South Africa vs England: Stuart Broad, James Anderson in a league of their own

The New Year’s Test in Cape Town will mark a milestone in the careers of James Anderson and Stuart Broad as they step into their 13th year as a fast-bowling pair. It will be their 116th match hunting together. They also equal the record—in terms of number of years—that West Indies fast bowlers Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose shared the new ball (over 95 Tests). No other prominent bowling pair has stayed together this long in the history of the game. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis played for a longer period—14 years—but they featured together in just 61 Tests, almost half that of Broad and Anderson’s 115. Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis share 547 wickets between them from 93 Tests across 14 years but it was not really till 1998, three years after his debut, that Kallis had started bowling regularly.

These are some serious miles for the English pair, considering how the game has diversified in the last decade, and the packed, taxing schedules they have had to endure as fast bowlers.

With 429 and 403 wickets respectively, Anderson and Broad are the most successful fast bowlers of the past decade on their own steam, which also makes them the best pair, at 726 wickets in 93 Tests. Overall, they have accounted for 873 wickets in 115 Tests after first playing together against New Zealand at Wellington in March, 2008. Anderson took 5/73 in the first innings and shared 10 wickets with Broad in that 126-run win. But how do they compare to the great fast bowling pairs of the past when it comes to taking wickets?

Going by their cumulative aggregates, Broad and Anderson average 7.5 wickets per match. In comparison, Ambrose and Walsh averaged 8 wickets per match while Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson averaged 8.34 (they featured together in just 26 Tests, picking up 217 wickets) for Australia.

Even better are Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding, who took 291 wickets in 33 Tests they played together from 1980 to 1987, averaging 8.8 wickets per match. Most penetrative however were Akram and Younis. They complemented each other perfectly; Akram, the whippy left-arm seamer who could generate pace from a minimal run-up and Younis, with his slingy action and toe-crushing yorkers. Together, they dismissed 559 batsmen, averaging 9.16 wickets per match.

Where would you place the English bowlers individually? If career averages of pacers to have taken at least 200 wickets post 1970 are considered, Marshall tops the list with 20.94 for his Test haul of 376 wickets, followed by Joel Garner (259 wickets at 20.97), Curtly Ambrose (405 wickets at 20.99), Glenn McGrath (563 wickets at 21.64) and Vernon Philander (220 wickets at 21.99). Every era had stalwart fast bowlers. But the real glut was during the 1970s and 80s when pacers like Marshall, Sir Richard Hadlee (431 wickets at 22.29), Imran Khan (362 wickets at 22.81), Holding (249 wickets at 23.68) and Lillee (355 wickets at 23.92) held batting line-ups at ransom.

Then came the 90s where McGrath, Allan Donald (330 wickets at 22.25), Younis (373 wickets at 23.56), Akram (414 wickets at 23.62) and Walsh (519 wickets at 24.44) came to the fore. Pitches all over the world had started flattening out by the turn of the century but Dale Steyn (439 wickets at 22.95), Pollock (421 wickets at 23.11) and Jason Gillespie (259 wickets at 26.13) kept topping the charts. The averages of Anderson (577 wickets at 27.04) and Broad (476 wickets at 28.68) thus are a fair assessment of two top pacers who have had to deal with unhelpful pitches, smaller boundaries and thicker bats for the better part of their careers.

What really makes them special though is their longevity. Morne Morkel and Steyn have retired. Other current fast bowling pairs promise flair but perhaps not a lasting legacy—like Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins who have brilliant on-field chemistry but are often offset by injury. Injuries have also prevented Mohammad Shami to be in tune with Ishant Sharma for much of their career, though they have produced some memorable spells lately. Trent Boult and Tim Southee too have hit the right notes together but New Zealand haven’t play enough Tests over the years. In this backdrop, Broad and Anderson comprise the essence of a fast bowling pair—distinct in bowling styles but rhythmic in tandem. Anderson can be that insolent fielder at mid-on, trying to get into the batsmen’s minds with his barrage of abuse, while Broad is more refined. Anderson likes to lure batsmen into drives while Broad prefers it shorter.

“We’ve never been in competition as bowlers because our skills are different. Stuart has been under pressure at times from bowlers who get steep bounce and move the ball off the seam and I have from the skiddier ones who swing the ball. It’s never been me or him in selection,” Anderson has written in his book ‘Bowl, Sleep, Repeat’.

At home, they have been relentless. Lord’s is the common venue where they have taken the most wickets—103 for Anderson and 94 for Broad. Anderson’s accuracy is highlighted by the fact he has bowled 116 batsmen, second only after Muttiah Muralitharan’s 167 dismissals on the all-time list. And no other current bowler has bowled as many balls as them.

With 32,557 deliveries to his name, Anderson is fourth on the all-time list, after Muralitharan (44,039 balls), Anil Kumble (40850 balls) and Shane Warne (40705 balls). Broad, with 27,547 deliveries, is 10th on that list. It gives an idea of how regularly Broad and Anderson have been England’s go-to bowlers.

Anderson’s ability to skim the ball across the surface, something he has done at Lord’s as well as Eden Gardens with aplomb, has been one of the biggest contributors to his 27 five-wicket hauls. There is no one better than Anderson after Akram when it comes to the art of reversing. And he never stops learning. After bamboozling India with a spell of 3/68 under the lights at Eden Gardens in 2012, Anderson attributed his success at hiding the shine of the ball to Zaheer Khan.

“I remember some years back, might be the last time we toured here Zaheer did it (hiding the shine) a lot. That’s when I started practising it,” said Anderson.

Broad has got 17 five-wicket hauls but some of them have been momentous in the context of pinning down the opposition. Like in Visakhaptnam, during the 2016 Test, where he braved an injured toe to return a fabulous spell of 6-5-6-2 that helped dismiss India for just 204. A year before that, Broad was on fire at his ground in Nottingham, yielding 8/15 to dismiss Australia for a paltry 60. When the whole ground stood up to cheer Broad after the end of the innings, the camera was firmly focused on an injured Anderson applauding from the Trent Bridge dressing room balcony. Anderson wrote about it later.

“I missed the game when he bowled out Australia with 8-15 in 2015. Their scorecard fitted on a tweet. In that famous picture with his hands over his mouth, face frozen in disbelief, when Ben Stokes held a diving catch to dismiss Adam Voges, he looked like a little boy who had been given the best birthday present ever.”

Working in tandem for so long on the field has led to a deep bond between the two.

“We’ve always had the attitude that fast bowling is something you do in partnership. The conversation has really helped us. ‘Shall I try this?’ ‘No, stick to the plan.’ We’ll be checking each other all the time,” writes Anderson. “We share a car to grounds now. He’s really into R’n’B, rap and grime. I’ve always wondered how a gangly, geeky guy from public school has found such an affinity with that sort of music. We have one vital shared interest. Everyone else wants to get in early to start practising. Broady and I would rather have another half-hour in bed. We try to get there at the last possible moment.”

Broad and Anderson have in recent times spent more time bowling without each other. Anderson was ruled out of the last Ashes due to a calf injury after bowling just four overs in the first Test. But he is back. “From what it seems, he has much more,” said Broad when Anderson got his 150th Test cap. And if Broad continues to bowl in the same vein, they could go on to break a few more records.



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