 800 might have been enough to leave even Fred temporarily wordless, and he didn't quite live to see it done.

Ian Botham retired with the English record of 383 wickets in 1992 but 11 bowlers have gone on past 400: three from India, two from West Indies, two from Australia, and one each from Sri Lanka, New Zealand, South Africa and Pakistan. Or, put another way, at least one player from each of the other seven major Test nations has achieved something that no English bowler has.

With his almost undetectable variations of grip and wrist position, his rudder of a thumb, his angle on the crease, his endurance and his pace, Anderson can be irresistible, symphonic in his variations on a narrow theme. He knows about as much as any man can about the fragile mysteries of swing, because he can on occasion be defenceless without it. Perhaps more than any other bowler in the elite echelon that he is about to join, Anderson is hostage to forces beyond his control.

When he surmounts that 300 barrier (he currently has 298), it will be with an average of above 30 runs per wicket. It's odd but unavoidable that such a blunt stat will temper judgement of the feat and of Anderson's standing, but he will be one of just three of the 26 bowlers in the club with an average of above thirty. Of the others, Harbhajan Singh and Brett Lee enjoyed long periods with their cumulative average below 30, and only Daniel Vettori has never dipped under the mark. Anderson was last there in August 2003, after his sixth Test match.

"During the ragged decade of the 1990s and beyond, England stalled while records piled up"

Andy Zaltzman once dug out a gem of a stat: that Viv Richards needed to make at least 20 in his final Test innings to end his career with an average of more than fifty. Twenty runs, after the levels of Richards' accomplishments, were nothing, but in a way they were everything too. It wouldn't seem right that the avatar of modern batsmanship was forever denied the statistical company of, for example, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

So it is with bowlers. Thirty seems to be the mark at which ambiguity begins, where good and great slowly begin to separate from one another, where a decision has to be made as to who belongs where.

Anderson's career has had a different sweep to many. His first 100 wickets cost him 35. By the time he reached 200, the figure was under 32. Now it is a hair above 30. It is a gentle curve, reflective of a craft being slowly but progressively refined.

At his current strike rate of a wicket every 59 deliveries, he will need to bowl another 800 overs to go past Botham, in another thousand he could become the first Englishman to 400. At his rate of around 36 overs per Test, that's another 30 games, or three years of full fitness and endeavour.

At around the same time, Alastair Cook or Kevin Pietersen might be the first English Test batsman to pass 10,000 runs, a total already exceeded by three men from India, three from Australia, two from West Indies, two from Sri Lanka and one from South Africa.

During the ragged decade of the 1990s and beyond, England stalled while these records piled up. It's only now, as the same achievements come into view for a generation of players to have benefited from central contracts, consistency of selection, rigour in coaching and financial investment that their scale is apparent.

The record books say that the world left England a long way behind. The story of a generation is told through its absence from them.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • CLR on April 6, 2013, 21:26 GMT

    The reason Fred Trueman was so bloody knackered was because not only was Hawke his 300th Test wicket, he was his 1,888th First Class wicket. When Botham dismissed Jeff Dujon for his 300th Test wicket it was his 828th First Class wicket. Anderson has 550 First Class wickets.

    This gradual reduction in First Class games mean that England finally are preserving their best players for Tests. If there had been a similar policy in the 1990s then their best players, like Atherton or Gough, would already be members of the 10,000 club or the 400 club.

  • Dummy4 on April 6, 2013, 1:34 GMT

    well...this was the best article i've read on cricinfo yet.

  • Wesley on April 5, 2013, 15:19 GMT

    James Anderson has alway had talent, perhaps not always the belief he could be a top class bowler. At this moment in history he is among the best seamers in International cricket where unfortunately there are few whom can stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

  • Dummy4 on April 5, 2013, 13:16 GMT

    Would love nothing more than seeing Anderson go beyond 300 wickets during England's next series. What can be a better stage than the Ashes to achieve that! Hope its a rejuvenated Anderson that appears then.

  • Mick on April 5, 2013, 1:43 GMT

    Anderson is a lovely swing bowler who is fantastic to watch - and barely playable - on his day. There's no way I can see him being considered great in the long term but does it really matter.

  • Sarma on April 4, 2013, 14:55 GMT

    There is a resurgence in the ENG cricket since 2009, due to the preformances of Swann, Cook, Broad, Anderson, Prior, Pietersen, Trott, Strauss & Bell.

    Team ratings as per my computer are: SAF (1000); ENG (884); AUS (774); IND (682); PAK (577); WIN (477); SRL (474); NZL (329); ZIM (152); BAN (0).

    Ashes will go in favour of ENG as in ENG, their level is 919 & AUS has a level of 773 playing in ENG.

    All is not lost. ENG is up in test cricket.

  • Sarma on April 4, 2013, 2:28 GMT

    ENG always has decent bowlers. It produced great bowlers like Barnes & Lohmann. In its 933 test matches, ENG conceded 30.11 runs per wkt; took 15.17 wkts per match; 69 balls per wkt; 1,041 balls per match; conceded 2.63 runs per over. I would consider ENG bowling second to Australia's in the 135 years of test cricket. On a scale of 0-1,000, ENG bowling is at a level of 935. (ICC 1,000; AUS 982 ENG 935 SAF 928 PAK 867 WIN 863 SRL 770 IND 728 NZL 728 ZIM 530 BAN 0).

    While it stands at 3rd position in bowling, its batting needs a boost wherein ENG stands at 7th best (AUS 1,000 IND 946 SRL 928 WIN 903 PAK 895 SAF 881 ENG 876 NZL 630 ZIM 518 BAN 321 ICC 0)

    Amongst the current bowlers, I rate Swann at 744, Finn at 638 and Anderson at 602. Swann is as good as Jim Laker and we can expect great results from him.

  • Simon on April 3, 2013, 14:09 GMT

    I wouldn't worry about the 30 average too much - Jimmy averaged 39 for his first 20 tests and 28 since then.

  • I on April 3, 2013, 12:39 GMT

    For all the debate about batting averages lacking relevance when describing a batsman's value, bowling averages are even more meaningless. More so than batting, they are subject to fluctuations to correct them to the 30-run mark, particularly when you look at bowlers claiming tail-end wickets. It's better to judge Anderson more qualitatively, or else, for the top- and middle-order wickets he has claimed

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