James Anderson castled Kraigg Brathwaite
© Associated Press

The top 20

The balls of the century, No. 14: James Anderson to Kraigg Braithwaite

Wicked, diabolical, genuine inswing

Osman Samiuddin  |  

West Indies v England, Grenada, 2015

The conventional inswinger needs a bit of selling in the modern game. Unless it is in the hands of an LAF - in which case it's treated with the same combination of reverence and lust seen in the anticipation of a new iPhone model. Most right-armers seem to regard it like the little-lamented ESPN smartphone. Most of them wait till the ball is in some kind of shape for reverse to bowl balls that curve in.

The modern fast-bowling age, in fact, is a stream of outstanding bowlers who seam the ball rather than swing it, or if they do, then the default is shapely, curvy outswing. It's not a complaint, it's a fact of life. The hierarchy of cricket aesthetics defines the magic ball as that which lands middle, maybe even middle-leg, and swings away to take off.

And though a left-armer who can bring the ball in to a right-hander is gold, if he can swing it in from over the wicket and jag it away that's the one that cements the legend (and, relatedly, legspin's always been seen as sexier than offspin). Inward movement for the most part is precisely that: movement, not swing, off the surface, or with the angle in.

The big, booming inswing of the kind Imran Khan and Allan Donald used so effectively as default, or the subtler cunning of Malcolm Marshall, is rare. Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah are notable exceptions, but if there is a master of it, it is, ironically, one of the two poster boys of magic outswing: Jimmy Anderson (Dale Steyn is the other).

It's not too outlandish to say this list of 20 great balls could have been a hotly contested one composed entirely of Anderson deliveries. But a bit like Glenn McGrath and Steyn, the ubiquity and endurance of his genius probably works against him. He's bowled so many jaffas, it's difficult to pick one, and if you're picking just one, why not 20?

His very first Test wicket, hitting the top of Mark Vermuelen's off, was tidy; his 100th, a late (conventional) inswinger to Jacques Kallis; his 501st Test wicket, of Kieran Powell, was a mirror of Wasim Akram's moment with Allan Lamb, though possibly even more unplayable; this could go on.

This wicket of Kraigg Brathwaite is a snaking bit of genius. Anderson's bowled an outswinger at Brathwaite every ball of the previous over, the first of the Test match. Anderson is, by default, an outswing bowler and with such control that there are times when he has appeared to be controlling the swing by degrees. But he does have a big inswinger. Everyone knows he has a big inswinger.

Brathwaite knows, but here knowledge doesn't translate to power. Because it's Anderson, Brathwaite also knows that he can bore him out - outswinger after outswinger after outswinger, chiselling away like a sculptor - or he can do him with one magic ball. A thousand cuts or the bullet to the head, which will it be?

It begins wide, as wide as the off stump of another set of stumps, and mid-flight appears to go round the outside of an invisible obstacle, a lazy slither around it. Anderson's inswingers are well disguised and neither from the wrist nor the cant of the seam is the intent obvious. The reveal comes now, and as if remembering where the actual stumps are, the ball appears to gather speed through the air and hurtles into Brathwaite's front pad.

Because it does it late and so upends Brathwaite's balance, if you saw it without knowing where we were in the Test, it might even feel like reverse, especially as it clatters into the stumps. It's not: it's the real deal.

The balls of the century

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo