Privileged to live in era of town’s greatest sportsman

BURNLEY EXPRESS: James Anderson celebrates the wicket of Australia's Shane Watson on day four of the Second Investec Ashes Test at Lord's
BURNLEY EXPRESS: James Anderson celebrates the wicket of Australia's Shane Watson on day four of the Second Investec Ashes Test at Lord's

We are privileged to be living in the era of Burnley’s greatest-ever sportsman.

I am sure there will be someone out there who will try and disagree.

But in the week before his 31st birthday, James Michael Anderson has already done enough to warrant that title.

And by the time he finishes his international career, he will surely have carved his name firmly on any cricket roll of honour.

He is already right up there with some of the greatest bowlers of all time.

Only two Englishmen, Sir Ian Botham and Bob Willis, has more Test mach victims.

Anderson will eclipse Willis soon and Sir Ian at some stage.

And that will see him with three England bowling records.

He already has more international victims in all forms of the game than any other Englishman.

And earlier this year he overtook Darren Gough to become England’s leading wicket-taker in One Day Internationals.

At Trent Bridge just over a week ago, he climbed to third in England’s all time Test list when his third 10-wicket match saw him edge past Freddie Trueman.

By the end of the Lord’s Test on Sunday he had 320 wickets to his name.

And that means he is just five short of Willis and 63 – or just three good series – away from catching Botham.

Burnley is a great cricket town and has produced a number of first class cricketers in recent years.

I have watched most of them come through the ranks and go on an play the county game.

They all had, some of them still do have, great promise.

But with Anderson there was always something a little bit special. Something extra. Something almost indefinable.

I can remember talking to contemporary who faced him in the junior ranks.

He faced seven deliveries in four innings, being bowled by four of them.

“What about the other three balls,” I enquired.

“I don’t know, I didn’t see them either,” was the only reply.

I watched some of his early games in the first team at Burnley and spoke highly of him to a group of my friends who watched Nelson.

“Watch this boy,” I warned them, adding that I believed he was going to be something special.

They were not impressed and took their usual place among the hecklers on the bowling green wall at Seedhill, only to be left ashen-faced in the sunshine after watching the first handful of deliveries.

In the 14 or so years since then, Anderson has gone on to write his own cricket history.

Lack of form, strange tweaks to his own individual bowling style and a couple of bad injuries have hampered his progress.

But since the bowling coaches have largely left him revert to the style that gives him eye-catching swing – both normal and reverse – along with some true pace, Anderson has become one of the bowlers that no one in international cricket wants to face.

That is what makes him so special ... coupled with the fact that he is not a one-series wonder and he delivers the goods series in and series out.

But just how good is he?

Sport is full of imponderables and unquantifiables.

Can he turn a match on its head in Botham-esque style.

Easy enough to answer that, as we have seen him do it already this summer.

Can he bowl from one end non-stop until the job is done as Willis once did so remarkable at Headingley. Ditto.

Very briefly, then, that is how good he is a cricketer!

What about, however, ranking him against other sports?

If he was a footballer with the talent, gifts,brains and guts he shows as a cricketer, Anderson would not just be the town’s greatest-ever sportsman, he would be the town’s most famous son.

Translate the cricket ability and nous into golf, Anderson would be a Ryder Cup regular and if he didn’t already have a major to his credit, pundits would want to know why not.

I could keep this theme going for ever, purely because apart from the cricket cognisant he simply does not always get the credit he deserves.

I could also fill this page, and several more, with facts, figures and quotes about Anderson.

But to sign off, here are just a few more things to think about.

In 2007 he became the first England bowler to dismiss Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and Sourav Ganguly in the same innings, performing the feat at Lord’s in the week before his 25th birthday.

That is another hallmark of the Anderson game, the quality of the wickets he takes, although like any other fast bowler he doesn’t mind skittling nine, 10 and jack as well!

In May, England bowling coach David Saker praised Anderson as “the most skilful bowler in the world”.

And on the eve of the current Ashes series, Sir Ian Botham, the cricket hero of many of my own generation, was full of praise for the player nicknamed the Burnley Express by my former colleague Craig Salmon.

Speaking to ESPN’s cricinfo.com website, Sir Ian said: “Anderson is right up there with the great England swing bowlers. Right up there. He’s a terrific bowler.

“He’s only 30 and he’s kept himself very fit so he can easily play another 40 or 50 Tests. If you think that he will take, on average four wickets a match, well, he will sail past my record and he’ll sail past 400, too. I think he can get up to 450 and beyond.

“Anderson has his got his own action. They tried to change him, but thank goodness he booted all that into touch and got on with bowling his way. He has his own style. He works on his other skills and fine-tuning his natural skills.

“There is a lot of skill in what he does. Anyone can bowl an inswinger, but to do it as subtly as he does it with the slightest of movements becomes very difficult for the batsman to pick.”

High praise indeed!

Do I claim Anderson to be Burnley’s greatest-ever sportsman simply because I love cricket?

No. I make that claim because I firmly believe it to be true and he keeps proving me right!