There could not be a better time for James Anderson to be hitting top form.
With a crucial 12 months ahead, including back-to-back Test series against New Zealand and Australia as well as the one-day Champions Trophy, the leader of England’s pace bowling attack is at, or certainly not far off, the peak of his powers.
The Lancashire star came through what most say is the toughest test for a fast bowler - a Test series in India - with flying colours by taking 12 wickets in four Tests before Christmas, including ten in the last two Tests.
And on top of that, he claimed seven wickets in three one-day internationals against New Zealand earlier this month to earn plenty more plaudits.
He took only the second five-wicket haul of his ODI career at Napier last week having passed Sir Ian Botham as the country’s all-time leading wicket-taker a few days earlier, but he will have been just as pleased with his contribution in the series deciding game at Auckland over the weekend when he took 1-34.
The Burnley Express has admitted that he is not too concerned about stats, and that he is happier with match-winning contributions. And the way he and Steven Finn bowled at Eden Park to reduce the hosts to 11-3 was as good as you will see with the new white ball. The New Zealand top order just could not play him nor Finn.
Anderson’s international career has not always been a bed of roses since he burst onto the scene in early 2003, with injury, action remodeling and loss of form at times leaving him on the sidelines and having to battle for his place.
But now, at the age of 30, he is rightly ranked as one of the two best swing bowlers in world cricket alongside South Africa’s Dale Steyn, who is just under a year younger. Anderson is also England’s most prolific bowler with 535 scalps across all forms.
“I was really chuffed for him to become England’s leading wicket-taker for it’s true recognition of how good a performer he is,” said Red Rose coach Peter Moores recently, a man who helped reignite his international career in 2008, ironically on tour in New Zealand when he recalled Anderson and Stuart Broad to the Test team due to poor form from Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison.
“He just keeps getting better, not by changing what he does but by adding more skill to what he does. He obviously leads that England attack, he is becoming a fully-rounded international player, and he is up there with the best bowlers in the world.
“Steyn and Jimmy are the two you bracket together at the top. What they both have is when the ball doesn’t swing they can still create pressure on batsmen.”
Anderson could move beyond 300 Test wickets during next month’s New Zealand series because he has three matches to get the 12 he needs. But, despite not being stats driven, one thing he is definitely aiming for is to break the 400 barrier.
If he does that, he will have broken Botham’s national Test record of 383 wickets.
Anderson’s success at international level means Lancashire have not seen as much of him as they would have liked during the last ten years. Since making his international debut in 2003, he has only played 41 County Championship matches. But there have still been plenty of highlights for him in a Red Rose shirt.
In that time, he has taken nine five-wicket hauls in the Championship, including three six-wicket bags, and one of the proudest moments of his career was receiving his Championship winner’s medal at Buckingham Palace in October, 2011.
A product of Lancashire League side Burnley - recommended to the county by former Gloucestershire player and his best man David Brown - he credits current county cricket director Mike Watkinson as the man who taught him to swing the ball.
He has since gone on to take hat-tricks for both county and country, was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 2009 and has been given the honour of the Freedom of Burnley.
Anderson has had quite some career already. But on recent evidence, his best years could still be ahead of him. That will be fantastic news for both Lancashire and, more so, England.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh