Anderson secures spot in 500-wicket club

09 September 2017

500 reasons to smile for Anderson // Getty

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England quick joins exclusive club in tademark fashion with wickets under cloudy skies and in seaming conditions against West Indies at Lord's

About the Writer:

Chris Stocks is a freelance cricket writer based in London. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent and London Evening Standard.

James Anderson has joined exalted company after becoming the latest member of Test cricket’s 500-wicket club.

The Englishman is only the sixth player, and third seam bowler behind Glenn McGrath and Courtney Walsh, to reach the landmark.

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Now, surely, those remaining doubters about the Lancastrian’s place in history must concede he deserves to be regarded as one of the sport’s all-time greats.

At the age of 35, there are doubts about how long Anderson can go on for. Certainly, fitness permitting, he will be leading England’s attack during this summer’s Magellan Ashes series in Australia.

He has stated, though, that he wants to play the 2019 Ashes on home soil, which would surely be the final act of an outstanding career even if he did say last week he believes he could carry on playing until the age of 40.

July 2017: Anderson reaches epic Test milestone

For now, England, and the rest of the cricketing world, should appreciate a bowler who despite his advancing years seems to be showing no signs of slowing down.

It’s amazing to think that before this northern summer, Anderson had been written off by many following a poor series in India that had concluded with him being rested for the final Test in Chennai last December with the suspiciously vague prognosis of "body soreness".

However, six months of rest has seen him return in fantastic form despite suffering a groin injury at the start of the English season.

In the six Tests against South Africa and West Indies before this series finale at Lord’s, Anderson had taken 30 wickets at an average of 15.90 to get to within three of the 500-mark.


Anderson has starred this English summer // Getty
Anderson has starred this English summer // Getty


This is nothing new, though, for Anderson, who since being stood down from one-day duty by England after the 2015 World Cup had taken 117 wickets at 21.29 in the 29 Tests before this one at Lord’s.

It’s remarkable to think in that period Anderson has been struck down by a succession of injuries. But his form has remained sensational.

However, to get Anderson’s career in its proper perspective we must look at his overall stats – 129 Tests, with 501 wickets at 27.61. This is nowhere near the level of McGrath, who reached 500 wickets in just 110 Tests, and ended up with 563 at 21.64.

Walsh, who reached 500 in the same number of Tests as Anderson, took 519 in total at an average of 24.44.

Yet to understand Anderson’s career you need to realise this is a bowler who has had two very distinct phases as an international cricketer.

Initially dubbed the ‘Burnley Express’ when he burst onto the scene as a 21-year-old during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, a year after he made his England debut during a one-day series in Australia, Anderson was seen more as a quick bowler, as the nickname suggests, and one-day specialist.


Anderson burst onto the scene during the 2003 World Cup // Getty
Anderson burst onto the scene during the 2003 World Cup // Getty


He made his Test debut against Zimbabwe at Lord’s in the northern summer that followed. Anderson, though, took five years to establish himself as a Test regular.

Indeed, there is a clear demarcation line in his career. In his first 20 Tests from 2003 to 2007, he took 62 wickets at 39.20.

His 21st Test appearance, when he was recalled for the second match of the 2008 series against New Zealand in Wellington, is where his career took off.

Anderson's career took off in 2008 // Getty
Anderson's career took off in 2008 // Getty

That match in Wellington perhaps remains one of the most significant in recent English cricketing history as Anderson lined up for the first time in the same Test attack as Stuart Broad.

Broad, playing just his second Test, found himself recalled as well following England’s heavy defeat in the series opener in Hamilton.

It was the start of a wonderful partnership between the two bowlers, who now stand at numbers one and two in England’s all-time list of Test wicket-takers.

Broad and Anderson came into England’s team for that match in place of Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison. This then was not just the start of a new era but the end of an old one – namely the fabled attack that did so much to win England the 2005 Ashes series.

One of the great bowling pairings // Getty
One of the great bowling pairings // Getty

Anderson took a five-wicket haul in the first innings of that match at the Basin Reserve – the only cricket ground in the world that is also a roundabout.

This, though, is the junction where Anderson went through the gears to become the bowler he is today.

From that match onwards – so phase two of his Test career – he has taken 439 wickets at 25.97 in 109 Tests.

It is a fine record and one that perhaps better reflects where Anderson should be placed in history – not quite at the level of McGrath or Walsh but pretty close.

There is no doubt Anderson has done better at home than overseas.

Of those 500 wickets, 330 have come in England at 24.58 – compared to 171 away from home (at 33.46).

This is not to say Anderson has not performed consistently overseas. But there are really only two away series where he has been the outstanding seam bowler – England’s landmark wins in Australia in 2010-11 and India in 2012.

Anderson starred in 2010-11 // Getty
Anderson starred in 2010-11 // Getty

Anderson’s overall record in Australia is average – 43 wickets in 13 Tests at 38.44. But in that series seven years ago, he was the leading wicket-taker with 24 at 26.04 as he played a key role in England’s only away Ashes series win of the past 30 years. Mitchell Johnson, Australia’s leading bowler that series, took 15 at 36.93.

In India a year later, Anderson’s figures of 12 wickets at 30.25 do not look spectacular but they were critical to England’s success.

The state of the pitches can also be gauged by the fact of the seamers who played more than one Test in that four-match series, India’s Ishant Sharma returned the next best figures – four wickets at 42.25.

So, while many Australian fans might not fear Anderson when he comes to face Steve Smith’s team in this summer’s Magellan Ashes, it is worth remembering he is not just a man who runs riot in swinging English conditions. Yes, he is near unplayable in those – and he is surely the greatest swing bowler of all time.

But with age comes wisdom and he is probably better equipped now to help England win in Australia than he was in 2010-11. He’s certainly a better bowler.

How he adapts to the Kookaburra ball once more will be key.

But a man with 500 Test wickets should be seen exactly for what he is – a real threat to Australia’s upcoming Ashes chances. 

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