Sta­tis­tics don’t tell full story of who Eng­land’s great­est ever bowler is

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Third Test - Sir Ge­of­frey Boy­cott

James Anderson can ex­pect a cho­rus of adu­la­tion today, if and when he claims his 600th Test wicket. And de­servedly so. But that statis­tic does not, in it­self, make him the great­est bowler Eng­land has ever pro­duced.

I judge bowlers not only on how many wick­ets they take, but on av­er­age and strike rate, and in these cat­e­gories, Anderson does not come top. Fred True­man, the finest bowler of my era, took his wick­ets at 21.57 runs apiece and struck ev­ery 49.4 balls.

It ir­ri­tates me when peo­ple can­not see beyond what is in front of them. Like in those de­bates over the great­est al­bums where no­body men­tions the Bea­tles.

In the case of Anderson, you have to delve deeper. It is true that Jimmy has bowled on cov­ered pitches, which is much harder. But on the other hand, this Eng­land gen­er­a­tion have played more Test cricket than any other.

To re­dress the bal­ance, I asked a statis­ti­cian friend of mine to work out how many wick­ets True­man, Alec Bedser and Brian Statham – three le­gends from the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tury – might have taken had they matched Anderson’s tally of 156 Tests.

Ap­ply­ing each man’s ra­tio of wick­ets per Test, the re­sponse came back as 715 (True­man), 722 (Bedser) and 562 (Statham). It is a trib­ute to Anderson that he has come in so far ahead of Statham, an­other con­tem­po­rary of mine who com­bined seam move­ment in both di­rec­tions with pace and ac­cu­racy.

Then I asked about Syd­ney Barnes. Peo­ple look blank when I talk about Barnes today but, be­fore the First World War, he ter­rorised peo­ple. He swung the ball, cut it both ways, and if we ex­trap­o­late what his sta­tis­tics might have looked like af­ter 156 Tests, Barnes would be head­ing for the mind-bog­gling fig­ure of 1,092 wick­ets, de­stroy­ing Mut­tiah Mu­ralitha­ran’s world record of 800. Barnes took a wicket ev­ery

41.65 balls and his Test wick­ets cost him only 16.43 each.

That is why, in an all-time Eng­land seam at­tack, I make Barnes and True­man au­to­matic se­lec­tions. Anderson comes in as third seamer, be­cause his strike rate of a wicket ev­ery 56 balls is bet­ter than Bedser’s 67.

On a clas­sic sub­con­ti­nen­tal turner, I would switch Anderson out and bring in Wil­fred Rhodes as a sec­ond spin­ner along­side Jim Laker. This has the ad­di­tional ben­e­fit of giv­ing us three York­shire­men in the XI. (Four if you count Laker, who was born in God’s own county but played for Sur­rey.)

At the top of the or­der, I would love to be able to pick my­self. Re­al­is­ti­cally, though, I am fight­ing it out with Alastair Cook and Graham Gooch on the sec­ond tier of open­ing bats­men, while WG Grace, Jack Hobbs, Len Hut­ton and

Her­bert Sut­cliffe con­test the first-team spots.

It is all a bit of fun, be­cause you can never re­ally com­pare one era too se­ri­ously with an­other. From Grace’s bat­ting av­er­age of 32, you might say, “Don’t pick him. He’s rub­bish!” Yet he was the first man to a hun­dred hun­dreds. He was twice as good as any­body he played with. That is why at Lord’s – the Mecca of cricket – the main gates are named the Grace Gates.

Anderson can rest easy in the knowl­edge that there are not go­ing to be too many more 600-wicket bowlers – not with the way limited-overs cricket now dom­i­nates the sched­ule.

The only per­son who has a chance of over­haul­ing him is Stu­art Broad, his long-time part­ner, who stands on 514 wick­ets. Broad has the abil­ity to add an­other 100 wick­ets to his haul, but can he stay fit and hun­gry enough? I think he can.

To make it to 600 re­quires phe­nom­e­nal com­mit­ment and rare talent. It also re­quires you to have been play­ing in that sweet spot between the late Eight­ies and now – an era when the sta­tis­ti­cal fron­tiers of cricket have been re­drawn.

From Grace’s av­er­age of 32, you might say, ‘He’s rub­bish!’ Yet he was first to a hun­dred hun­dreds

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