A few minutes after Jimmy Anderson had reached a triple-century of Test wickets, a fellow member of the 300 club was predicting he would take a further 150 for England.
Sir Ian Botham’s tweet illustrated neatly the differences between these two fine bowlers. Botham’s confident demeanour on the field was complemented by total self-assurance off it; while Anderson is feisty with the ball in his hand, he is diffidence personified away from the game, and unlikely to make such bold forecasts.
When Anderson sees, however, the list of those Englishmen who have reached the landmark, he will surely smile with satisfaction. Fred Trueman, Bob Willis, Sir Ian Botham, Jimmy Anderson. Not bad at all, and a great source of pride for his parents, watching at Lord’s yesterday.
His reaction to Botham’s words was typically cautious. Asked whether he could surpass the all-rounder’s total of 383, Anderson said: “I don’t see why not, but there is still a long way to go and I have to play a lot of cricket to get there. I won’t think about it. I’ll just try to concentrate on staying fit and contributing to the team.”
Anderson was greeted by Botham and Willis as he left the field at tea. He admitted: “It was quite strange to be congratulated guys who have done so much in the game. I’m delighted to have got there and I hope there are plenty more to come.”
With Anderson in the vanguard of his attack, Andrew Strauss led England to two Ashes victories and saw them to the top of the world Test rankings.
“He relishes confrontations with the best batsmen,” said Strauss, captain from 2009 until 2012. “The better the batsman, the better he bowls. He saved some of his best spells in Test cricket for Sachin Tendulkar.”
Nine times Tendulkar has lost his duel with Anderson, while other excellent batsmen have cause to fear the Lancastrian. Jacques Kallis has been dismissed on seven occasions in Tests by Anderson, who has also removed Kumar Sangakkara, Michael Clarke and Graeme Smith six times each.
That he should win such battles renders Justin Langer’s crude insult all the more absurd. The Australian wrote in a confidential dossier for the 2009 Ashes series that Anderson was a “bit of a pussy”. A year and a half later, Anderson had taken 24 wickets to help England win the urn Down Under for the first time since 1987.
Anderson caught the eye early in his international career when, all dyed blond streaks and youthful grins, he took 10 wickets in the 2003 World Cup. It was not until 2008, however, that the bowler we know today began to develop.
Anderson had struggled with back problems and with others’ attempts to reshape his bowling action before Michael Vaughan, the England captain at the time, dropped Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison for the second Test against New Zealand in Wellington five years ago. In came Anderson and Stuart Broad. Anderson finished that game, in March 2008, with seven wickets, and he was off and running.
With very few exceptions, the story since has been one of consistency and menace, right until the moment yesterday afternoon when Peter Fulton pushed forward and edged the ball into the hands of Graeme Swann at second slip.
Anderson began the Test knowing only two more wickets were needed to reach 300 and from the moment he ran in for his first delivery from the Pavilion End, he was alert and efficient.
Hamish Rutherford departed from the final ball of Anderson’s first over, a nick to first slip, and his opening partner Fulton lasted not much longer.
As Lord’s gave Anderson the standing ovation he deserved, he raised the ball above his head and pointed it to all four sides of the ground in turn.
Anderson then returned at the Nursery End to end a dangerous innings from Ross Taylor, and missed out on another wicket when Kane Williamson was dropped by Matt Prior. Perhaps Botham will be proved correct after all.