Birmingham Test: James Anderson goes past Alastair Cook to become England’s most capped Test player

After an impressive debut against Zimbabwe, Anderson somehow lost his way but came back stronger to hone his skills and 18 years later, stands as the most successful pacer in history.

Birmingham Test: James Anderson goes past Alastair Cook to become England’s most capped Test player
18 years after his debut, Anderson stands as the most successful pacer in history, with 616 wickets to his name. (Photo credit: AFP)

All thanks to his fitness and skills, James Anderson Thursday broke yet another record. On being selected for the second Test against New Zealand at Edgbaston, the English pacer became his country’s most-capped Test player at 162, surpassing former captain Sir Alastair Cook. From doubting himself on his debut on the big stage to becoming a pace spearhead for his team over the years, Anderson has definitely come a long way.

His debut was remarkable. Anderson played his first Test against Zimbabwe in May 2003, as a 21-year-old, at Lord’s. He picked up five wickets on his debut, but his first over, in a Test, went for 17 runs. 

He told ESPNCricinfo, “I remember Nasser [Hussain] didn’t have a fine leg for me and I went for quite a few runs. My first ball was a no-ball as well so there were a lot of nerves there and I did feel like this was maybe a step too far for me at that point.”

Some 18 years later, he stands as the most successful pacer in history, with 616 wickets to his name. 

Initial hiccups 

But his first days in Tests were not as sweet as it seems from his debut. Anderson kept moving in and out of the team and mostly practised alone. Within a year, he had lost not just his rhythm but also his confidence. 

That same year, when he was just picking up some form, he underwent a stress fracture in his back, after repeated tweaks to his bowling action.

He said, “I’d gone through a lot of changes in my action before that and that stress fracture was probably a Godsend. It made me go back to my old action and since then I’ve felt really comfortable and got more consistent. That’s really helped me and makes me feel proud I got stronger from that and never looked back.”

The big-fish catcher

When India toured England the next year and won a three-match Test series, Anderson bagged his second five-wicket haul at the Lord’s in the first match, picking up the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni.

A big point in his Test career was when he found his match in Stuart Broad during a 2007-08 series against New Zealand when both of them were asked to lead the pace attack. Anderson says, “I think it was a proper starting point in our Test careers. The fact that Peter Moores, the coach at that time, showed that confidence in us because he left out two senior bowlers who’d been extremely influential in the England side up until that point.”

In the third Test of that series, Anderson picked up seven Kiwi wickets in their first innings.

In 2011, against India, he picked up five wickets in the second innings of the first Test, including Dravid, VVS Laxman, Tendulkar and Suresh Raina. 

He looked back at his debut against Zimbabwe and says that those are the performances against big teams that give one confidence. Anderson says, “No disrespect to Zimbabwe, but playing against teams like South Africa and Australia and India, once you put in performances against the top teams in the world, that’s when you can feel like you can actually perform at that level. So, it did take a few years and a few tours around the world to make me think I could actually do it.”

India’s nemesis?

In 2014, in the third Test against India, Anderson picked up five wickets in the first innings, that included Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and then skipper Dhoni. He was one of the big factors in England winning the series and thrashing India. He has been most successful against India (118 wickets), compared to any other opposition.

Anderson, before taking the field on Thursday, told BBC Sport, “It’s been an amazing journey. I’m lucky that I have got a body that can cope with the rigours of bowling. It also has the hunger to turn up every day to try to get better. That is all I’ve done since I became a professional and that will hopefully continue for a few more years yet.”

Age no bar

The English pacer will turn 39 next month, and even at this age, he has been leading England’s pace attack, with his partner Broad still at his toes. Anderson’s guile and willingness to perform at this age, even after being a pacer, has earned him huge amounts of praise. 

Former England coach Trevor Bayliss sees Anderson going a long way. He said, “As long he is enjoying playing the game, has success and his body holds together, who knows how long he will go?”

He has been part of many memorable victories for England and with this immense energy, Anderson is expected to make English fans smile for a few more summers.

Test Statistics

Matches Wickets Average Economy
161 616 26.58 2.84


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