James Anderson’s 10 wickets in the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge showed he is England’s “magician”, according to the former pace bowler Bob Willis. His spellbinding deliveries could oust Willis from the No 2 spot in the list of England’s top Test wicket-takers at Lord’s over the next five days.
Does Willis mind the prospective demotion? Not a bit. “It wouldn’t bother me at all [if he overtook me], because he is a better bowler than I was,” Willis said, before stating his belief that Anderson will have even surpassed Sir Ian Botham’s England-record haul of 383 Test wickets by the time the Australians are next on these shores. “He is a magician. He is England’s equivalent of Glenn McGrath; he never bowls a bad spell and when he delivers the ball you don’t know which way it is going to go. He would be a real handful to face.
“He had a back-breaking spell at Trent Bridge, but England’s strategy is to beat Australia with swing and spin. The other bowlers were not getting any joy so it was down to Anderson. Long may it continue.”
Anderson, who has 83 Test caps, currently sits on 317 wickets, eight shy of Willis, who took his in 90 Tests. With nine more Ashes Tests to play this year, Botham’s total should be well within Anderson’s sights by the time England have played Down Under this winter.
Willis said: “I think he will do it [pass Botham] quite quickly. With nine Ashes matches left this year, I can see him getting to 360 or so. I can see him passing Beefy’s total when the Ashes are next over here.”
As to where Anderson sits in the pantheon of England greats, Willis is less sure – because there are so many variables to take into account when debating players from different eras, as well as the changes that technology has made to the game.
“He has gone from being a good bowler to a great bowler. He can be phenomenal,” Willis said. “But total number of wickets do not tell the whole story. There is also the strike rate and the average. Fred Trueman, for example, took 307 wickets, but he did it in only 67 Tests. There was no DRS when Ian and I were bowling, or for that matter when Fred was playing. In the 1970-71 Ashes, we had a seven-match series and England did not get a single lbw decision. Leg-befores are a lot easier to get with DRS.”
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Closing in: England’s top wicket takers
Tests 102 Wickets 383
Tests 90 Wickets 325
Tests 83 Wickets 317
Tests 67 Wickets 307
Tests 86 Wickets 297