Is James Anderson the greatest English bowler ever?

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Even if Lancashire’s James Anderson does not play another test, his place in the annals of great England bowlers is beyond doubt. However, when he eventually bows out, the classic debate will begin ‘was he the best ever?’ ‘was he better than Firey Fred, Deadly Derek or Sir Ian?’.

Economy is king in the slog heavy modern game

In the slog heavy modern era, economy rate (the average number of runs a bowler conceded per over) is a huge yardstick for a bowler.

Once merely a worry for the one-day bowler, it has now arguably superseded bowling average (The ratio of runs conceded per wickets taken) due to the shear rate runs are now scored at.

The results are rather inconclusive, Derek Underwood and Fred Trueman do have a far lower economy rate at 2.1 and 2.61 respectively, however they played at a time where batsmen scored at a slower rate.

Meanwhile, whilst Anderson has the second highest at 2.97, however has played at a far more slog happy era.

Factoring that in, it actually becomes agonisingly close, although you can rule out Bob Willis and Sir Ian Botham on this front, whose economy rates during the 80’s are only narrowly lower than Anderson’s.
The means it’s between Anderson, Trueman and Underwood, and for the simple fact he played in a high strike rate era, economy has to go to James Anderson.

Wickets are the bottom line in any era

Wickets win matches, and you very rarely win a match without getting the other 11 men out twice.

Therefore, whoever has the most wickets has a big argument that they are the best of all time.

If you look at it simply, then Anderson is the king, with a English test record 467 wickets, breezing past Botham, his nearest competition, on 383.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that, because Fred Trueman played in far fewer tests, and did have any easy opponents such as Bangladesh or Zimbabwe.

In that era, Trueman averaged almost a five wicket haul every match, Anderson is a mere 3.82 wickets per game. 

Therefore, despite having the second lowest raw total, Trueman’s average trumps him.

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Being a good batsman helps

There’s no real competition on this front, Beefy demolishes his competition on this front, with a batting average of 34.54, his nearest rival, Trueman has 13.81

However, an interesting thing happens when you look at averages where England lost.

Botham’s average drops by a whopping 10 points, in his defence everyone else’s does, but the second largest drop, that of Bob Wills is only four points.
The most consistent in defeat is that Yorkshireman again, Trueman’s batting average dropped by less than a point in matches England lost.

It’s all about the averages

Its significance has decreased in recent time, but to ignore bowling average as a measure of a good bowler would be a foolish thing to do, simply because it’s the oldest and simplest way to compare two bowlers.

It’s another category Trueman comes out as king, his bowling average of 21.57 is the lowest by a distance, Willis is second in 25.2 but that sort of gap is the difference between winning and losing.

As for Anderson, he comes out bottom with 28.5.

It becomes even worse for the Lancashire man when you look at it in losing matches, his average goes up to huge 41.99, to put that figure into context, Geoffrey Boycott in tests had a bowling average of 54 and he opened the batting!

Trueman also loses traction, as he increased to 33.04 in defeat.

However, Willis who bowled an average of 27.56 in defeat puts himself into contention for his sheer consistency.
It also meant that only a few time did a Bob Willis performance directly result in an England loss, and means on bowling average Willis wins the day.

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Is Anderson the king of swing in England?

It’s commonly said that Anderson ‘is the best bowler on English soil’; statistically he’s far from it.

The true king? Trueman again, who bowled at a staggering average of 20.04 in England, second place is Willis with 23.5.

Anderson comes lagging behind in fourth with a completely respectable 25.63, but far from being the greatest of all time.

Truman clinches the win with the most remarkable of anomalies

It’s not a big one, it’s the king of anomaly only a bowler could realistically get, an anomaly that doesn’t win a game or lose on, but is remarkable.

Fred Trueman had a higher batting average abroad than in England.

Look at it this way, Trueman, who played at a time without a vast network of scouting, worse pitches for batting, and with proper bats rather than the oars batsmen call bats nowadays, he averaged more in places like India, Australia, and the West Indies than England.

You only have to look at the other candidates, whose averages drop markedly, to see how incredible this feat is.

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So whilst others may press his claim, statistically James Anderson struggles to match other greats, and perhaps people were too quick to call Ian Botham the greatest simply because he was an all-rounder.

Because statistically, the best is, and has always been Fred Trueman, after all, he was in his own words: “T’Greatest Fast Bowler Who Ever Drew Breath”.

Plus, he did present the absolute TV gold that was The Indoor League

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Oliver covers a variety of areas including a range of sports, news, politics and entertainment and produces packages for Quays TV. You can follow him on Twitter @olliemackenzie7.

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