Perhaps it was only a matter of time but it always seemed a step too far. The accolades that have been justifiably bestowed on England's bowlers as batsman after batsman has been ambushed reached their zenith yesterday when the comparison that dared not speak its name was outed.
Jimmy Anderson, the fast bowler who has become the imperious leader of England's attack, and Graeme Swann, who has revitalised the craft of conventional finger spin bowling, were spoken of in the same breath as the great Australian pace-spin duo, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. It is a considerable claim but since it was David Saker, England's estimable Australian bowling coach, who was making it dismissal is out of the question.
"McGrath and Warne in tandem were amazing but I have seen some spells from Jimmy and Swanny that have been just as good or better at times," said Saker yesterday in the wake of England's nine-wicket victory in the second Test against West Indies. "In Sri Lanka, there were a couple of times, especially late on day four in the second Test, those two reminded me so much of McGrath and Warne. They put so much pressure on the Sri Lanka batting and the wickets fell. They also have the back-up of some really good quicks as well, which is nice to have."
For most of the decade from the mid-Nineties McGrath and Warne became the most potent Test combination of all. There had been formidable speed pairings before but never an enduring pair of such contrast. Anderson and Swann have earned the right to such exalted talk.
Like McGrath and Warne, they are also backed up by an accomplished pair of seam bowlers, who themselves have back up. Indeed, pound for pound, England's quartet, whomever it comprises, may be better.
"You can compare them," said Saker. "The Australians were stand-out bowlers, a great group for a long time and they also had a world-class spinner. It's important we don't forget the ability of Swanny when he comes in around the three quicks. That's really important.
"McGrath was the stand-out in that group but they had Lee, Gillespie, Bichel, they were all fantastic bowlers. It's a bit like when Jimmy and Swann bowl together – it is not unlike McGrath and Warnie at times. There is so much pressure on the batsmen. We should be saying our group is as good as them."
Saker was celebrating his 46th birthday yesterday so it is possible he was in party mood. But where bowling and its methods are concerned he is a deadly serious operator who has overseen a huge leap in aspirations. In the past 30 Test matches, England have taken 20 opposition wickets on 23 occasions and in two of the others rain was a deciding factor.
Warne and McGrath played together in 104 Test matches for Australia and took 1,001 of the team's 1876 wickets, or 53.4 per cent. Anderson and Swann have appeared in the same Test team 40 times and taken 332 wickets of the 700, or 47.4 per cent.
Australia's team as a whole took 18 wickets in each match in which McGrath and Warne appeared, England have taken 17.5 in the Tests played by both Anderson and Swann. In other words, the England pair are just behind but only just behind.
Saker has been hugely impressed and probably a little proud at the way his charges have gone about their work against an obstinate West Indies side in the past fortnight. While the top order has been swept aside the middle order has mounted prolonged resistance.
"I think the wickets were probably flatter than we are used to in England," said Saker. "In that sense, it was really good that we took 20 wickets in each match. At times, it was really difficult because the batsmen dug in – particularly Shiv Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels. We found it hard to dismiss them.
"I was really proud of the way the bowlers kept slogging away and got the breakthroughs. The reverse swing late on day three at Trent Bridge helped us out a bit as well. A lot of our tactics before the series was to try to get batsmen nicking off and caught in the slips with the ball swinging.
"This group is very skilful. What they do really well is assess conditions quickly. They will see if it is swinging and, if so, they will stick to our original plans. If it is not doing that, they will come up with some other plan. They are very good at talking out in the middle. To be able to bowl conventional swing and they say "this is not going to work" and then switch to reverse and attack in different ways – that is a huge weapon to have."
So far in total, Anderson and Swann have taken 455 Test wickets between them, McGrath and Warne took 1,271. Another big difference is that the English pair are huge chums as well as team-mates, which was much less the case with the two Australians.
Top duos: In figures
Tests in which Anderson and Swann have appeared together:
Played 40, Won 21, Lost 5, Drawn 10
Anderson 163 wickets, Swann 169 wickets out of England's total of 700.
Tests in which McGrath and Warne appeared together:
Played 104, Won 71, L 16, Drawn 17
McGrath 513 wickets, Warne 488 out of Australia's total of 1,876.Reuse content