After James Anderson, who is Test cricket’s next big bowling heavyweight?

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James Anderson is a rarity among contemporary Test bowlers as he approaches 500 wickets.

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.

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.

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.

PACKED CALENDAR

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?

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Ageless Shahid Afridi blasts stunning 42-ball century

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Shahid Afridi.

Shahid Afridi blasted his highest score in T20 cricket last night with a brutal 42-ball century for Hampshire against Derbyshire.

Afridi’s 101 included seven sixes and 10 fours and was his first T20 hundred in 256 T20 matches.

Opening the batting after Derbyshire captain Gary Wilson had won the toss and put Hampshire in, Afridi immediately went to task blasting the bowlers to all corners of the County Ground in Derby.

He put on 43 for the first wicket with Calvin Dickinson and then 97 alongside England batsman James Vincent.

The 37-year-old brought up his century off the bowling Imran Tahir before celebrating to the crowd in trademark style, raising his bat with both arms aloft in the air.

After reaching triple figures, with a strike rate of 240.47, he was out next ball, top edging Matt Henry to Ben Cotton.

Hampshire eventually reached 249/8 with Vince adding 55.

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Liam Plunkett channelled spirit of 'Rocky' to revive his England career

Alam Khan 10/08/2017
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The 32-year-old is a key part of England's limited-overs set-up.

There is a sense of irony, perhaps even fate, when England bowler Liam Plunkett tells how he has spent the last 10 years in Philadelphia when his cricketing commitments allow.

It is of course the city where the inspirational Rocky boxing movies were filmed and the 32-year-old – whose fiancée Emeleah lives in Philly – has similarly endured his fair share of blows before rising up to take his chances.

Plunkett is certainly a survivor. At 20, a paceman who was confident with the bat, there were great expectations for his future when he made his Test debut in Pakistan in 2005. He took two wickets but the hosts racked up 636 for an innings victory. It was, though, to be Plunkett’s first of only 13 Test matches spanning nine years.

On and off, he has been part of his country’s one-day squad for 12 years, and 11 in T20 competition to reflect a story filled with contrasting fortunes and emotions – and what might have been had he adopted the same approach as he does now.

“You always look back, don’t you?” he says. “In hindsight, I wish I’d continued like that, played 100 Tests and 200 one-dayers but you can’t have regrets.

“Where I was then I relied on talent, didn’t really think about what I had to do, took things with ease and just played the game. I was young and didn’t really do the specific one per centers that I do now to improve my game. But you have a dip and you come back and play. I never gave it up and I’ll take where I am now after everything that’s happened.

“I feel that dip after that has made me a better player. I’m still playing for England now and in white ball cricket (ODIs) in the rankings I’m one of the best in the world.”

LEEDS, ENGLAND - APRIL 05:  Liam Plunkett of Yorkshire   poses for a portrait during their press day at Headingley on April 5, 2017 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

Now a proud Yorkshireman: Plunkett.

Plunkett is currently No11 on the ICC list, but ranked as high as seven in June when England fell to eventual winners Pakistan in the ICC Champions Trophy.

He may be 32, but he feels stronger, fitter and fired up to fulfil more ambitions. “I feel I can play for England for another couple of years,” adds the Middlesbrough- born Plunkett, who endured a seven-year gap to his last Test in 2014 against India, where he bowled Virat Kohli for a first-ball duck. “I also feel I can still bowl quicker.

“The World Cup in 2019, that’s my aim and what I’m working to. Of course you also look at playing in the winter with the Tests and Ashes coming up, I’d still like that, or there’s all these T20 opportunities you want to get
involved with.

“I’m nowhere near finished and want to keep playing, keep performing and keep winning. I’ve won four County Championships and Ryan Sidebottom has five so I’d like to pass him at some point.

“Absolutely there’s more to come. I think I’m near the top 10 England bowlers of all-time in white ball cricket [currently 12th and 12 shy of 100 wickets] so I want to go up as much as I can, to get top five. I’d love to have that in my locker and tell the kids down the years I was one of the best white ball cricketers.

“There’s a freshness, energy and quality about this England side and I want to be part of it for as long as possible.”

Plunkett has claimed 145 international wickets for England.

Having secured an impressive series win over South Africa, England next host West Indies with the first Test on August 17 and T20 and one-dayers to follow next month.

Despite groin and hamstring injuries, Plunkett hopes to be involved against a country whose fast bowling legends helped inspire him.

“I grew up watching bowlers like Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. The West Indies have been going through some changes, but they still have talent and their youngsters are getting better and you can’t underestimate them. They will be coming here to prove a point.”

But, ahead of the Australia tour at the end of the year, England are proving a fearsome force with Plunkett’s Yorkshire team-mate Joe Root starting well as captain.

“Amazing isn’t it?” he says. “Look at that first game as captain, all that pressure, and he gets 190 and they win, wow. He plays like he’s just down the park. He’s just so level-headed and what people don’t realise is his training is so intense, he won’t just have an easy net.

It doesn’t surprise anyone how good he has been and I think he’s going to get better and better. He’s going to be a great no doubt. If they had a Hall of Fame he’d be in it now. He’s young, but he enjoys the pressure, and what I’ve seen at this level is the world’s best don’t worry, just play their game and enjoy it. The same goes for the best bowlers.”

It is a mantra Plunkett adopted himself to repair his game and revive his fortunes. After being dropped by England in 2007, his form began to falter at county side Durham and it took a move to Yorkshire in 2013, working with former Australian pace ace Jason Gillespie, to make him believe again.

And just like Sidebottom, Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid and more recently Gary Ballance, restoring confidence and finding form for his county has led to another call for his country.

Plunkett is more than capable of chipping in down the order.

“I always had that desire, even when things weren’t going right, I felt I had plenty more to give,” he tells Sport360°.

“I just needed to have that method to come back and perform. To get that backing, which Yorkshire gave me, I appreciated that.

“As soon as I stopped thinking about the technique side of stuff, just enjoy the game, do what I do best, everything fell into place. There was no extra pressure either.

“When I joined Yorkshire I thought to myself, approach it like it’s your first club, like you’re an academy team player and have got stuff to improve. I nailed everything fitness wise, was first to the nets and everything.

“Dizzy [Gillespie] being a bowler himself and been through crappy times, he helped me a lot. He told me not to stress too much. I was hitting the side netting at first, but he said he didn’t care and to just bowl fast, enjoy it. I bowled quicker and with that came accuracy.

“It was sort of a rebirth and everything went well after that. I feel better now, more at ease with myself through the experience. As you get older you think you have to change your training a bit, adapt more, maybe not do as much running, but more swimming, biking and strength work.

“You know you are not going to make it to the top if you are not fit, don’t take care of yourself. You are going to get found out in the field. I never stop trying to improve, adapt by trying new things, because I know there’s a lot of people waiting in the wings and if you slip up then you might lose your place.”

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