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March 20, 2013
James Anderson is five wickets away from becoming only the fourth England bowler to claim 300 Test scalps, but milestones will not be near the forefront of his mind as he steels his tired body for one last effort in Auckland.
Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Fred Trueman are the three who occupy the 300-club and, although globally the figure is not as exclusive as it once was, it will be further validation towards Anderson being one of England's finest bowlers.
Anderson's journey has not always been smooth. After bursting onto the scene in 2003, he became a fringe player by the end of that year for a period of two more, before suffering a career threatening back injury following attempts to modify his action. It was only when Peter Moores became coach in 2007 that Anderson was given a sustained second chance and since 2008, the previous tour of New Zealand, he has not looked back.
From that comeback in Wellington, an excellent career has taken on a number of guises. He has taken 233 wickets at 28.13, the most by any bowler in the world over the same time frame albeit in 14 matches more than second-placed Dale Steyn on 227 scalps. It is, though, further proof as to why those two are talked about in the same breath.
He has not been quite at his best in this series - collecting seven wickets at 33.14 - although there have been examples of his skill, including a spell with the second new-ball in Dunedin, which was accompanied by much pent-up frustration, and a burst of reverse swing in Wellington, when he was being buffeted by a strong wind. However, Anderson's own uncertainty about his numbers shows the pending landmark does not occupy all his thoughts.
"It would be a huge achievement. But first of all, I've got to get some wickets," he said. "I think two is the most I've got in an innings on this trip. I'm aware of it. But it's something once I get into the game, I won't be thinking about."
Yet, if Anderson's statistics are a guide, an England victory and the 300-landmark could go hand-in-hand. Since returning to the side in 2008 he has averaged 4.82 wickets in matches England have won.
There were concerns about Anderson's fitness during the Wellington Test, where he needed some treatment on a stiff back, but he has benefited from an extra day off due to the rain which curtailed that match. England also did not train on Wednesday except for those who wanted an extra net, which were Nick Compton, Jonny Bairstow and Graham Onions.
"When you've got just one big Test left, you always manage to find something a little bit extra in the tank - knowing we have got a few weeks off when we get home," Anderson said. "I feel okay. The rain probably helped in the end, getting an extra day off."
There was expectation before the series that England's quick bowlers would enjoy a profitable time in New Zealand, but the successes that have come their way - notably Stuart Broad's 6 for 51 in Wellington - have been hard-earned. That, however, does not come as a surprise to Anderson who has become used to trying to extract wickets in tough conditions.
"Test pitches around the world are generally quite flat, and you've got to work hard for your victories," he said. "It's no different out here. So you can't say they're not result pitches ... you've just got to work hard as a bowler to get 20 wickets in a game.
"That's just the way things are. You have to find different ways of getting people out. You can't always just steam in and try and roll sides over. You've got to use other skills, and that's what we've been trying to do this trip."
Anderson, without doubt, has the skills. Now he just needs to find the energy.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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