Greg James pays tribute to James Anderson following 600th Test wicket – BBC Sport

James Anderson & Greg James at Wimbledon in 2015
James Anderson & Greg James at Wimbledon in 2015

BBC Sport has asked me to write about Jimmy Anderson ‘the person’.

He’ll absolutely hate this. He doesn’t like a fuss and he’s absolutely not one of those people that pretends to hate a fuss but actually loves nothing more than a big fat fuss. He genuinely hates it.

But that’s all the more reason to write about him.

As he clocks up 600 Test wickets (more than ANY OTHER fast bowler EVER, by the way), there will be many pieces written about his achievements.

They’ll talk about how fierce a competitor he is, how dedicated he is to his craft, how much he adores bowling and how he’s managed to stay fit and actually improve as he’s got older.

However, I don’t know how many pieces will be written about what a brilliant bloke he is, so I’m going to give that a go.

Jimmy Anderson should be a monster: a proper full-blown, hideous, narcissistic monster. But he just isn’t.

He can be famously grumpy, sure – hilariously so at times. In fact during the lockdown recordings of our Tailenders podcast, we’ve started a new game of ‘is Jimmy frozen or annoyed?’ when we can’t decide whether he hates the stuff we’re talking about or his connection’s gone down.

The interesting thing you learn when you get to know him is that the man can be incredibly shy. It feels like a strange thing to get your head around if the only side of Jimmy you see is the one that ferociously bounds in and nicks off the world’s great opening batsmen for fun.

He’s tentative with people he doesn’t know but if he trusts you, you get to see the other side of him: a man who is unbelievably funny, kind and extremely generous.

I’ve been lucky enough to become really close mates with him, but boy does he make you work for it. He tests you out like an opening batsman.

It was a chance encounter back in 2012 when he and Graeme Swann wanted someone to do a cricket show with them on BBC Radio 5 Live.

They knew I was a massive cricket and radio nerd and we were thrown together in a studio in Salford. After a short existential crisis from me as I came face to face with two of my cricketing heroes, we created ‘Not Just Cricket’.

I did just enough to see off the new ball and earn his respect and I loved those early shows. They formed the blueprint for what would later become ‘Tailenders’ and it’s something I’m immensely proud of.

And off the back of it, I made two great new pals (who I was and still am in awe of).

James Anderson and Greg James
A road trip we did to the Belgian Grand Prix

Over the past few years, it’s become clear Jimmy has slowly fallen in love with radio and he is now almost as fascinated with my job as I am with his, which is bizarre to me.

That’s how it is for everyone that Jimmy encounters – he’s interested in people.

He is obsessed with Felix White’s stories of touring the world in a band, he genuinely cares about every email we get sent on Tailenders, he loves responding to people’s technical questions about shredders on Twitter (we found out he’s an expert on these during one memorable episode) and loves spending time with the young fans who queue up to ask him about swing bowling after our live shows.

He also recently suggested to me and Felix we start a charitable foundation together, and just a couple of weeks later, The Go Well Fund was born. It has dished out tens of thousands of pounds to several charities since the pandemic started.

He’s grateful for the career he has, and enjoys making sure he uses his status and position for good.

I wanted to share a quick story that hasn’t been told before – partly because Jimmy doesn’t court social media attention or press coverage. The following sentence is ridiculous.

In 2013, on the day before the final Ashes Test at The Oval, Jimmy agreed to come to my old cricket club in Bishop’s Stortford to open the new pavilion that my dad had headed up the fundraising for.

I picked him up from the team hotel at Tower Bridge, drove him down the M11 and parked up at my childhood cricket club. You can probably imagine the excitement of everyone in attendance.

In fact, there was a weird silence when we arrived, as if people couldn’t quite believe what was happening. He spoke to absolutely everyone, fielded technical questions from the juniors, had photos with some of the oldies who badly disguised how excited they were and then he cut the ribbon.

We had a quick burger before getting back on the M11 and I dropped him off at his hotel. He then promptly got David Warner and Michael Clarke out the next morning. Ludicrous.

He did it just because it was a nice thing to do to meet some young cricketers, help out a mate and get a free burger. He loves burgers.

I’ll wrap up now because this was only supposed to be a short piece, but how can you sum Jimmy Anderson up in 500 words? You simply can’t, but I hope he appreciates the effort nonetheless.

Actually, he probably won’t even read this so who cares? In any case, long live Jimmy Anderson: a great man, a great cricketer and a great friend.

Oh, but a terrible drunk. The only thing he’s not getting better at with age!

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