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James Anderson: The King of Swing brings up 700 Test wickets

On 8th July 2009, James Anderson made his first appearance in a home Ashes Test, taking the new ball for the first innings at Cardiff as England looked to reclaim the urn they’d lost two years earlier.

It was a baptism of fire for Anderson, who conceded 110 runs for two wickets as Australia declared on 674/6.

But it would set up Jimmy’s finest hour with the bat. 

Thanks to his longevity (and less-than-stellar batting), Anderson holds the record for most not-outs in Test cricket.

But at Cardiff in 2009, he came to the crease at 10, one ahead of soon-to-be batting partner Monty Panesar.

Australia had ripped through the top order to leave the hosts 46/4 until a monumental 245-ball stand by Paul Collingwood dragged England back into the Test.

But as wickets fell, Panesar joined Anderson at the crease as England trailed Australia by six runs with 11 overs left to play.

It was a poke to third man that reached the boundary as England went from three behind to one ahead, meaning Australia would have to bat again to win. 

In a Cardiff cauldron, every dot was cheered like a match-winning six, with the tailenders hanging on for 40 minutes to secure the most unlikely draw. 

A lively start to Ashes cricket on these shores to say the least.

Of course, by this point, Anderson was England’s marquee bowler, having played in 37 Tests with his red-ball debut coming six years earlier, but it was a long journey to reach that point. 

Despite a five-wicket haul on debut, followed up with another five-fer four Tests later against South Africa, Anderson struggled for consistency throughout the early part of his career.

Making his ODI debut for England aged 19 with his Test debut coming a year later, Anderson was a prodigious bowler, capable of bowling at 90mph, but without the precision, movement and consistency he’d later become famous for.

Anderson had played in 12 Tests by the time the seminal 2005 Ashes series rolled around, and while he was named in the squad, his 35 wickets had come at an average of 36.4, and the likes of Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison were preferred. 

After a 14-month absence from the Test side, Anderson was recalled for the final of a three-match series in India as a result of a number of injuries to the side.

It was an opportunity he’d grab with both hands, taking key wickets of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar in the first innings and Virender Sehwag in the second innings, finishing with match figures of 6/79.

A back injury prevented Anderson appearing in the summer series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but the Lancashire man was fit to face Australia in the 2006/07 Ashes series Down Under.

Anderson would have about as much success at the rest of his colleagues, with series figures of 5/413 at a miserable average of 82.6, having been dropped after the second Test, eventually replacing the injured Matthew Hoggard for the final Test. 

Despite his performance in the Ashes, the back injury that saw him hugely lacking match practice when heading to Australia was perhaps the making of him.

Anderson was no longer reliant on raw pace, but had developed more accuracy, more guile, more cunning, and the home series with India in July 2007 looked like the start of a new era. 

In the first innings, he ripped through the tourists, taking the wickets of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, conceding 2.31 runs an over to them, before taking MS Dhoni and Zaheer Khan. 

Weather stopped England winning the first Test, and the hosts would lose the three-match series 1-0, but Anderson shone, taking 14 wickets and being named the Player of the Series.

Despite his exploits at home, Anderson struggled in the first Test against Sri Lanka and had to wait three months to get another crack. But in the second Test against New Zealand, he’d get that opportunity and would finally cement his place in the side.

After five years of being in and out of the Test team, Anderson was England’s #1. Harmison and Hoggard were out, Anderson and Broad were in.

He’d dismiss each of the Black Caps’ first five batters, finishing with match figures of 7/130. 

And Anderson was even more irrepressible in the reverse series. With five wickets at Lord’s and Old Trafford, the pacer took each of New Zealand’s top seven batters at Trent Bridge, and only three of them were allowed to reach double figures.

It was Anderson at his unplayable best with the ball hooping round corners. The first two wickets saw Aaron Redmond and Brendon McCullum’s off stump uprooted. Jamie How and Jacob Oram were caught behind with Ross Taylor caught at gully from a thick edge, with Daniel Glynn and Gareth Hopkins trapped LBW.

2009 was even better for Anderson, cracking the ICC’s top 10 for the first time ahead of a huge Ashes series.

After the nadir of a 5-0 whitewash in Australia, England would lose series to India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, India again and West Indies. 

Coach Peter Moores and captain Kevin Pietersen were dismissed prior to the Windies tour, sparking a remarkable turn of form for England and indeed Anderson.

