Spearhead Anderson takes a giant stride up the honours board
A masterclass of swing bowling takes Lancastrian above the great Bedser
It is reasonable to assume that Alec Bedser would steer well clear of fancy terms such as "leader of the attack" to describe Jimmy Anderson, the man who yesterday nipped past him into seventh place on the list of England's leading Test wicket-takers.
Sir Alec, who died last year, did not care much for modern-day cricket-speak and once snorted with derision when he heard somebody described as a strike bowler. "They never called me a strike bowler," said one of English cricket's true greats. "But then I didn't run up like an idiot and pitch it halfway down."
What Bedser did like, though, was a craftsman, and he would have been quietly delighted, no doubt, to have witnessed Anderson's development over the past 18 months from richly promising paceman to something tantalisingly close to the finished article so far as Test cricket is concerned.
Anderson, from the days when he played for Burnley's second XI, could always swing the ball away from right-handers. But, bit by bit, the Lancastrian has learned to move it both ways at around 85mph, to "reverse" the older ball, vary his pace, plug away patiently when the occasion demands and generally make life difficult for batsmen, regardless of the pitch.
Oh, and give the opposition a mouthful, whether or not they really deserve it, on more than the odd occasion.
If Anderson still has a weakness, it could be that his grumpiness sometimes gets the better of him and he can lose his discipline – in regards to abandoning what has worked so well – when someone gets after him. It happened a bit yesterday, while Praveen Kumar and MS Dhoni were throwing the bat, but now is not the time to be picky. The International Cricket Council's Test rankings show that Anderson is rated as the world's second best bowler, behind South Africa's Dale Steyn. But if we limit ourselves to what has occurred since the start of 2010 there is only one person who deserves the title top man.
During that period, Anderson has played 18 Tests and captured 89 wickets – including four five-fors – at an average of around 23. True, England play at least as many Tests as anyone else but, even so, to have taken 21 more wickets than the next most successful bowler (India's Ishant Sharma) is quite a feat. So what has enabled this 29-year-old to climb the ladder at such a rate?
Well, bowlers of Bedser's generation may not like tags such as "leader of the attack" but Anderson loves it, visibly rising to the challenge of being Andrew Strauss's "go to" bowler (whoops, sorry Sir Alec, there we go again) since Andrew Flintoff was forced to retire and Steve Harmison went out to grass.
Against Pakistan last summer, he set the tone (and a terrific example for youngsters Steve Finn and Stuart Broad) perfectly with an 11-wicket haul in the First Test at Trent Bridge.
But it was in Australia where he ended all arguments about whether he could be the man for all occasions, all opponents and in all conditions.
He went out last winter with much to prove about making a mark on Ashes cricket on the other side of the world, and returned a few months later having convinced friend and foe alike he could make the Kookaburra ball talk.
Yes, Alastair Cook was England's man of the series – well, the Essex opener did score 766 runs – but, day in, day out across the series, Anderson performed to an impeccably high standard and the 24 wickets he finished with told only a fraction of the story. From the captain Ricky Ponting down, Australia's batsmen lived on their nerves whenever Anderson reached the top of his mark.
The second half of this summer has been much the same. Broad, Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan have enjoyed many a good moment. But it is Anderson who leads from the front with the new ball – and when the prize England had set their heart on, being crowned the world's No 1 Test team, was there for the taking, it was the strike bowler who struck.
Getting rid of Virender Sehwag on the third evening was akin to child's play: give him something to drive, and watch the edge fly to slip. But for an hour yesterday morning, Anderson tormented four batsmen – Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar – who were ready and willing for one last fight when they walked to the middle. He got three of them and was within a whisker, on several occasions, of removing Tendulkar for the eighth time in Test cricket. Indeed, for a time it looked like he would get a wicket with every ball.
But there should be plenty to come. "We are delighted with what Jimmy has achieved already, but with the way he works we hope his best years are still ahead of him," said Strauss.
England's leading wicket-takers
383 Ian Botham (Tests 102, Av 28.40)
325 Bob Willis (Tests 90, Av 25.20)
307 Fred Trueman (Tests 67, Av 21.58)
297 Derek Underwood (Tests 86, Av 25.84)
252 Brian Statham (Tests 70, Av 24.85)
248 Matthew Hoggard (Tests 67, Av 30.50)
237 Jimmy Anderson (Tests 62, Av 30.52)
236 Alec Bedser (Tests 51, Av 24.90)
234 Andrew Caddick (Tests 62, Av 29.91)
229 Darren Gough (Tests 58, Av 28.40)
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