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HOW DO THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF JAMES ANDERSON STACK UP TO OTHER LONG-SERVING GREATS?

Updated: May 30

James Anderson stands among the greats, not only within cricket but within sport.


Alongside him, of those who defied their age to perform at the top level are the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Roger Federer, James Milner and Tom Brady. All of whom changed and developed over time but ultimately kept up with the top level.


Anderson's final game will take place at Lord's on 10th July

There’s not much left that hasn’t been said about James Anderson. His career was called to an end after a conversation with the England top brass.


It’s worth noting that this was not Anderson’s decision. At the age of 41, Jimmy was considered too old for the long-term plans of the national team. The reasoning behind his decision is cut-throat but also fits in with the way the current England set up in run, there’s an emphasis on trying new things and Anderson was a relic of the game - a potent relic but still perhaps a man of a bygone era.


Anderson made his debut alongside the likes of Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain and ended it in England squads with Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir who will more than likely play into the 2040s.


Many have bemoaned this decision, with Anderson still taking wickets and still at a good pace, what’s to say he wouldn’t have made the plane to Australia in 18 months time? That question will have to remain a theoretical one.


I think there would be too much recency bias to say that Anderson was the best ever - he stands on par with the greats though. Longevity will probably be the way that Anderson is remembered best. For years commentators on the game have suggested that he’s been in his twilight years - long before the day came.


So how does Anderson stack up to other greats who competed at the very top of cricket?


Anderson and his long-time bowling partner Stuart Broad walk out to bat for the final time together

Sachin Tendulkar


Let’s go hard early.


24 years a Test world beater and owner of the highest number of Test appearances and runs. With stats for Sachin you can go on and on. 


As a batsman he was known as the ‘Little Master’ a literal master of the trade. It’s unsurprising therefore that in a time of great Indian batters, Tendulkar stood out as a real dynamic player. 


Tendulkar famously reinvented and reinvigorated his career a number of times too from child-prodigy to mainstay in the side to veteran to early T20 superstar. All whilst battling peaks and troughs of form. This part in particular draws real comparison to Anderson.


There are sections of each other’s career that separates them. 


Tendulkar was never dropped.


He was so venerated that selectors felt they couldn’t drop him even during poor form. Selectors have not been so kind to Anderson and in part this has been due to maintaining fitness.


 

WG Grace


Let’s continue bringing out the big guns but a century earlier.


It’s difficult to bring comparisons to the Victorian era but Grace was a huge figure both figuratively and literally. 


He defined an era of cricket and continues to do so and his First Class cricketing career lasted 35 years in total.


In addition to his First Class career, Grace also played for England over a 19 year period in which England only faced Australia. His final appearance at 49 even eclipses Anderson by over 7 years.


Despite being a great of his age, the comparative levels of professionalism in the game does separate them hugely. WG himself wasn’t a professional. Few in England at the time could afford to take half a year off work to travel to far flung corners of the globe to play sport.


It is therefore tricky to compare him in an entirely separate age.



 


Donald Bradman


Comparing anyone to Bradman is tricky business and to be clear this is not a comparison on skill but on longevity.


His batting stats everyone knows but it’s worth noting that his career had lasted 20 years when the Don signed off his international career in the Invincibles tour of England in 1948.


It goes without saying that Bradman’s performances were supreme over the course of his career barring a (comparatively) slow start and his form only dipped slightly into his late 30s.


Something that would characterise some of his playing career is Bradman’s occasional reluctance for stardom and limelight. It has been documented that Bradman had considered forgoing his Test career a couple of times over the course of his cricketing life. Once before the war when he considered playing professionally in England and once after the war when there were doubts that he would return post illness.


Eventually, Bradman did make play in the 1946/47 Ashes despite doctor’s orders but by this stage he’d missed 8 years of his international career. 


Whilst it’s tricky to say, it could be that the Second World War kept Bradman playing longer than he would have otherwise.


 

Wilfred Rhodes


Another career that was interrupted by war was that of legendary England all-rounder Wilfred Rhodes who played nearly 31 years at the highest level.


In this time of fewer Tests, Rhodes only managed to play 58 Tests with 9 of them coming in one year in 1912.


Unlike Bradman though, Rhodes also had a break from the team unforced by war. Between 1921 and 1926, Rhodes was dropped by England and he also encouraged English cricket to seek younger alternatives.


Eventually encouraged back, Rhodes played cricket until 1930 at the age of 52 making him the oldest international cricketer and having the longest career! 


Spin bowling arguably does lend itself to a naturally longer career…


 

Shivnarine Chanderpaul


To bring the topic back to the modern era, Shivnarine Chanderpaul stands out as a man who fought the constraints of age and still stood out amongst his team mates.


Chanderpaul probably holds most similarities to Anderson in the fact that, he too, had his career ended for him before he was quite ready to jump.


Despite somewhat waning abilities towards the close of his Test career, he was undoubtedly the most capable member of the West Indies batting line up in his final years on the international stage. 


The legendary Guyanan managed an average of over 50 in his 164 Tests maintaining his high standards across the time.


Lancashire will be hoping that Anderson’s post-international career mirrors that of Chanderpaul’s who went on to continue playing First Class cricket at Old Trafford until 2018 when he was 44.


 

So where does Anderson rank? Well there were plenty of great names who didn’t make the longevity list but could have done from Colin Cowdrey to Garry Sobers to Jack Hobbs but all, in my opinion, fall short of Anderson in some way.


Battling peaks and troughs throughout his career, Anderson always returned and entered new stages of his career.


Where he remains unparalleled compared to anyone on that list is that Anderson is a pace bowler. At 40 years old, Anderson bowls at a pace that he did when he was breaking into the England team. There are bowlers like Pravin Tambe or Imran Tahir who are able to tweak the ball at aged 45 for 4 overs at a time which is impressive but doesn't come close to the intensity of Test match bowling at pace.


In my mind, in terms of longevity, Anderson stands in the same league as Tendulkar - a unique talent in a modern age who's career spans eras, the likes of which we are unlikely to see again.


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