James Anderson will be “100% the best fast bowler ever” if he passes Glenn McGrath’s record of 563 Test wickets, says former England wicket keeper Alec Stewart. I am in no position to argue with Stewart because I have not been privileged to see every fast bowler whoever lived, but the statistics alone appear to back him up. Anderson is indeed a great cricketer. He will also be 100% the least well known great fast bowler in history.
In a week where the England team has players I have literally never heard of playing test cricket against the West Indies, it’s really quite sad that Anderson’s achievement of reaching 500 wickets has gone virtually unnoticed by the general public. It was not always like this.
The cricket authorities made a conscious decision some years ago to remove coverage from terrestrial TV in return for hundreds of millions of pounds from Sky television (39% owner, R Murdoch). Cricketers who once transcended their own sport to become nationally known figures, like Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff, no longer exist. As we have previously noted, your average woman and man in the street would struggle to name a single player in the national team. Those of us who remain semi-interested are familiar with some of the players, like the aforementioned Anderson, but even there I would struggle to recognise more than one or two of them in the street. If Anderson walked into my local pub, depending on the night, I suspect barely anyone would have the faintest idea of who he was.
Whilst I was never an obsessive, I quite like cricket, which is the default setting, I suspect, for many sports fans. I liked to play, I like to watch, but I can live without it. Whilst I pay my money to Sky, cricket really feels like the minority sport it really is, tucked away as it is alongside drone racing (whatever that is) and WWE wrestling. There was a time I could probably name the best players from every county team in the land and certainly all eleven members of the Gloucestershire team but now I struggle to name any, apart from the one who shares his surname with the cross-dresser from M*A*S*H. With viewing figures now a fraction of what they once were and participation levels in serious decline, is there any hope? Not for test cricket there isn’t, no.
From 2020, T20 cricket will be returning to the BBC which we should welcome although I do not see it as a gateway for many to watch any other form of the game. T20 in all its forms throughout the world is undoubtedly the way forward, sacrilegious though it may be to many who prefer things like they used to be. There is a market for the long forms of the game in both international and domestic formats and, uniquely in the world, test cricket in England is more popular among paying spectators than ever. This is at least in part to the affluent middle class base of the summer game. I see no prospect of that changing anytime soon.
Well done James Anderson. You are soon going to be the most successful fast bowler the world has ever seen. What a shame that hardly anyone knows who you are.