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Who is England's greatest fast bowler?

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Cricket_fast_bowling_bowler_fireballEngland has given birth to many a great bowler, and the conundrum of their greatest ever fast bowler never ceases. In this article, we shall discuss, analyze and discover who England’s greatest pacer really is.

Let me start by announcing the candidates I have chosen to be in contention. They are: Brian Statham, ‘Fiery’ Fred Trueman, Alec Bedser, Bob Willis, Sir Ian Botham, Stuart Broad and England’s leading wicket taker, James Anderson.

Of the lot, Stuart Broad has the worst average (29.77), just edging past Anderson (29.42). In terms of strike rate i.e. number of balls bowled per wicket taken, rather surprisingly, Statham (63.7) and Bedser (67.4) fall well behind the others, with Trueman (49.4) in the lead, taking almost 20 balls less per wicket than Bedser. This eliminates Bedser straightaway. In the wickets column, Anderson (403 and counting) is miles ahead of everybody but Botham (383).

Bob Willis had the great spell (8 for 43) in Botham’s Test in 1981. He is one of four Englishmen with over 300 wickets. Stuart Broad and Brian Statham have been great servants to English Cricket. But I don’t see the three of them being anywhere close to the league of the remaining three pacers. So Stuart Broad, Bob Willis and Brian Statham are eliminated.

Now, we shall look in more detail.

Sir Ian Botham, regarded by many as England’s finest pacer, had a distinguished career without a shadow of a doubt. However, 30% i.e 118 out of the 383 wickets that ‘Beefy’ took were players who were worse batsmen than Brett Lee. The fact that Botham got almost a third of his wickets against tailenders clearly tells us that Botham isn’t really the greatest.

Also, Botham had a very small period where he could be classified amongst the very best bowlers of his times. His best period, undoubtedly, would be his first 5 years in International Cricket (1977-1981). He took many more wickets in this period (215 of his eventual 383) than the next five year period (151 from 1982-1986). His average was four less than his career average and his strike rate in this period was the best. The next 10 years weren’t anywhere close to the first five years. He averaged in the thirties and his economy and strike rate went all over the place. All this stacked together doesn’t really warrant the title of England’s greatest fast bowler.

Next comes ‘Fiery’ Fred Trueman, the first bowler to reach the 300 wicket club. Trueman has the best bowling average (21.57) of any English bowler who has taken more than 250 wickets and is second only to Malcolm Marshall (20.94) and Curtly Ambrose (20.99) with regard to bowlers who have scalped 300 or more wickets. But, much like Botham, almost a third of Trueman’s wickets were tailend mucks who really couldn’t bat.  

This is where it gets tricky. Trueman bowled in an era where uncovered pitches were the norm. This provided the bowlers with a key advantage- unpredictable bounce. This helped Trueman and many in his generation and the ones preceding it, Statham and Bedser included, get wickets out of balls which on a normal pitch would do no harm. Also, batsmen in that era did not have access to modern techniques, did not have the heavier bats prevalent today, and the boundaries weren’t as small. Therefore, a slog which would give the batsman a six or a four these days, might have fetched the bowler a wicket. Furthermore, Trueman played in an age where countries like India and Pakistan were still infants in International Cricket. All these put together do give an advantage to Trueman when compared to the modern bowler.

James Anderson is next in line.

When the alarm bells ring, when the curtain starts to fall for the England Cricket team, more often than not, Anderson is the one trusted with the responsibility of getting a wicket. Kolkata, Nottingham, Galle or Adelaide, Anderson has delivered; and he has been one of the primary reasons for England’s rise to the top. His detractors said that he couldn’t perform on wickets that didn’t assist swing bowlers and he responded in style with some memorable performances in the 2010-11 Ashes series. Dust bowls, featherbeds, bouncy pitches, seaming paradises and what not, Anderson has taken wickets everywhere.

Anderson ups his ante when he faces the very best in the game. Sachin Tendulkar and Michael Clarke have been favorites for the Lancastrian as he has dismissed them a remarkable nine times each. He has also had the better of a few cricketers who have had a big say in the way batsmanship was to be looked at in this generation, with Virender Sehwag, Chris Gayle, Kumar Sangakkara and Jacques Kallis all averaging less than 30 against him.

India’s Tour of England was all about Virat Kohli against the English seamers. What followed was a complete wipeout by the Englishmen with Anderson getting Kohli out on most occasions by making him drive uppishly and getting him out caught in the slips.  

James Anderson has been pivotal to the England Test side. We know that, don’t we? Or, do we? To just establish the fact, let me tell you this. Anderson is the only England bowler who has taken over 200 wickets in Test matches where England have won. Not Trueman, not Botham, not Willis, but, the boy from Burnley, James Michael Anderson.

Okay, so, now comes the question. Who is England’s greatest seam bowler?

You know it. I know it. At this stage, there is one clear winner and that is James Anderson. In an age where batsmen have manhandled and dismantled the quick bowlers, James Anderson has given them more than just a fight. He just edges out Trueman with Botham far behind, at least in my opinion, considering how Botham fared in the last five to six years of his career. Anderson has just kept getting better with age and we hope that he only gets better.

Until next time, good bye!



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