James Anderson is officially the greatest Test wicket-taker in fast-bowling history.
James Anderson is officially the greatest Test wicket-taker in fast-bowling history.

James Anderson: McGrath was better than me

I'LL tell you something about Glenn McGrath - he was a much better bowler than me.

This is not false modesty.

I may have gone past his wicket tally but I honestly believe McGrath's bounce, relentless accuracy, aggression and ability to move the ball made him superior. He had everything.

And it is not a random, top-of-the-head assessment, either. I've been studying all of the great fast bowlers since I was about eight years old.

I also loved McGrath's attitude. He had plenty of a snarl on the field - a bit like me, I suppose - and was super-competitive.

He hated giving away runs or not taking wickets.

Glenn McGrath celebrates after taking another wicket.
Glenn McGrath celebrates after taking another wicket.

We've shared a beer a few times and he's a cracking fellow. I listened to the way he prepared for games and it really helped me.

I heard him say once that he practised for when the ball didn't swing. So if it did swing, it was a bonus. That philosophy has been a big part of my development.

You so often see bowlers pick out a lovely new ball from the bag at nets and it looks great when it swings in the air and nips off the seam with batsmen playing and missing.

But you have to simulate match situations.

What about when the ball is 60 overs old, the sun is blazing down, the pitch is flat and there's not a hint of movement?

So, at practice, I often take an old ball that looks like it's been chewed by a dog and work on variations and aiming for the top of off stump. That's the quickest way to improve your skills.

I've spent most of my life watching fast bowlers - initially as a kid on TV and later in the flesh when I started playing top-level cricket.

Even now, on a day off, I'll sit at home with the cricket on TV analysing the quick boys and trying to learn.

How are they gripping the ball? What are they thinking? Why did they bowl a bouncer or yorker or slower ball?

I don't think I'll ever stop being fascinated.

Of the modern era, I'd happily tip my hat towards Dale Steyn. With his express pace, control and swing, he's better than me, too.

McGrath reckons I can go past 600 Test wickets - I'm on 564 - and I don't see why that is not possible because I feel fit, enthusiastic and surprisingly fresh for a 36-year-old after five Tests in little more than six weeks.

However, I remember McGrath saying he went into the 2006-07 Ashes in Australia with no plans to retire, but by the end of that series he knew his time was up.

Alastair Cook, Joe Root (partly obscured), James Anderson and Jonny Bairstow enjoy the moment after England's win over India in the fifth Test match this week. Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Alastair Cook, Joe Root (partly obscured), James Anderson and Jonny Bairstow enjoy the moment after England's win over India in the fifth Test match this week. Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Maybe it could happen to me just as suddenly but, right now, I have no plans to follow Alastair Cook into retirement.

Overtaking McGrath was very much secondary in my thoughts behind making sure Cooky finished with a win.

The time to think about personal achievement is at the end of your career. And I play best when I'm focusing on the next match, the next series.

When Cooky reached that century at The Oval, it was just brilliant. We lost count of the number of standing ovations.

He deserved every one of them because he's been a magnificent cricketer and is a great bloke.

I'm extremely fortunate to have him as a mate.

He's so down-to-earth - he's not on social media, tries to keep a low profile and loves his time on the farm with his family and those lambs.

Cooky is someone I look up to for his work ethic and the way he conducts himself.

I stayed at his house before the Test match. On tour, you spend a lot of time together but it's rarely one-on-one, so it was great to play golf with Cooky, reminisce and generally chew the fat.

I'll miss him as a friend and a shoulder to cry on.

Talking of crying, I became a bit emotional when Ian Ward of Sky Sports interviewed me a few moments after taking that final wicket. It was talking about Cooky that set me off.

Test cricket takes it out of you physically and mentally. The series against India was brutal in terms of ups and downs and I guess all that emotion came pouring out.

There have been some mutterings about Stuart Broad and me being rested for the Test tour of Sri Lanka later this year. I'd be flabbergasted if that happens.

We don't play white-ball cricket so have plenty of time to recover from these five Tests and prepare for Sri Lanka. The Test players don't fly out until late October.

Then we have more than six weeks at home until departing for West Indies in the middle of January for three Tests.

Again, plenty of time to recover and, because the England team is so rarely at home in the build-up to Christmas, we are planning a family trip to Lapland.

This article originally appeared in The Sun

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