S. SOORAJ | 29th August 2021

When James Anderson made his test debut in 2003, Zimbabwe was still a test-playing nation, Nasser Hussain was England’s captain and none of the current English players had made their debuts in any of the formats of the game.

18 years later, in 2021, a 39-year old Jimmy Anderson is still unplayable for even some of the best batsmen of the current era. Throughout his career, Anderson has proven to be instrumental in the positive inroads England have made as a test team.

He has ripped through world-class batting line-ups, becoming the highest wicket-taking fast-bowler in the world. 

And the best thing about Anderson is, the more feared the batsman, the more ferocious is his bowling. After all, he has dismissed Sachin Tendulkar 9 times and Virat Kohli 7 times in test cricket, the most by any bowler in the world. Arguably two of the greatest batsmen of their eras, but that certainly wasn’t a problem for James Anderson.

Common knowledge tells you that fast bowlers aren’t always blessed with long careers. Fast-bowling is easily the most gruelling aspect of the game by a mile and the numbers back this claim up.

41% of cricketing injuries are attested with bowling, and fast-bowling takes up a major chunk of that. Lumbar stress fractures and hamstring injuries are the most common among fast-bowling injuries and the worst thing about especially the former is that it could be potentially career-ending.

But is there a way around these injuries to have a long and stellar career for fast-bowlers? Yes, there is and Jimmy is a prime example of that.

Pace bowlers need to keep everything in check to avoid injuries- from the run-up to the release. And neither of them is a problem with Anderson, with a textbook run-up and an impeccably uncomplicated action, which reduces the chances of fatigue and injuries.

The Englishman also doesn’t push for excessive pace and has enough skill up his sleeve to annihilate any opposition in the world. Less is more and you don’t need to tell Anderson that.

The workload management of Jimmy Anderson is also a prime reason for his unparalleled success as increased or excessive gametime, in several cases is a crucial factor for fast-bowling injuries. The cricketing schedule nowadays is absolutely stacked. With 3 formats and innumerable T20 leagues, rest has become a thing of the past.

The quality of cricket even in the local T20 leagues isn’t below par either. Fast-bowlers need to bring their A-game every time to avoid getting decimated. To bowl at the highest standards over and over again in a multitude of conditions and formats takes superhuman effort and unfortunately, not everyone’s superhuman. 

Even some of the greatest quicks of our times like Dale Steyn had trouble maintaining their quality during their later years. However, Anderson really is one of one.

 At 39-years old, he swings the duke ball either way, making any and every batsman dance to his tune, which is a testament to his immaculate quality.

There’s no denying the greatness of Steyn as well, in case those of who are reading this are tearing your hair out. But it’s Anderson opting out of tournaments such as the IPL, unlike the Proteas pacer that has ensured he reserves his skills for the biggest bouts, almost like an elite boxer.

The English Cricket Board (ECB) need to be heralded for the way they have dealt with Anderson. They gave him the freedom to play only in the formats he feels Jimmy can weave his magic, offering him enough rest between each series.

While some may argue that the veteran may not be up there with the greatest fast bowlers of all time as he hasn’t proved his minerals enough on Asian pitches as well as white-ball cricket, these aren’t necessarily the ideal criterion to assess his excellence.

Simply put, Anderson has been the leader of England’s bowling attack for ages and propelled himself to become the 3rd highest wicket taker in Tests on the strength of his unrivalled consistency.

While many may consider the lack of gametime as a chink in his legacy, you could bet a million dollars that Anderson isn’t losing any sleep over such claims as without managing his time on the pitch, he could not have become the legend he is considered today.

Also, the Burnley-born quick wasn’t a poor limited-overs bowler by any stretch, as opposed to what some of his critics would like you to believe.

With 194 ODIs to his name, his career certainly had longevity, in which he took 269 wickets. Even though his 50-over career has been on and off and he hasn’t played an ODI in the last 6 years, his numbers tell you that Anderson thrives with the white ball as well. 

Unlike other test specialists such as Ishant Sharma, Neil Wagner and Yasir Shah, Anderson has stepped up in limited overs as well.

His career is a template that teaches fast bowlers on how to evade injuries and stay at the top of his game for over a decade, something that some of the greatest fast bowlers were unable to spot and implement themselves.

Case in point, Shane Bond.

Considered to be New Zealand’s best fast bowler since Sir Richard Hadlee, Bond could clock deliveries at 150+ kmph with ease. He was a nightmare for batsmen during the early and mid-2000s, however, his celebrated international career was limited to only 18 tests and 82 ODIs.

Injuries took away a diamond of a fast bowler from being a true great

Plagued with lumbar stress fractures, his back was at the front of Bond’s problems, leading to him missing crucial games throughout his career and an early retirement.

Zaheer Khan is another bowler whose career could have reached even greater heights, if it wasn’t for injuries due to an improper management of gametime.

As the spearhead of the Indian bowling attack, he played an integral part in India’s 2011 World Cup campaign, bagging 21 wickets in unplayable fashion. But his career post-India’s heroics wasn’t as fruitful as it was supposed to be.

His hamstring hamstrung his career, forcing him to retire early, much like Bond.

This is where James Anderson has a unique story. Even though Jimmy was England’s best bowler, rest was never put to the side, just for the sake of a crucial game. They realized they had a gem on their hands and they never took it for granted.

Also, England ensured they were able to build a formidable squad without their most decorated fast bowler and with a T20 and 50-over World Cup in the bag, it’s safe to say mission accomplished. With the rest they offered Jimmy throughout his career, they were also able to retain their name as a top test side for ages.

Even now, at 39 years old, Jimmy Anderson is England’s saving grace along with Joe Root in the ongoing test series against India. While England made a mistake with the Jofra Archer mismanagement, which led him to undergo a fatal injury, the way they have dealt with Anderson is a blueprint for every nation to follow.

A true champion bowler that embodies class and longevity. 

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