James Anderson is on the verge of becoming the sixth bowler in the history of cricket to pick up 500 Test wickets. The next highest wicket-taker on the list among current players is Dale Steyn (417), followed by Rangana Herath (389) and Stuart Broad (385).
Out of these four players, Sri Lankan spin veteran Herath is unlikely to play much longer as his 39-year-old body is beginning to break down.
Steyn last played a Test in November with a shoulder injury keeping him out of action. The Protea quick played just three out of nine Tests played by his country last year and it is tough to see him playing Test cricket consistently as and when he regains fitness because at 34, he is already very close to the end of the line in the five-day format. That leaves Broad, who at 31 has a decent amount of Test cricket left in his legs.
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It means we might have to wait a long time for the next ‘big’ Test bowler. The benchmark here is 500 wickets, not 800 or even 600. Muttiah Muralitharan (800 wickets), Shane Warne (708) and Anil Kumble (619) are so far ahead in the tally, it seems futile to aim for that mark.
Maybe Ravi Ashwin (292 from 52 Tests) can cross the 500-wicket mark. But that is a long way away for the 30-year-old.
Also, Ashwin has to now share wickets with the established names like Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami. Similarly, if and when Steyn returns, he will face competition from Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris and Keshav Maharaj for scalps.
So why has the bar lowered for the bowlers, unlike batsmen?
Batsmen continue to break into the elite 10,000 Test-run club. In fact, Alastair Cook (11,581) looks capable of overhauling the all-time mark of Sachin Tendulkar (15,921). Younis Khan recently joined the club while Hashim Amla (8,281) and Ab de Villiers (8,074) can realistically hope to reach five digits.
The main factor now is longevity. Bowlers don’t seem to last at the international stage the way they used to, simply because of the amount of matches being played following the advent of T20 and franchise cricket.
James Anderson (35y 26d) is the oldest pacer to take a 5-wicket haul since Zaheer Khan (35y 130d) vs NZ in 2014. #ENGvWI— Sampath Bandarupalli (@SampathStats) August 27, 2017
Which is why after the current crop of top-class pacers retires, we might never see a pace heavyweight with 400 or 500 Test scalps next to his name.
It’s not as if bowlers aren’t picking up wickets. In the 2016/17 season, 34 Tests produced results with just four draws. It’s just that the wickets are being shared. Matches now regularly finish inside four days, which is more a reflection of batsmen’s willingness to play shots than the talent of bowlers because let’s admit it, there is no Murali or Glenn McGrath in the mix anymore.
That means decent bowlers have a greater chance of picking up wickets, sometimes irrespective of the nature of tracks, as batsmen are simply going for the shots.
It makes for more interesting viewing, but probably means there are a few more ‘cheap’ wickets to be had by any bowler willing to stay disciplined.
In 2006, Warne picked up his 700th wicket. In 2008, Kumble breached the 600-wicket mark. Two years later, Murali finished on 800 scalps. Those numbers look very much out of reach.
The Big Bash League T20 tournament is generally held in December-January. It is followed by the Pakistan Super League in February-March. The Indian Premier League takes up the best part of April and May. The Caribbean Premier League is played from June to August. The Natwest T20 blast in England goes on from July to September. The November slot has been taken up by the Bangladesh Premier League and it will now have to share space with South Africa’s Global T20 league.
That’s nearly 12 months of non-stop cash-rich T20 cricket across the globe. The icing on top of the cake will be England’s new franchise-based T20 tournament.
What was once seen as a distant dream has become a reality – T20 cricket all year round.
While international cricket is still struggling to provide greater relevance to bilateral matches across formats, T20 cricket has burrowed into the calendar without wasting any time.
The reason behind it is simple – individual boards want to have their own T20 cash cows to sustain their international and domestic structure. T20 leagues need no structure or relevance. They just need to be there.
Also, T20 leagues, especially the franchise-based ones, rely on marquee names and they have become a safe avenue for aspiring and established players.
We now have international cricket all year round with hardly any break. And soon we will have T20 cricket running on a loop. Any chance of an overdose?