James Anderson: One of the most deceptive and lethal swing bowlers in the world

James Anderson is currently third in the list of English wicket-takers in Tests, after Ian Botham and Bob Willis © Getty Images

James Anderson, born July 30, 1982, is England’s leading wicket-taker across all formats and one of the most dangerous swing bowlers in the world today. Jaideep Vaidya goes through the career of ‘Jimmy’.

“For me, hitting the guy on the pad — the noise it makes — knowing it’s hitting middle stump halfway up and turning round, knowing the umpire is going to put his finger up, is just the best feeling ever.” James Anderson, currently England’s pace spearhead and arguably the best swing bowler operating on the cricket field, clearly thrives on his own success. And he’s been getting a lot of it recently.

Apart from South Africa’s Dale Steyn, there isn’t another bowler in the world who induces that fear, that trepidation in the minds of the fans of the team he is playing against, and probably in most batsmen he bowls to. With the destructive and highly effective ability to swing the ball in both directions with considerable amounts of pace, as a batsman, your woodwork, your legs and the edge of your bat are in a war zone — under constant bombardment from Anderson’s wizardry with the ball. Add to that his proficiency in disguising his swinging deliveries in such a way that you never know which way it is going to move until the very last moment, and you’ve got yourself tentatively poking at everything under the sun.

Earlier, during the ICC Champions Trophy 2013, Anderson became England’s most successful One-Day International (ODI) bowler after going past Darren Gough’s tally of 234 wickets. In February this year, Anderson claimed his 529th scalp across all formats in international cricket to pass Botham’s 528 and become England’s leading wicket-taker. During New Zealand’s tour of England prior to the Champions Trophy, Anderson became the fourth Englishman to cross the 300-wicket mark in Tests, after Sir Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Fred Trueman. Since then, he has gone past Trueman (307) after taking 13 wickets in the first two Ashes Tests. By the time the fifth and final match of the first leg of the old rivalry is done with, he would be well past Willis’s 325 with only Botham lying ahead (383). With England scheduled to play seven more Test matches against Australia in the next as many months, Botham would be already deliberating on a good champagne to celebrate the occasion in the very near future.

It is quite astonishing to consider how much Anderson has achieved in his decade in international cricket. On his Test debut at Lord’s in 2003 against Zimbabwe, he conceded 17 runs in his first over. Ten years later, at the very ground, he set up New Zealand’s Peter Fulton in the most deceiving and dazzling of manners by getting the ball to nip in to him, before swinging it the other way next ball to find his outside edge to second slip — making him the 26th bowler in Test history to claim 300 wickets. And to think, he wouldn’t even have been able to do it all and mesmerise the cricketing world had he not turned from an “unremarkable seam-bowling all-rounder who acted as scorer for the Burnley second team captained by his father” into to one of the most dangerous fast bowlers in the world, following a growth spurt in his teens. “That’s when I started to bowl fast and broke into Burnley first team,” he told Wisden.

Anderson, or the Burnley Express, as he later went on to be called, wouldn’t even have become a swing bowler had it not been for Lancashire’s cricket manager Mike Watkinson. “When I first got picked for Lancashire I couldn’t swing the ball, so [county cricket manager] Mike Watkinson took me aside and taught me how to do it: the grip and the seam position,” Anderson told the BBC. “He said imagine the feel of it coming out of your hand almost like an off-spinner, your arm coming over almost like a round-arm, or low-arm. That really worked for me because I’m a feel kind of bowler. From there I tried to develop an inswinger. That took me years and years to actually develop the confidence to bowl it in a game, and then another couple of years to actually get it straight. Over the last few years, if I bowl a good ball I just try to think about everything I did during that ball, how it came out of my fingers, how it felt and just try to recreate that over and over again. “Born in Burnley, Lancashire, Anderson’s cricket began with the Burnley Cricket Club when he was just nine years old, playing for their Under-11 team. Such was his talent that he made his first XI debut at the age of 15. Anderson played for the Lancashire Under-19s and, at age 18, was offered a professional contract by Lancashire. He made his debut for Lancashire during a one-day game in 2001. His county debut came in the 2002 season against Surrey at Old Trafford. He finished the season with 50 wickets and won a place in the England Academy in Adelaide for the winter.

