James Anderson vs Glenn McGrath – Similarities and differences

564 wickets. Let the enormity of that sink in. 2932 players have taken field in Test cricket, out of which 2165 players rolled their arms over (or under) once. Only four of those have reached the 564-wicket milestone, and none of the three who reached there before James Michael Anderson were fast bowlers. The Burnley Express castled Mohammed Shami in India’s second innings to become the leading pace bowler in the 141-year-old history of Test cricket, going past Glenn McGrath’s 563 wickets.

Anderson and McGrath have been as different as chalk and cheese in their modus operandi but yet one can spot a few inevitable similarities between the two. McGrath, tall and lanky, consistently hit the ball on the good length and extracted movement off the seam for his wickets. Being 6’5″ tall, he could get that ball to bounce steep off a good length. Anderson, on the other hand, started off predominantly as a swing bowler who often relied on the conditions favoring the ball to move in the air. But as he played more, he added various tricks to his repertoire and at the sunset of his career, he is regarded as one of the most complete bowlers ever to grace the game.

Anderson vs McGrath – Test career

Player Tests Wkts Avg SR 5-fers BBI BBM
James Anderson 143 564 26.84 55.8 26 7/43 11/71
Glenn McGrath 124 563 21.64 51.9 29 8/24 10/27
McGrath made his debut in the home summer of 1993/94 and had an indifferent start to his career before he travelled to the Caribbean in 1995. As fate would have it, Australia’s spearhead Craig McDermott got injured before the series and McGrath was entrusted to lead the pace battery. He led the attack from the front, taking 24 first-class wickets during the entire tour, 17 of which came in the four Tests. The baton of Australia pace bowling that was passed on from Ray Lindwall to Graham McKenzie to Dennis Lillee to McDermott, was handed over to McGrath, who would then carry it for the next dozen years with distinction.

Anderson hit the road running with a five-fer on debut at Lord’s but found himself in and out of the side for the better part of next five years as the likes of Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Simon Jones were preferred over him. His big break came in the summer of 2008 when he picked seven for 43 against New Zealand in the series decider at Trent Bridge. He finished as the highest wicket taker in the second leg of that home summer in the series against South Africa and there was no looking back from then on. 114 Tests and 10 summers later, Anderson still runs in hard as ever and leads the attack from the front as the captain’s go-to bowler in crunch situations.

Milestones – McGrath

Wkt # Tests Days from debut Age Balls taken
50 15 737 25y 282d 3231
100 23 1143 26y 323d 5586
200 45 1879 28y 328d 10694
300 64 2577 30y 296d 15175
400 87 3266 32y 254d 20559
500 110 4270 35y 162d 25617
550 121 4772 36y 299d 28486
Milestones – Anderson

Wkt # Tests Days from debut Age Balls taken
50 17 1522 24y 356d 2927
100 29 1905 26y 8d 5774
200 55 2768 28y 141d 11551
300 81 3649 30y 291d 17789
400 104 4391 32y 303d 23166
500 129 5224 35y 40d 28259
550 140 5562 36y 13d 30779
* Balls taken at the end of the innings when the milestone was reached

The late blooming for Anderson meant McGrath got to all the major milestones faster than the Lancastrian. However, Anderson gave up white ball cricket post the 2015 World Cup debacle, finishing as England’s leading wicket-taker in ODIs, to prolong his career in the longer format. In hindsight, it was a decision which reaped him rich dividends as the numbers testify. Anderson brought his career average down below 30 in his last series before the World Cup and in the 44 Tests since then, he has taken 184 wickets at 20.89 – which has brought his career average down to 26.84. R Ashwin is the only bowler to take more wickets in this period (208 wickets), with his new-ball partner Stuart Broad next among the fast bowlers with 169 scalps.

McGrath had an extended peak which ran from the Caribbean tour in 1995 till the end of the home summer in 2002, the period in which he was the leading wicket-taker in the world with 397 scalps at a measly 20.40. No other bowler took as many wickets as McGrath, while the next most for a fast bowler was Shaun Pollock’s 273 wickets.

Anderson got better with age, and in 72 Tests since turning 30, he has taken 296 wickets at 23.64. Among seamers, only Courtney Walsh has taken more wickets after turning 30 (341 wickets). To put this in perspective, in the 71 Tests in his 20s, he took 268 wickets at 30.37. At an age where most others of his trade contemplate retirement, Anderson has looked fit and his numbers in the last three seasons testify the significant improvement.

