Chasing Jimmy: The men who could make history
After Glenn McGrath claimed no-one would catch Anderson's wicket tally, we've taken a look at the quicks best placed to give it a shot
28 August 2018, 02:42 PM AEST
The legendary Glenn McGrath cast Ashes rivalries aside this week to heap praise on England's James Anderson, a fellow member of the fast-bowling fraternity and a man poised to break the Australian's Test wickets record in the very near future.
Anderson is just six away from McGrath's tally of 563 wickets – the most by a fast bowler in Test history – and with two matches still to play against India, he appears a strong chance to own that piece of history by the end of the northern summer.
Perhaps the most interesting part of McGrath's tribute was his proclamation that once the mark was broken by Anderson, it would be his forever.
"Once Jimmy goes past me it will be interesting to see where he wants to set the bar," he told Sportsmail. "With the nature of the game these days, and the amount of Twenty20 cricket, I believe no fast bowler will ever go past him."
McGrath has a point. The proliferation of the shortest format has bowlers stretching themselves across more tournaments around the world than ever. But is it really Anderson's record for all time? It is an interesting suggestion. We took a look around world cricket, to see if there were any genuine contenders among the current crop of fast bowlers with the potential to steal his crown.
Beginning in Australia, the trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins are the leading contenders. But which of the three is the most likely, and are any of them legitimately in a position to take 550, or even 600 Test wickets?
Firstly, let's look at the volume of Test cricket Australia have played for the past five years (2013-17) to get an indication of how many matches these guys could reasonably play. In that period, Australia played 58 Tests at an average near enough to 12 per year.
At 28, Starc is the oldest of the group. He has 182 wickets in 43 Tests at a rate of 4.23 wickets per match. The left-armer has missed 34 of Australia's Test since his debut, though many of those came before he was an automatic selection (since the beginning of 2015, he has played 29 of a possible 40 Tests.
Anderson has just turned 36 and has been exceptionally durable for a fast bowler. Starc has been less so, but his wickets-per-match ratio is 0.28 ahead of the Englishman's. If we give the left-armer another seven years in Test cricket, by which time he will be 35 and seven months, and assume he plays 80 per cent of Australia's matches (up 7.5 per cent on his recent record), we can expect him to appear in another 67 Tests. At 4.23 wickets per Test, his career wickets aggregate jumps to 465. It's incredibly impressive, but still well short of Anderson and McGrath.
What about Hazlewood? The 'Bendemeer Bullet' is a year younger than Starc and only 31 wickets behind him (he has 151), and his track record for staying on the park has been superior to his fellow New South Welshman's as well (since his debut in 2015, he has played 40 of a possible 42 Tests, though he will be absent for the upcoming two-Test series against Pakistan in October).
So given his impressive durability, let's give Hazlewood another nine years, which will take him through to 36 and seven months – older than Anderson presently but a few months younger than McGrath when he retired.
If he plays 90 per cent of Australia's 108 Tests (based again on the average of the past five years), he will play another 97 matches. Hazlewood has been taking 3.78 wickets per Test, which means we can add 370 wickets to his tally, which brings his hypothetical career figure out at 521. He's short, too.
Then there's Cummins, who has bounced back from an injury-ravaged beginning to his career to become Australia's most reliable quick of the past 18 months. Since being recalled in March 2017, he has played all 13 possible Tests (though he too will miss out on the upcoming Tests against Pakistan). Having turned 25 in May, Cummins is considerably the youngest of the Australian trio, however his injury setbacks have restricted his career to just 14 Tests – and 66 wickets.
Given the amount of time he has spent on the sidelines, we'll take the optimistic view that he will be better placed at the back-end of his career, and give him a generous 11 more years in Baggy Green, taking him roughly through to the Anderson-McGrath age.
If he can manage to play 85 per cent of Australia's Tests in that time, he can add 112 matches to his record. Also in Cummins' favour is his wickets-per-match ratio of 4.71 – assuming he maintains that impressive rate, he could tally another 528 wickets which, added to the 66 he has collected already, would take his career haul to 594 – putting him ahead of McGrath and right in the mixer with Anderson.
Australia's closest Test neighbours New Zealand currently boast an outstanding new-ball pair in Tim Southee and Trent Boult. Both bowlers are in their late 20s but have strong records and appear to be getting better with age. Counting against the Black Caps is the amount of Test cricket they play – on average 9.4 Tests between 2013-17 (only seven last year).
Southee, who will be 30 in December, has 220 wickets at 3.67 per match. If he can manage another six years and play 90 per cent of New Zealand's Tests, the numbers come out at another 207 wickets – that's 406 total; approaching the Black Caps' fast-bowling record (held by Sir Richard Hadlee at 431) but well short of Anderson and McGrath.
Boult is eight months younger, and has 215 Test wickets at 3.98 per match. If he can go at the same rate for another seven years, playing 90 percent of NZ's matches, he will add another 235 wickets to his record, topping out at 450.
Then there's Pakistani quick Mohammad Amir, the man who had 50 Test wickets as an 18-year-old but whose involvement in a spot-fixing scandal resulted in him being rubbed out of the international game for five years.
Amir has taken another 56 wickets since his return, though he has not had the devastating impact of his formative years, when some were heralding the arrival of the next great Pakistan swing bowler. Still, 107 Test wickets at 26 – with five years wiped out – is no mean feat and the left-armer looks best placed among his countrymen to finish with a serious career wickets tally. How high can he go? Well, his wickets are presently only coming at 3.24 per match. Pakistan averaged only 8.4 Tests per year from 2013-17. If Amir can play 90 per cent of their Test for a decade, he will add another 245 wickets to his record, which would give him a total of 352.
Elsewhere in Asia, Indian Ishant Sharma might consider himself a contender. Sharma debuted as an 18-year-old and has since collected 249 wickets at a relatively ordinary rate of 2.93 per Test. The right-armer will be 30 next week and it's worth noting that Anderson only had 19 more wickets before that milestone birthday. India played 50 Tests from 2013-17 at 10 per year, so if Sharma can play in 90 per cent of his side's matches for the next six years, that's another 54 Tests – or another 159 wickets, taking him to just over 400 in total.
Perhaps we're looking too far away from Anderson for the real contender. Sharing the new ball with him is Stuart Broad, a man four years his junior and already boasting an incredible 427 Test wickets (3.53 per match). Broad had more wickets (345) before turning 30 than any quick in history and has several factors working in his favour if he is to overhaul Anderson: his age, the fact he is no longer playing ODI or T20I cricket, and England's hectic schedule – they have played more Tests on average per year (12.8) than any other nation from 2013-17.
If Broad, 32, can go for another four years and play 90 per cent of England's Tests in that time, numbers indicate he would land at around 590 wickets, making him a serious candidate for the record.
Finally, to South Africa, and we've saved the best for last. No-one in Test history has taken 150 wickets at a younger age than Kagiso Rabada, who turned 23 in May. Rabada has 151 wickets in his 32-Test career at the highly impressive rate of 4.72 per match. It's entirely feasible he could play for another 13 years. South Africa averaged 9.2 Test per year from 2013-17 and assuming they go at the same rate until Rabada reaches Anderson's age, the right-armer could play another 107 Tests (if he plays 90 per cent of the Proteas matches), in which his hypothetical numbers hit 508 wickets. Add that to his 151 already taken, and we have 659 Test wickets – and the man most likely to topple Anderson.