A well-known cricketing adage says that spin bowlers like good wine get better with age. Clarrie Grimmett the legendary Australian leg spinner was 44 when he took 44 wickets in the series against South Africa in 1935-36. Nearer our time the great Shane Warne was 36 when he took 40 wickets in the unforgettable contest against England in 2005.
But looking at some of the great fast bowlers the adage could be applied to them too. The West Indian duo of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose remained deadly till the end of their careers. Walsh was 38 when he played his last Test and Ambrose was almost 37 when his career ended. Two of their great predecessors Richard Hadlee and Imran Khan were even older when they played their last Test, Hadlee being 39 and Imran 40.
These thoughts come to mind when seeing James Anderson bowl these days. He is in his 37th year and played his first Test almost 16 years ago. But he remains England’s pace spearhead even with the introduction of several youngsters who have come and gone. To be candid one marvels at the man. He has played 148 Tests much more than any other fast bowler and but for the odd injury or two he has remained remarkably fit. He has sent down over 32,000 deliveries, over 2000 more than Walsh the next on the list. And yet there is no talk of retirement. And why should there be when he continues to be highly successful. Why, only in the just concluded Test series against the West Indies he took ten wickets in the three matches at 24.5 apiece. And the manner in which he demolished the West Indian top order in the second innings of the third Test with a quick three wicket burst showed that there was still a lot of fuel in the tank.
Given his method of bowling which is basically seam and swing it is inevitable that Anderson should have an envious record in England. The cynics uncharitably say that he can take wickets only in England and helpful conditions. That is an unfair criticism and one would think they would have some respect for a bowler who has lasted the course successfully for so long. The fact is that in 65 Tests abroad he has taken 207 wickets at 33 apiece. And while it is true that he has a much better record at home – 368 wickets from 83 Tests at an average of 23.76 – he still has well over three wickets a Test abroad. With 575 wickets Anderson is the most successful fast bowler of all time and the fourth highest wicket taker – a no mean feat by any yardstick.