Here at The Forge we like to ask the big questions

Given I grew up in Burnley and recently watched the ‘Burnley Express’ take 10 wickets in the first Ashes Test – swinging the ball beautifully both ways –  like many, I would intuitively answer…yes.

However, when you dig a little deeper maybe it’s not as straightforward as that. Let’s take sentiment out of the equation and look at the evidence…

He has the most wickets of any England bowler across all formats of the game. He has over 300 test wickets and is currently third on the all time list of English test wickets. Since May 2009 he has 203 test wickets at an average of 26 with a strike rate of 56.

Sounds pretty awesome hey?

However….

Of the 26 players to have taken 300 wickets only three have averages higher than Anderson; only 4 have a worse economy rate and only 8 a worse strike rate.

Of all the bowlers who might play at Old Trafford, Anderson’s average and strike rate is only better than Stuart Broads – making it worse than Siddle, Harris, Pattinson, Swann, Tremlett and Steven Finn! Even Mitchell Johnson who only hits the wicket once an over strikes four balls more quickly than Anderson. In three out of the last five series his stats are worse than his career average.

Mmm, maybe not so great?

So what’s the answer? Is he a bowling legend? I think the answer can only come from sifting through to the meaningful information in all this data? What’s meaningful? Anderson clearly has had a career in two halves. He learned to swing the ball more effectively in 2009. Had he performed as he has done in the last 4-years throughout his whole career the evidence column for ‘not’ would be greatly diminished. If he continues to play as he has the evidence in the ‘is’ column will greatly increase.

In my view the stats back up my intuition. As we say in Burnley “he is currently bowling great”, with potential to become a great bowler.

As an aside, a certain Ian Botham after 25 tests was averaging over 40 with the bat and less than 19 with the ball. A big difference from his final stats.

The Forge view is that to truly answer the question you need to be able to see the whole context and be able to make connections between different sources of information. You also need to make sure you are measuring the right things.

I’d like to thank Richie Benaud for many of the stats in this piece and Dan Heap for the photo

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