James Anderson is a master of his craft. The most prolific wicket-taker in England’s history served another reminder of his enduring class with a record-breaking display in Galle, and incredibly, he’s getting better with age.
It requires a special talent and mentality to be operating as a fast-bowler in Test match cricket at the age of 38, yet Anderson’s stats are indicative of a player at the peak of his powers.
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Sri Lanka vs England
January 24, 2021, 4:25am
He admitted to pre-match nerves as he made his first Test match appearance since August, but he dazzled in unforgiving conditions, finishing with 6-40 from his 29 overs – his career-best performance in Asia.
Having reached 600 wickets on his last outing, the Lancashire seamer created further history by becoming the oldest fast-bowler to take a five-wicket haul in Asia, and the records did not end there.
Anderson is the sixth man to register a 30th five-wicket haul in the red-ball format, eclipsing Glenn McGrath’s tally of 29 to become just the second seam bowler behind Richard Hadlee to achieve such a milestone.
His astonishing figures were made all the more remarkable given the comparative struggles endured by his team-mates, coupled with the uncompromising bowling conditions in the sweltering Sri Lankan heat.
“It is just a question of how much longer his body can hold out for because there is absolutely no concern whatsoever with him the bowler. For me, he is England’s greatest ever bowler,” declared Rob Key.
“I think that he’s actually bowling better now at 38 than ever before.”
The statistics back up that assertion. The first 10 years of Anderson’s Test career between 2003 and 2013 saw him take 340 wickets at 30.61. Since 2014, he has claimed 266 scalps, at an average of just 21.45.
It is not just Anderson’s wicket-taking prowess that is integral to his success, it’s his control and consistency – illustrated throughout his gruelling spell in Galle.
Prior to the second Test, the 38-year-old boasted the best economy rate [2.48] of any bowler to have taken more than 75 wickets in the past three years, and his exploits in the subcontinent will have only enhanced that figure.
Anderson’s longevity is illustrated by another record shattered in Sri Lanka – he has enjoyed a longer gap between his first and latest Test five-for than any other player, having snared his first on debut against Zimbabwe, back in May 2003.
Anderson’s Test Match record
Oldest pace-bowlers to take a five-wicket haul in Test cricket
“Age is something that I don’t really take into account,” admitted England’s senior statesman.
“I don’t wake up thinking ‘right I’m 38 and however many days’. I’m thinking I’m still someone who can do a job for England and I can still win games of cricket.
“I still love working at my game, still love doing the fitness stuff and keeping in good shape. I feel as though I can still get quicker and that I can improve on my fitness. I am trying to find ways of doing that. I have done a lot of work in the gym.
“I don’t see why I can’t keep improving just because I’m getting older. The more work you put in, generally this game will give you rewards and that’s how it felt the last couple of days.”
One of the main criticisms flippantly attributed towards Anderson is that he is rendered ineffective in non-English conditions, particularly on pitches devoid of seam movement.
Nevertheless, his versatility is irrefutable. He averages 28 away from home in Test cricket since 2010, and that figure has been reduced to just over 21 over the last two years – comprising eight matches overseas.
Anderson has now taken consecutive five-wicket hauls in Test matches on foreign soil, and he reaffirmed that he’s a man for all conditions to help dismiss Sri Lanka for 381 in their first innings.
“It is actually other people away from England that doubt Jimmy Anderson,” acknowledged Nasser Hussain, who was England captain when Anderson made his Test debut almost 18 years ago.
“You make any comment on Jimmy Anderson and some will still say: ‘Well, he can’t do it away from England. He’s a one-trick pony. He can do it with a Dukes ball in England when it is swinging around corners.’
“He has actually shown over the last few years that that’s a load of nonsense and he can do it anywhere around the world.
“At the age of 38 he should be getting slightly worse, but he’s getting better and a lot of that has to do with his mindset.”
Anderson relishes competition – you don’t enjoy the sustained success he has without that unwavering desire to test yourself against the world’s best.
Next month’s trip to India will give him the opportunity to do just that – with the hosts fresh from a sensational 2-1 series win in Australia, despite being ravaged by injuries.
The four-match series will provide a significant test of Anderson’s credentials, but having enjoyed plenty of previous success against Virat Kohli’s side, it would be typical of England’s record-breaker to confound history once more.
Watch day three of the second Test between Sri Lanka and England live on Sky Sports Cricket from 4.25am on Sunday.
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