At his best against the best

James Anderson struck an early blow for England PA Photos

If things go to plan then by the time James Anderson completes his 100th Test, he should also have become England's leading wicket-taker in Test cricket. In 99 matches so far, Anderson has 380 wickets, which is three short of Ian Botham's record of 383. Over his entire career, Anderson has averaged 3.8 wickets per Test; since 2010, that average has increased to 4.2. His overseas numbers have improved too during this period, and he has taken 3.6 wickets per game when playing outside England. Currently, Anderson is 11th in the list of leading wicket-takers among fast bowlers; long before the summer is done, he should become the eighth fast bowler to take 400 Test wickets.

It's nearly 12 years since Anderson made his Test debut, in the summer of 2003. It was a soft debut - two Tests against Zimbabwe in home conditions. Anderson clearly relished the opportunity and the opponents, taking 11 wickets at 20.27, including a five-for in his first Test innings, at Lord's. Over the next few years, Anderson built a reputation as a fine swing bowler, with the ability to move the ball both ways. However, he also built a reputation for being able to do so only in certain conditions, and mostly at home. Overseas, he often struggled to be as effective: in the first six years of his career, Anderson's bowling average outside England was a far-from-impressive 45.63, and he averaged well below three wickets per Test. Nowhere was he found out as cruelly as in Australia, where, on flatter pitches and hot conditions, he struggled to move the Kookaburra ball like he did the Dukes in England, and took five wickets in three Tests at 82.60 in the 2006-07 series.

Over the years, though, he has gradually worked on his skills and improved his arsenal when bowling in less favourable conditions. The result has been a more complete bowler, and one who has the skills to take wickets in different conditions. Since 2010, Anderson's overseas bowling average has dropped to 31.27. In the 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia, Anderson was outstanding, taking 24 wickets at 26.04 (though he didn't enjoy as much success in 2013-14). On the tour to India in 2012-13, he troubled most of India's top-order batsmen, taking 12 wickets at 30.25. He has been even more lethal in home conditions during this period, averaging 23.60 for his 146 wickets in 31 matches.

With his improved numbers over the last five years, Anderson is clearly one of the top bowlers going around today. Though he had a couple of disappointing high-profile series in the last three years - averaging 43.92 in the 2013-14 Ashes series in Australia, and 40.66 in the three-Test home series against South Africa in 2012 - his overall average of 26.44 since the start of 2010 is extremely impressive. Among bowlers with at least 100 wickets during this period, only three bowlers - Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Ryan Harris - have a better average.

Winning battles against the best
One of the stand-out aspects about Anderson's bowling has been his ability to dismiss the top batsmen from opposition teams. Among the batsmen he has dismissed most often are Michael Clarke and Sachin Tendulkar: both have been dismissed nine times by him; Tendulkar averaged only 23 against him, while Clarke has done a little better. Jacques Kallis and Kumar Sangakkara, two other modern batting greats, also average less than 30 against him, as do Virender Sehwag and Chris Gayle. One of the most anticipated battles on the 2014 Indian tour to England was the one between Anderson and Virat Kohli, but Anderson won that contest comprehensively, getting Kohli caught in the slip cordon repeatedly. Murali Vijay was the pick of the Indian batsmen on that tour, but against Anderson he came out second-best, getting out to him four times at an average of 26.50.

Among the batsmen who've done well against him are Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting. Anderson dismissed Smith six times, but Smith scored 411 runs off him, so Smith clearly had the upper hand in those battles, while Ponting averaged nearly 60 against him as well. A couple of other South African batsmen have enjoyed playing Anderson too: Hashim Amla averages 127 against him (254 runs, two dismissals), while AB de Villiers averages 96.50 (193 runs, two dismissals). Shivarine Chanderpaul hasn't done badly either, averaging 75.50 (151 runs, two dismissals). Against many of the best batsmen of his era, though, Anderson has superb numbers, which speaks of his ability to raise his game against the top players.

England's matchwinner
Anderson is the only England bowler to take more than 200 wickets in Test wins: he has taken 211 wickets at 22.52 in wins; in defeats he averages more than twice that number. Twelve of his 16 five-fors have resulted in wins for England, which indicates just how influential a player he has been. The next-highest wicket-taker in wins for England is Fred Trueman with 177, while only two others - Botham and Graeme Swann - have 150 or more wickets in wins.

Only three England players - Botham, Kevin Pietersen and Graham Gooch - have won more Man-of-the-Match awards in Tests than Anderson, which is another indicator of his matchwinning ability. The three others above him are all either specialist batsmen or allrounders, while Anderson and Stuart Broad, his most regular fast-bowling partner, are the only bowlers to have won seven such awards for England.