The summer of 2016 is upon us. Next week, England’s Test series against Sri Lanka will commence at Headingley. With three Tests against an inexperienced side at the beginning of the summer, followed by four against Pakistan, James Anderson will be looking to make serious strides towards 500 career Test wickets.
Currently sitting on 433, at the age of 33, he will get few opportunities as good as this one to get close to becoming the first English bowler to take 500 Test wickets. Indeed when these countries were last here in 2010 and 2013 respectively, he took 35 wickets in the six games. With winter tours to Bangladesh and India later in the year, followed by next summer’s visits of South Africa and the West Indies, Anderson could reach the milestone in a little over a year.
It would be a fitting achievement for arguably England’s best ever bowler. In an age dominated by batsmen and shorter forms of the game, it makes an incredibly pleasant change to praise a bowler at the peak of his powers. Having started the season well for Lancashire, he looks primed and ready for next week.
In many ways it seems strange that he is only 33. After making his debut as a very quick but wayward bowler in 2003, he has come an incredibly long way in 13 years. There are very few bowlers around who possess the skill levels that Anderson displays with a red ball in hand. Perhaps only Dale Steyn of the current players would rank alongside him in terms of technical ability. Being able to move the ball one way is often hard enough but both ways, in the right conditions, make him almost unplayable.
Some still question his ability to take wickets on surfaces and in conditions that do not suit him but in the UAE against Pakistan over the winter he showed his real class. Despite the fact that cricket is a team game, it is often thought of as somewhat individualistic in the sense that batsmen and bowlers operate independently from their team mates.
However, in the UAE Anderson showed just what a team player he is by consistently keeping things tight and building pressure. Having the know-how to understand that certain pitches favour other bowlers and adjusting to become a containing bowler, demonstrates just how far he has come.
With conditions at Headingley likely to favour swing bowling it will be fascinating to see how Sri Lanka cope with Anderson. After facing him in the UAE, the Pakistani batsmen will also face a very different prospect in almost polar opposite conditions. This summer should present him with the chance to get ever closer to his next milestone and it is one that he seems very much focused on.
By Andy Hunter