TIM BRESNAN believes England star James Anderson is still improving as he closes in on the magic milestone of 400 Test wickets.
Anderson needs three wickets to become the first Englishman to reach the mark and only the 12th in the game’s history.
The Lancashire pace bowler passed Sir Ian Botham’s English record of 383 Test wickets during the recent series in the West Indies. Now Anderson goes into the two-Test series against New Zealand, starting at Lord’s on Thursday, on the brink of creating more history.
And if Anderson fails to claim his 400th wicket at headquarters, he could yet do it at Headingley, where the second Test begins on May 29.
Bresnan, the Yorkshire pace bowler who played alongside Anderson in 20 of his 23 Tests, feels his former team-mate is still getting better.
“He seems to be going from strength to strength,” said Bresnan.
“To be able to back it up Test after Test, pretty much through back-to-back Tests and on the flat wickets of the West Indies recently, is amazing, quite frankly.
“He’s just a phenomenon, to be fair. He’s the best seamer I’ve played with by a long way and I’ve loved every minute of playing alongside him – even though he is a Lancastrian.”
Anderson, 32, shows no sign of fading away as he continues to spearhead the England attack.
He near single-handedly won the second Test match against West Indies in Grenada with an inspired performance on the final day, and he captured 17 wickets in the series at an average of 18 – six more wickets than any other player on either side.
Anderson’s stamina – allied to his complete mastery of swing bowling – has led such as Botham to predict that he could go on to take upwards of 450 Test wickets.
That would seem a likelihood rather than a possibility, and what particularly impresses Bresnan is Anderson’s ability to thrive in all conditions.
“Not only does he do it when the conditions are in his favour, but he’s done it everywhere in the world,” said Bresnan.
“He’s got a lot of wickets in India and Sri Lanka, and what he’s just achieved in the Caribbean is testament to his skill level and ability to get wickets on everything.
“He’s always asking questions of the batsmen, and he swings it both ways at 90mph when he wants to.
“He knows how to rein it in when he has to as well, he’s got a slippy bouncer, and he’s got all the attributes you need.”
Bresnan believes England must take credit for the way they have handled Anderson in recent times. He is still very much their “go-to” bowler – Anderson also bowled more overs in the West Indies series than any other player – 119.2.
But England have increasingly tried to manage him carefully.
“They’ve looked after him over the last five years in particular, which has helped him, and they know the right way to go with Jimmy,” said Bresnan.
“At the end of the day, you’re only going to get so many miles out of him.
“But his ability to keep going is incredible and a tribute to his fitness and skill.
“On top of that, he seems to save his best for when it matters most and he’s just an amazing performer.”
England captain Alastair Cook is another firm admirer and believes Anderson should be “cherished” rather than “taken for granted”.
Anderson goes into a key summer boasting an average of 29.22 from 102 Test matches and Cook believes England’s supporters should enjoy him while they can.
“We should cherish every moment he bowls for England,” said Cook.
“He is coming to the latter parts of his career and those skills he’s learned over time, the experience he has, they are invaluable for England.
“We’ve got to make sure we continue to look after him.
“Sometimes we take Jimmy for granted.
“We kind of expect him to be able to swing it both ways and reverse it and never miss his length.
“That doesn’t always happen, but he’s pretty close time and time again.
“He hasn’t bowled too badly for a long period of time.
“I’m very lucky to have played with Jimmy and to still be playing with him.”
Anderson had a slow start to his international career before coming of age and becoming one of the greatest bowlers in England’s history.
Along with Cook and Bresnan, he was involved in one of the most successful eras in English cricket.
“All the young bowlers should be looking at Jimmy and see how he’s gone about it, how his game has evolved,” said Cook. “He can bowl on any wicket.
“You wouldn’t have said that 10 years ago, but he’s learned the skill and mastered it.”