The ‘Ashes’ Test

Instance Tests Overs Wkts Avg SR 5-fers
McGrath in Aus 16 635.1 70 22.90 54.44 2
McGrath in Eng 14 578.1 87 19.34 39.87 8
Anderson in Aus 18 720.3 60 35.43 72.05 1
Anderson in Eng 13 450.4 44 33.36 61.45 4
The litmus Test of a cricketer from England or Australia remains their performances in Ashes contests and McGrath is the standout winner in this match-up with Anderson. No fast bowler from either side has taken as many wickets as McGrath in Ashes encounters – 157 from 30 Tests at 20.92. Barring his maiden Ashes series in 1994/95, McGrath never took less than 19 wickets in a series and not once did his average went past 24.

Though Anderson sits on the top rack among leading wicket-takers for his country in Ashes contests, his numbers pale in comparison to McGrath. He has taken 104 wickets at 34.55 in 31 Ashes Tests across seven series, with a slightly better away record. Anderson won a solitary Man of the Match award against Australia while McGrath was voted the best player in four of his 30 Tests against England.

Supremacy in the sub-continent

One of the most remarkable aspects of McGrath’s bowling is the sheer consistency of his numbers across various conditions. To elaborate, he averaged 22.43 at home and 20.81 away. The difference between his best and worst average in a continent was 3.68: his lowest average was in England (19.34) and the highest was in the sub-continent (23.02).

Whereas, Anderson has clearly preferred bowling at home (average of 23.76) compared to overseas (32.63). The only other countries where he averages in the 20s are UAE (25.54) and West Indies (24.92). One of his criticisms has been the lack of penetration in Asian conditions compared to his peer Dale Steyn. Though to his credit, he has brought the average down from 37.80 in his first five tours to Asia to a respectable 30.00. (38 wickets in his last 12 Tests in Asia at 25.68).

Numbers in Asia

Player Tests Wkts Avg SR 5-fers BBI Wkts/Test
Glenn McGrath 19 72 23.02 54.8 1 5/66 3.79
James Anderson 20 59 30.00 67.2 1 5/72 2.95
Favourite opponents, destinations and bunnies

The consistency in McGrath’s career can again be seen in his numbers against oppositions. Against sides whom he played more than once, the lowest he averages is 18.64 (against India) and the highest is against South Africa (27.33). McGrath plied his trade in ten countries and only in Sri Lanka (29.20) and Pakistan (31.00), he averaged more than 24.00. Apart from England, McGrath took 100-plus wickets against Windies as well. Not surprisingly, most of his bunnies were from England and Windies – Michael Atherton (19 dismissals), Brian Lara (15), Jimmy Adams (12), Sherwin Campbell (11) and Alec Stewart (10). The three West Indians in the above list formed the core of McGrath’s hat-trick at the WACA in December 2000.

On the other hand, Anderson’s worst figures in certain parameters are nearly the double his best in those. His average against opposition teams varied between 18.58 (against Pakistan) to 34.55 (against Australia). Similarly, the best country-wise average for him is 20.54 in UAE, which happens to be nearly the half of his average in Sri Lanka (40.72). Anderson has taken more wickets against India (110) than any other bowler and at home, he has been lethal against the sub-continent sides.

Another highlight of Anderson’s career has been the number of times he accounted for the best batsmen in the opposition’s ranks. Among the greats of the first decade of this century, Anderson has dismissed Sachin Tendulkar nine times (the most any bowler dismissed him in his Test career), Jacques Kallis and Kumar Sangakkara seven times each, Graeme Smith six times and Rahul Dravid five. Moving on to the current ‘Fab Four’, Anderson has accounted for Steve Smith and Kane Williamson six times each while Virat Kohli has fallen prey to him five times, four of which came in 50 balls in the summer of 2014.

The similarities

It would come as no surprise that they were at their lethal best when the ball was hard and new and proved to be a nightmare for the opening batsmen in the opposition camps. 155 of McGrath’s victims were openers while for Anderson the numbers stand at 153. 172 victims of McGrath were left-handers while Anderson accounted for 178 southpaws. 368 of Anderson’s dismissals were caught, out of which 154 were by the wicketkeeper and the same for McGrath stands at 152 out of 373.

According to McGrath, Anderson’s record is one that will stand the test of time. “Once Jimmy goes past me it will be interesting to see where he wants to set the bar. With the nature of the game these days, and the amount of Twenty20 cricket, I believe no fast bowler will ever go past him.”

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