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Stats Analysis

How good are Anderson and Broad in India?

In Asia, they're great. In India, sightly less so. Will they bring their best game this time around?

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
"One last time, with feeling, what d'you say?"  •  Getty Images

"One last time, with feeling, what d'you say?"  •  Getty Images

Steve Waugh famously called it the "final frontier", and you could certainly think of easier assignments. When you are a mid-to-late-30s English fast bowler, four-Test tours of India presumably rank high on your personal list of thankless tasks. Yet, as England's prologue in Sri Lanka demonstrated, James Anderson and Stuart Broad remain (relatively) old dogs of the highest pedigree, and still capable of new tricks.
Broad, in particular, would doubtless point out that he is only 34 and arguably in his prime - 38 Test wickets at 14.76 in 2020 giving him the most-potent calendar year of his career to date. And while it's probably safe to say this will be Anderson's fifth and final tour of India, well… just don't do so within his earshot.
The most-prolific pace portmanteau in Test history, Broaderson just keeps coming (even when England have tried to manage the decline) and two spotless individual outings in Galle raised the question of whether Joe Root ought to make room for both in his preferred XI to take on India. Chris Silverwood, the head coach, suggested it was "great just to have the options", and there are various ways in which England's allrounder jigsaw could allow for Anderson and Broad to be picked.
But what are the prospects for success? Can England overcome a perceived weakness in the spin department by placing additional faith in their venerable seam-bowling pair - particularly if Chepauk sports a greenish tinge come match day? Time to boldly go and take a look at the numbers.
Green seamers
The first thing to say is that, of the seam-bowling options available to Silverwood and Root, there is a huge gulf in experience between Anderson and Broad and the rest. That is true of most settings but particularly in Asia, where England's next most-successful fast bowler is allrounder Ben Stokes, followed by another big gap to Mark Wood (who has been rested for the first two Tests). Jofra Archer will likely get his first taste of bowling in the subcontinent, because of the extra pace he can provide, while batting ability adds to the claims of Sam Curran (also rested for the Chennai Tests) and Chris Woakes.
Secondly, while Broad has had the edge form-wise since a resurgent 2019 Ashes summer, it is Anderson who stands out for his impeccable record in this part of the world - never mind what the "Clouderson" critics might have you believe. His Galle six-for upped the ante once again, making him the oldest seamer in Test history to claim a five-wicket haul in Asia and adding to a remarkably robust catalogue of work.
All-weather Anderson
An average of 29.10 seems steady, and puts him roughly mid-table among quicks to have taken 40 wickets in Asia since 1990. But narrow it down to bowlers from overseas and he's in good company - not to mention above a host of those with local knowhow, such as Wahab Riaz, Ishant Sharma, Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan. No current seamer can compete with his miserly economy rate of 2.61.
In fact, since the turn of the millennium, only one fast bowler from outside the subcontinent has been more successful than Anderson - and as Andrew Fidel Fernando has previously established on these pages, very few in history can compete with Dale Steyn. Among quicks to have taken 40-plus wickets in that time, only Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock were more economical.
Different spin
Anderson was, of course, described as "the major difference between the two sides" by MS Dhoni after the 2012-13 Tests - India's last series defeat on home soil. It is perhaps the level of control he offers that makes Anderson England's key seamer once again, a decade later. His recent injury record means he will need looking after - and may add weight to the idea that he and Broad should be rotated - but his reliability and enduring fitness levels, as well as the apparent flaws in England's spin attack, mean he is just as likely to fulfil a holding role as to cut a swathe with the new ball; in the first innings in Galle last month, only Jack Leach delivered more than Anderson's 29 overs.
Looking specifically at his record in India, it is almost more instructive to draw a comparison with visiting spinners: Anderson's average and economy compare well against the likes of Shane Warne, Daniel Vettori and Muttiah Muralitharan (albeit if he ends up with the same workload as Murali, there's no doubting he will break).
He may be famed for expertly harnessing the swinging Dukes ball, but Anderson has some of a spinner's guile, too. His success in 2012-13 included removing Sachin Tendulkar for the eighth and ninth time in Tests (no bowler did so more), and Tendulkar recently revealed his admiration for Anderson's ability to bowl reverse reverse swing - essentially taking the old ball away from a right-hander despite the wrist position indicating an inswinger. More recently, Anderson spoke of his enjoyment in Galle after removing Niroshan Dickwella with an offcutter that the batsman, on 92, miscued after being suffocated by a tight off-side field.
Broad walks the talk
It was Broad, however, who got the nod at the start of England's six-Test subcontinental odyssey, and figures of 26-14-34-3 on a classic Galle dustbowl suggested he has added a dimension to his game. That haul doubled his career wicket tally in Sri Lanka, from three previous visits, and took his returns in Asia to 44 at 36.31 - though most of his success has come on skiddier surfaces in the UAE. In India, his record to date is not pretty - ten wickets at 53.90 - but late-stage Broad has shown an unstinting appetite for honing his cutting edge.
Whether it's his reinvention as a tormentor of left-handers - just ask David Warner - or working on the legcutter that has become a significant part of his repertoire, Broad is comfortable going back to the drawing board. His ability to transcend the conditions in Galle drew praise from Angelo Mathews, and Broad also went into some of the subtleties of his approach. "I concentrated on making the batsman play as much as possible, and also varying my pace in little ways. Maybe not 6-7mph at times but going up two miles an hour, coming down three or four miles an hour, and that was the plan I stuck to."
Similar plans for Chennai and Ahmedabad are doubtless already in the works. If England are to frustrate India's strokemakers - players such as Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and Rishabh Pant, who score a high percentage of their runs in boundaries - then it is likely Anderson and/or Broad will have to set the tone. Even so, frontier life may prove inhospitable. In 2016-17, England's two senior seamers each played three Tests out of five, but could do little to avert a 4-0 defeat.
Beating a Sri Lanka team low on confidence is one thing, competing with India on their own terms quite another. You don't need to have been around the block to know that.
With stats inputs from Gaurav Sundararaman

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick