Accurate Anderson first to pass the 250 mark since Botham

 

To be spoken of in the same breath as Brian Statham is an accolade few deserve. Statham was one of the greatest fast bowlers who ever lived. Jimmy Anderson deserves it.

Anderson drew level yesterday with the tally of 252 Test wickets achieved by his fellow Lancastrian, on the way becoming only the sixth England bowler and the first for 30 years to reach 250. Ian Botham was the last man to pass that milestone. Anderson's exemplary efforts with the new ball on the first morning of the First Test against Sri Lanka gave England exactly the start they craved on a blisteringly hot day.

Striking twice in two balls in the third over, Anderson was at his precise peak, immaculate in length and managing those small degrees of movement which make batsman fret. There were two blemishes, both of which may be crucial, both of which concerned the opposition's captain. He twice dropped Sri Lanka's hero, Mahela Jayawardene, once on 64, once on 90, the first high and looping at slip, the second a return catch offered to a slower ball.

"If you had given us 290 for 8 at the start of the day we'd have taken it," said Anderson. "But we did have the momentum and didn't manage to finish them off. We had focused on that at the start of this trip, that catches are crucial to getting 20 wickets. A few of them weren't the most difficult catches and it's frustrating that they went down. But the more we dwell on it, the more frustrated we will get."

It might have taken the sheen off a day when he and Statham stood alongside each other, reserved Lancastrians both, happier out of the spotlight. Today or sometime later in this match Anderson will go ahead but there was something fitting about their being level last night, though Anderson, who had 3 for 56, might have had another two wickets had chances been taken.

Somehow it seemed a pity that Jimmy knew so little about the man who was always called George. "I have only heard things spoken about him, I don't really know much about him," he said. You might have thought he would want to find out.

Throughout a long career, Statham was a byword for accuracy and his mantra was always: "If they miss I hit." He did the simple things and he did them as well as any fast bowler before or since.

His successor as Lancashire's most successful Test bowler is grumpier, but the pair have plenty in common and there is not a jot of odiousness in comparing them as bowlers.

Statham's relentless accuracy is matched by Anderson's off-stump probing, arch manipulation and clever ways of setting up batsmen. It took Statham 70 Tests to reach his haul, Anderson has got there in three fewer and at 29 is six years younger. There is no reason now that he should not become the fourth England bowler to take 300 Test wickets.

"They are very nice landmarks," he said. "And it will be very nice when I retire and can look back at what I have achieved. For now I'm concentrating on getting two more wickets in this innings and 10 in the second."

While England should have dispatched Jayawardene, Anderson rightly had high praise for him. "It was one of the better Test innings I have seen," he said. "It was an incredible effort and he carried their team the whole day. He had the knack of knowing when to go for a big shot and knowing when to grind it out for a bit."

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