David Saker’s comments about James Anderson are not far-fetched

James Anderson (left) was hailed as the most skillful bowler by David Saker after the former entered the 300-wicket club in Test cricket © Getty Images

By Prakash Govindasreenivasan

On the day when England speedster James Anderson picked up his 300th Test wicket and a fifer in the first innings of the Lord’s Test against New Zealand, England’s bowling coach David Saker called him the ‘most skillful bowler.’

While that is accepted well within the English ranks, many outside of it would contest it by naming South Africa’s Dale Steyn as the worthy contender of the title. According to the ICC Bowling Rankings, Steyn is currently the number one-ranked bowler in Tests, while Anderson is five places below at sixth, with more than hundred rating points separating the two. So, what is it that Saker was talking about?

A microscopic look at the words of the former Victoria Bushrangers cricketer will give a rather clearer picture. Saker chose his words wisely when he said ‘skillful.’ He probably meant to say that he rated Anderson’s ability to have precision in swinging the ball both ways in any condition puts him above the current best bowler in the world.

Steyn and Anderson are similar in more ways than one. Both began their international careers with just a year’s gap between them and are currently enjoying the best phase of their respective careers. While Steyn leads a three-pronged pace attack which is currently the best in the world, Anderson shares his new ball with Stuart Broad and the duo are a force to reckon with in the longest format of the game.
Their analysis in Tests is also not too different. While Steyn has picked up 332 wickets in 65 Tests, Anderson has 305 from 81 matches.

Steyn’s strength has been his ability to clock over 140 miles-per-hour with relentless ease. His ability to stay fit all through the year helps him retain his searing pace and sharpen his accuracy further. Anderson, on the other hand, is probably a couple of miles-per-hour slower but has recently shown the ability to swing the ball both ways with commendable control.

Prowess on familiar territory

Both Steyn and Anderson have an uncanny knack of running through the top-order of any opposition in conditions that support the faster bowlers. Steyn helped his team retain their number one title in Test cricket with one of the fieriest spells of 2012 against Australia at Perth to finish with four for 40 in the first innings to pave the way for a resounding win.
Adaptability abroad

One need not look much beyond the Indian Premier League to understand Steyn’s ability to adapt to different and hostile conditions. On flat batting tracks in the sub-continent, his spells of four overs are generally defended away even by some of the best batsmen in the league.

Anderson’s performances in India haven’t been flattering till the recently concluded four-match Test series where England beat the home side 2-1. In the Nagpur Test, Anderson’s four-wicket haul made it tough for the home side to push for a victory and level the series. His scalps included that of openers Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Ravindra Jadeja and Sachin Tendulkar — who he dismissed for the ninth time in Tests.

Anderson’s ability to thrive on hostile conditions is well-documented in his exploits in Sri Lanka in 2012 where he picked up a fifer.

Across Formats

Head-to-head statistics in Tests

M W Ave 5W 10W
Dale Steyn 65 332 22.65 21 5
James Anderson 81 305 30.14 13 1

*Updated till the first Test match between New Zealand and England at Lord’s in 2013

Anderson has bowled a lot more than Steyn in whites but the South African has managed to pick up 27 wickets more. While both show similar kind of prowess at home and away in this format, Steyn has an upper hand with a better average. When in rhythm, Steyn can keep the tempo high for all five days and delivery for his side with the same intensity in both innings. He has also picked up ten wickets in a Test match on five occasions while Anderson has managed that just once.

Head-to-head stats in One-Day Internationals

M W Ave 5W
Dale Steyn 72 100 29.33 1
James Anderson 167 229 30.06 2

*Updated till the last ODI played by England and South Africa respectively

The difference in their averages in the 50-over format of the game is negligible. However, Anderson pips Steyn in the 50-over format by a decent margin in the wickets column. He has 229 wickets in 167 ODIs while Steyn has exactly 100 in 72 games. Anderson has played more than twice the number of matches  Steyn has.

Head-to-head stats in Twenty20 Internationals

M W Ave Econ
Steyn 29 39 16.64 6.30
Anderson 19 18 30.66 7.84

*Updated till the last T20I played by England and South Africa respectively

Both have not played enough matches to arrive at a comparative analysis with their figures. Steyn has featured in 29 T20Is so far, picking up 39 wickets at an average of 16.64 and an economy rate of 6.30, while Anderson has 18 wickets in 19 games with an average of 30.66 and an economy rate of just under eight runs an over. In the little the two have played, Steyn has fared better.

Statistically speaking, the two seem to be in a tightly-contest race across all formats. Saker’s comments of calling Anderson the ‘most skillful’ bowler should not be admonished without consideration. England’s opening bowler has made major strides in the longest format of the game in the last few years.  While Steyn rightfully has the tag of the best bowler in the world today, Anderson is one who is constantly improving. The plethora of tricks up his sleeve does make him a tough bowler to face.

It is really tough to name one as more skillful than the other as the term is very subjective. Both have their own set of qualities that make them world beaters. Steyn has the ability to bowl six deliveries at astonishing pace coupled with late swing that will tease the batsman, dominate him and eventually get the better of him. Anderson, on the other hand, will let loose two to three deliveries that will shape away from a right hander and slip an inswinger from nowhere to square him up. Anderson’s seam position and control is also second to none today.

In the end, it is fair to say that Saker’s comments came in the light of Anderson’s achievements for England and were not over-the-top. “I am no Dale Steyn” were Anderson’s words in reply to Saker’s comments but the world is witness to the fact that Anderson is not too far behind.

(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high in his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC)