JOHANNESBURG: Eight wickets in the third Test, which starts tomorrow (Thursday), would take James Anderson into sixth place in the all?time list of wicket-takers. It is perhaps where he will stay, but it will still be a most eminent position. When Anderson takes his 435th Test wicket to reach sixth place, only Courtney Walsh (519) and Glenn McGrath (563) will be above him of those who have bowled pace. The spinners Muttiah Muralitharan, top of the list with 800 wickets, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble, are the leading three.
The Wanderers pitch looks like suiting Anderson, provided he pitches the new ball up, as it is -currently well covered in grass. South Africa do not have a great record at this ground, though it is something of a spiritual home, -because visiting seam-and-swing bowlers can get as much out of it, or more, as their bang-it-in brigade. South Africa are only 14-10 up here, and 10-8 since readmission.
Although Anderson has taken only one wicket so far - he should have had another in Cape Town when Joe Root launched England's fit of dropping by missing AB de -Villiers - England's No?1 bowler is still likely to finish this series with more wickets than South Africa's No?1, as Dale Steyn is stuck permanently on four. Anderson v Steyn, as the -billing for this series, has been as misleading as an estate agent's ad.
So much moisture is hanging around the Wanderers, now that the midsummer storms have -arrived, that new balls are bound to dart around - provided, again, they are pitched up. A fast-scoring but not high-scoring game is in -prospect.
Anderson and Stuart Broad have served England so faithfully for so long that it seems harsh to criticise a pair sharing more than 700 Test wickets. But at Cape Town they -relapsed into their bad habit of -opting for back-of-a-length and economy, instead of full length and penetration; Alastair Cook did not crack the whip as he should have; a pitch with plenty in it was never maximised, except when England took the third new ball; and thus South Africa got off the hook on which England had them wriggling after going 1-0 up in Durban and scoring 629 for six.
So even the finest cricketers can make a fundamental error, but they do not make it twice, as Anderson seemed to concede: "There will be more swing here because of the conditions, the atmosphere and hopefully there will be a bit more in the pitch as well. The important thing is to think about the swing and the lengths we're going to bowl. We know we might get a bit more carry and bounce, so we need to bowl a fuller length even with that bounce."
Cape Town was one of -Anderson's tougher Tests. In the warm?ups he had a grand total of five overs, -before his right calf strain kept him out of the first Test in Durban. Then he had 211 overs in the field in Cape Town, out of which he bowled 35. "It wasn't ideal after being injured and coming back and bowling 35 overs, but a good test of fitness and I feel good, considering," he said.
There is only one problem: in statistical terms, the Wanderers is -Anderson's least successful ground of those on which he has played more than one Test. His combined figures are 64?6-260-2.
There is no reason though why he should not break that trend. In 2004-05 he was thrown in without match-practice and rhythm; in 2009-10 he had no runs to play with as England were bombed out by Steyn and Morne Morkel, not -lasting 50 overs in either innings. England won in 2004-05 -because Matthew Hoggard swung the ball and took 12 wickets.
"There are grounds you favour more than others, but it has been six years since we played here so it is nothing that is going to affect what happens," Anderson said.
"What happens upstairs [in the head] is about what went on in the last game and how the body is -feeling, what sort of form you're in and how the ball is coming out of the hand, and at the minute it feels really good."