“After a good three months with the Academy I was an injury call-up to the England one-day squad,” said Anderson, on his official website. “This was another initially nervy experience but at the time I just thought I was in the squad as back-up cover, with only a slim chance of playing.” However, Anderson was handed an ODI debut in the second game of the series against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) “in front of a 50,000 crows, which was a huge thrill for me, especially when picking up Adam Gilchrist as my first international wicket.” He played all the remaining games in that series and was selected for the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, where he took four for 29 against Pakistan.

James Anderson: One of the most deceptive and lethal swing bowlers in the world

Anderson’s most effective quality is his ability to swing the ball proficiently in either direction at a considerable pace © Getty Images

Anderson made his Test debut the following year at Lord’s, and despite an inauspicious first over, he went on to take a fifer and 11 wickets in the series. He was to take his first hat-trick that summer against Pakistan in an ODI at The Oval, and then helped England to a 4-0 whitewash against the West Indies. “In 2005 I spent most of the summer playing for Lancashire, taking 60 First-Class wickets that season, forcing my way into the 12-man squad for the final Ashes Test of that famous series.”

Anderson missed the majority of the 2006 summer due to a stress fracture on his back, which developed due to him changing his bowling action on recommendation. He eventually switched back to his original action and impressed with a four-wicket haul against India in England’s famous Test win at Mumbai in 2006. “I was then selected for the Ashes tour of 2006-07 and after having a Test series to forget I started well in the ODIs, only for a recurrence of back problems to see me invalided home and told to get fit for the 2007 World Cup in West Indies.” Anderson was handed his first England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) central contract that same year.

Anderson’s two breakthrough series were a double rubber against New Zealand the following year, when he inspired England to victory at Wellington and Trent Bridge, taking five for 73 and career-best figures of seven for 43, respectively. He took 27 wickets in five Tests against the Blackcaps, both home and away. It was also the first time when the then 25-year-old produced a couple of his first unplayable deliveries, which have become more common as he matured, that sent the batsmen’s (Aaron Redmond and Brendon McCullum) stumps cartwheeling. “I just managed to get the ball in the right areas and they missed it, which was nice,” he modestly told BBC. It was here that he made “the leap from a frustratingly inconsistent and irregular member of England’s Test attack to a permanent and much more reliable presence,” according to Wisden, who named him Cricketer of the Year in 2008.

Anderson is no mug with the bat either. A left-handed batsman, he registered his highest score, 28, in the New Zealand home series in 2008. In the following rubber against South Africa, he went past the mark, scoring 34. Anderson often strides out as the nightwatchman and went 57 innings without recording a blob, which is an England record. Possibly his most effective performance with the bat came in Cardiff during the 2009 Ashes, when he played out 69 deliveries along with last man Monty Panesar to secure a draw for England.

In The Ashes of 2010-11, Anderson returned to torment the Australians again, this time with the ball. In what was a “highwater mark for me personally and also for [the] England team”, Anderson took 24 wickets in five Tests as England won their first series Down Under after 24 years. It made him England’s second-highest wicket-taker on an Ashes tour Down Under, behind the legendary Frank Tyson. In the winter of 2012-13, Anderson helped England win their first series in India after 38 years by taking 12 wickets in four Tests played majorly on spin-friendly tracks. Anderson ended 2012 with 48 Test wickets and soon went past Botham’s international record of 528 wickets, as mentioned earlier.

It is fitting that Anderson, 31 years of age at the time of writing, would eventually go past Botham’s Test record. Anderson considers the former England all-rounder a role model. “I was infatuated with the game from an early age and had my own collection of cricket videos, but the one I watched most was my dad’s copy of Botham’s Ashes, the story of his brilliant performances in the 1981 series against the Aussies. In fact, I wore it out,” Anderson told the Daily Mail. “I loved watching him bowl, his lovely action, the way he swung the ball both ways, his pace, his aggression, the colourful sweat bands and the mad hair, everything about him was larger than life and meant that, like a lot of people, I seemed to be drawn to him.”

Anderson has matured incredibly from the once carefree youngster who changed his hair colour by the season and one prone to injury into the hungry, greedy swing bowler who his baying for the batsmen’s blood. He is the most successful bowler against arguably the greatest batsman of all time, Sachin Tendulkar, having dismissed the Little Master nine times in Tests. And regardless whether it is a Tendulkar or a tailender he is bowling to, the wicket gets him equal satisfaction and joy. “I still get the same thrill from taking a wicket as I did when I was playing in the street with my mates as a kid. It is a precious feeling and you have to do all you can to preserve it and cherish it.”

In Photos: James Anderson’s cricketing career

(Jaideep Vaidya is a correspondent at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)