The Lancashire man had a score to settle when it came to the Ashes. Still too raw and too inconsistent to feature in the 2005 series, Anderson was woeful in the 2006/07 series, and had a chance at redemption in 2009 for a resurgent England.

After the unforgettable 10th-wicket stand with Panesar in Cardiff, Anderson would take four wickets in the first innings at Lord’s, including those of Phillip Hughes, Michael Clarke and the key scalp of Ricky Ponting as England would take a 1-0 series lead.

The hosts drew the second Test despite a five-wicket haul from Anderson at Edgbaston, and though Anderson was wicket-less in the final Test at the Oval, England won by 197 runs to regain the Ashes.

Anderson continued to improve throughout 2010, with the four-match series with Pakistan seeing Anderson take 5/54 and 6/17 in the first Test, recording career best match figures of 11/71, taking 12 more in the final three Tests.

And after vanquishing one Ashes demon, Anderson had one more world to conquer. 18 months after the 2-1 Ashes win at home, England were out to avenge the 5-0 humiliation in Australia. 

Anderson took a series-high 24 wickets, seven better than next best Chris Tremlett as the tourists won 3-1 to take the urn back home.

England would go on to dominate the game, winning series with Sri Lanka and India to become the number one-ranked Test team as Anderson remained hot on the trail of number one-ranked Test bowler Dale Steyn.

The first Ashes Test of the 2013 series saw Anderson take two five-wicket hauls across both innings, including the final wicket of Brad Haddin denying the tourists an unlikely victory. England would go on to win the series 3-0, only to be whitewashed 5-0 again in the away series later that year.

After his heroics with the ball, Anderson would have his second notable knock with the bat in the 2014 series with India, fittingly coming after his near-miss against Sri Lanka in his previous Test just 19 days prior. 

Anderson and Panesar saw off 69 balls against Australia at Cardiff. This time - albeit joined by Moeen Ali at the crease - the ask was upped to 122 balls to save a draw. The pair manfully batted on, with Anderson facing 54 balls, but upon reaching the penultimate delivery of the match, was caught. Anderson was overcome with emotion afterwards, feeling he'd let his team-mates down, but he'd more than make amends in his next Test.

After shipping 457 runs, Anderson joined Joe Root at the crease with England 159 behind. The number 11 would bat for a marathon 230 minutes, making it the longest innings by a number 11. He’d exceed his top score of 34 to become the 18th number 11 to reach a half-century, going on to make 81, batting England into a first innings lead en route to winning Player of the Match.

Another home Ashes win would follow for Anderson in 2015, despite missing the final two Tests through injury, and in 2016, after five years in the shadow of Steyn, Anderson would finally reach the summit of the ICC’s Test rankings, thanks to a pair of five-fers against Sri Lanka to win by an innings.

It was a fitting match to see Anderson finally take top spot.

From the raw pace and inconsistency we saw following his breakthrough into the Test side as a youngster, Anderson had become ultra-refined and was getting better with age.

The likes of Glenn McGrath and Dale Steyn retired at 36 while Anderson wasn’t just still going strong, but taking wickets at a lower average than he ever had.

From 25 to 29, Anderson played 53 Tests taking wickets at an average of 28.47. The next five years he played 54 Tests and 25.45, and from 35 to 40 he played 57 Tests at a miserly average of 21.76 – lower than all bar four bowlers in Test cricket history to have taken 300 or more wickets.

Now 41, Anderson is being utilised more carefully, but firmly regained his place in the side after being dropped following the 4-0 defeat in Australia in the 2021/22 Ashes series.

Both Anderson and Broad were dropped as England looked to the future, ignoring the fact that, despite their advancing ages, the pacemen were still England’s two strongest bowlers.

The England selectors quickly came to their senses, and since being recalled, Anderson has taken part in a fantastic Ashes series and tours of Pakistan, New Zealand and India.

Despite being a top-10 bowler for the best part of 13 years and a top-five bowler for much of that, critics have pointed to Anderson’s inability to replicate his form outside of English conditions, but away from home, Anderson has taken well over 250 wickets (more than Gary Sobers and Peter Siddle).

Broad opted to call time on his England career at the end of the last Ashes series, while Anderson ploughs on.

After delivering time and time again for his country, it was the dismissal of India’s Kuldeep Yadav on 9th March 2024 that saw Anderson become the first fast bowler to take 700 Test wickets. A simply outstanding milestone that was reached in 187 matches, at an average of 26.52.

We don't know how fitting a finale Anderson will get when the time comes, but however it ends, it will still have been a career that saw him become the greatest fast bowler in history.

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