England great James Anderson turned 40 on Saturday, an age where many pacemen of previous eras would have long since retired.
But the ‘king of swing’ shows no sign of stopping, with Anderson in line still to be leading England’s attack during next month’s three-Test series at home to South Africa.
The sheer physical strain of fast bowling meant it was once considered all but unthinkable for a Test ‘quick’ to go much beyond their mid-30s.
Yet Anderson, who has already played 172 Tests and taken 657 wickets — the third-highest individual tally with only two spinners in the late Shane Warne and the long-retired Muttiah Muralitharan ahead of him — appears to be getting better with age.
He has taken 389 wickets from 101 Tests since turning 30 and is in line to become the first to 400 after that age.
Even more significantly, Anderson’s bowling average and strike-rate are improving the older he gets.
Research compiled by the ESPNCricinfo website, shows that in the years aged 25 to 29, Anderson averaged 28.47 runs per Test wicket; between 30 and 34, it improved to 25.45; since turning 35, his average is a superb 21.39.
In recent times, the only other outright paceman who has come closest to matching such longevity is West Indies’ Courtney Walsh, a genuine quick compared to Anderson’s effective fast-medium pace.
Walsh’s 132-Test career yielded 519 wickets and he was 38, when having also bowled countless overs for Jamaica and Gloucestershire, he retired in 2001.
He holds the record for the most Test wickets taken by a fast bowler over the age of 35, with 180 from 39 matches.
But Walsh’s mark appears destined to fall to Anderson, who currently has a corresponding 177 from 47.
Several quicks have played Test cricket aged 40 and above, although the last time that happened was when Derbyshire’s Les Jackson made the second of his two England appearances back in 1961.
The list of greying Test quicks is dominated by Englishmen with George Geary and the great Maurice Tate both playing Test cricket until they were 40 while Gubby Allen played the last of his 25 Tests – spread over 18 years – against the West Indies in 1948 at the ripe old age of 46.
Australian all-rounder George Kelleway played his last Test in 1928 at the age of 42, West Indian Hines Johnson was 41 when he hung up his boots after just three appearances while South African Geoff Chubb retired in 1951 at the age of 40 — just two months after making his debut.
‘Banksy to Rembrandt’
Former Lancashire and England opener turned coach David Lloyd has observed Anderson since the Burnley-born bowler’s early days with the Red Rose County.
“Jimmy started off as Banksy doing graffiti but now he’s a Rembrandt,” Lloyd wrote in his Daily Mail column.
“I guess we are always looking to see if, turning the grand old age of 40, his pace is down or whether he can still come back strong for third and fourth spells.
“The answers are the pace is still absolutely quick enough and, yes, he can come back just as strong.”
Lloyd made his way in cricket in a Lancashire team featuring another outstanding England new-ball bowler in Brian Statham.
Statham took 252 wickets in 70 Tests at a superb average of 24.84 and was renowned for his remorseless accuracy.
But his entire first-class career, which ended in 1968 when Statham was 38, of 559 matches yielded 2,260 wickets.
Anderson, by contrast, has played in just 277 first-class matches, taking 1,077 wickets.
The difference in the two sets of figures reflects the reduction in the number of domestic first-class fixtures in the intervening decades, as well as the increase in the number of Test nations.
Meanwhile, the advent of England central contracts, means Anderson has not had to bowl hundreds of overs for Lancashire alongside his international commitments.
And just as Statham benefitted from bowling alongside Fred Trueman for England, so too has Anderson formed a highly-productive double act at Test level with Stuart Broad, a stripling at 36, who has taken 552 wickets at the other end.
Controversially they were both left out of the West Indies tour in March but with ben Stokes now at the helm, they are back in the side and ready for the challenge of the Proteas.