James Anderson’s home-away imbalance doesn’t prevent him being a great, but it might stop him being the greatest.
His achievement of reaching 500 Test wickets will no doubt generate a plethora of think pieces saying he’s either unquestionably the best ever, or moaning at how overrated he is. The reality his, he’s somewhere in the middle of great and overrated.
His dominance at home makes him, probably, the best quick there’s been in English conditions. But his stats abroad means overall record requires a caveat.
Taking 500 wickets is no mean feat.
It puts him in an elite club, synonymous with being ‘Great’
The question is, whether he deserves to be at the top, even if he surpasses all others.
The simple answer is no.
Currently, the Burnley quick is perched at sixth in the all time ‘most wickets’ rankings, and third in terms of seam bowlers.
In England, Anderson is extremely good. He’s taken 19 of 23 five-wicket-halls at home. He has taken 66% of his wickets at home (329 out of 501).
Away from home, he’s simply not world class.
Anderson has just 34% of his wickets – 171 out of 501 away (including neutral venues).
Even his averages are miles, with 24 at home, and 33 away.
In this respect, he’s not as good as his closest rivals, or those he’s gone past in the ‘Most Wickets’ list. You’d still have a bowler of his class in any England side, home or away. But when comparing greats – there are fine margins.
McGrath’s home-away record is far superior than Anderson’s with 51% of scalps at home, and 49% away (with a better average and haul of five-wickets in an innings away too).
Courtney Walsh took more wickets away from home (290/519) and like McGrath, took more five-fers away.
So many of the bowlers Anderson has surpassed a while ago, including Kapil Dev, Sir Richard Hadlee, Shaun Pollock and others, had a more even home-away records too.
This means they were more adaptable.
They excelled in different conditions, and overcame others’ home advantage better.
Maybe Anderson is a better swing bowler than some of these greats – but as an overall record – he’s not on the same level, apart from statistically.
Anderson is an English great.
He’s probably the greatest English bowler in English conditions ever.
Maybe one of the best swing bowlers ever.
But regardless of where he ends up on the ‘most wickets’ list, he isn’t the greatest seamer ever.