If you want to know about some real insightful cricket anecdotes of yesteryears, look no further than your grandfathers.
They’ll tell you how fierceful were the West Indies bowlers of the 80s or how everytime Abdul Qadir came on to bowl, Indian batsmen had no earthly idea to tackle him. How Kris Srikanth would take casual walks to the square-leg umpire and make the bowler wait.
How Ravi Shastri, despite being crowned Champion of Champions at the Benson and Hedges series, lost numerous matches because of his slow-scoring.
How Richard Hadlee had the smoothest run-up ever by a fast bowler. Or how funny it was everytime Tony Greig towered over Sunil Gavaskar when they walked out for the toss.
Shortly after the 2003 World Cup, Mark Butcher was on fire against Zimbabwe. Butcher had become a personal favourite since he made a blistering unbeaten 173 against Australia in the 2001 Ashes.
Two years later, he was at the center once again, milking Heath Streak, Douglas Hondo and Ray Price for another hundred.
“Did you see Mark Butcher’s knock! Tremendous,” I exclaimed. “Yeah, but did you see that Anderson fellow! He took the skin off them,” was my grandfather’s reply, that lukewarm yes turning into a glow in his eyes.
Anderson, then a 21-year-old boy, with his hair spiked and coloured, shepherding the new ball with Matthew Hoggard, had picked up a five-wicket haul. Four of his five dismissals were bowled.
Those were mere baby steps towards a remarkable feat he would go on to achieve 14 years later. 500 Test wickets pinned on his Hall-of-Fame worthy wall.
Only two fast bowlers have more wickets than him – Glenn McGrath and Courtney Walsh. And to do it at Lord’s, the very same venue he first represented England in whites all those years ago, and then cap it off with career-best figures is a bloody good effort.
English bowlers have lagged behind in terms of recognition for greatness. David Gower, Graham Gooch, Alec Stewart, Michael Atherton and now Alastair Cook, have all been fabulous batsmen, some even termed great.
Their fast bowlers are however not as recognised. Barring Ian Botham and Fred Trueman, and to a certain extent Willis, terming the rest great evokes an uncertainty.
Alan Mullally and Dominic Cork were promising but they didn’t last long. Darren Gough played over 50 Tests and picked up over 200 wickets, but his powers waned out once modern-day Test batting took over.
Never has a career at the top-level been terminated as ruthlessly as that of Matthew Hoggard despite him doing a terrific job of playing 67 Tests with over 250 wickets in just eight years.
Heck, even Steve Harmision and Simon Jones wrecked a dominant Australia during the 2005 Ashes, but injuries shut the door on their careers.
Anderson has survived it all. The evolution of the game, the disappointment, the injuries and the most important factor for a fast bowler – longevity. He might as well be England’s GOAT, not just because of the number 500 but also because of his artistry.
New ball, old ball, he’ll make it move effortlessly. Then there’s the one that nips back into the right-hander, the one that has pinned Sachin Tendulkar on the backfoot and had him out leg-before.
The away-going delivery that has drawn numerous edges off Jacques Kallis. His yorkers, a nightmare for tail-enders. That well-crafted shooting reverse-swinger which found the outside edge of Denesh Ramdin’s bat in April 2015 and made Anderson the highest wicket taker in English cricket with 384 scalps.
In addition to his natural outswing, Anderson has worked extremely hard on his wrist to work on the inswinger. And it has made him irresistible, in almost all conditions.
The reason Anderson and Glenn McGrath are in the same list is because of not just the number of wickets they have taken, but the quality behind them.
Throughout his career, McGrath had dismissed the two greatest batsmen, Tendulkar and Brian Lara, on multiple occasions. Anderson hasn’t only won his battles against Tendulkar but he’s had Jacques Kallis and Kumar Sangakkara’s number as well.
He’s dismissed Kallis seven times in 15 Tests and Sangakkara seven times in eight. Two of the finest to have ever batted in Tests.
These numbers make him a Test match bully. Not in a wrong way. Not in a way that people start associating it to his spat with Ravindra Jadeja in 2014, or the time he charged into a duel with Australian captain Michael Clarke during the infamous 0-5 drubbing at the 2013 Ashes.
Or when despite scoring over 600 runs in a series, Virat Kohli’s batting appeared to have left him cold as he credited home surfaces for the batsman’s astonishing form. But in a way fast bowlers are meant to be. They are supposed to be merciless, ruthless.
Anderson breathes fire. The relation he has with the England crowd is rare. Sort of what Steve Waugh had with his. Just hear the roar that generates from the 20,000 strong everytime Anderson starts running in towards the batsman.
Fast bowling is the most physical aspect of Test cricket. To manage a body that has shown signs of slowing up, at times giving up due to multiple stress fractures and what not, and make it continuously go through that rigour with repeated success at 35 is why Anderson commands this sort of love and respect.
It’s time to celebrate him. Admire him. Savour him. You’ll miss him when he’s gone. Aditya Bhattacharya | TIMESOFINDIA.COM