Soon after his retirement, Fred Trueman was asked who he thought might break his test wicket record of 307. "I haven't got a bloody clue'' he is alleged to have replied (and actually continued to prove in any number of subsequent TMS radio stints) "but whoever it is will be bloody tired!" For reference, it was Lance Gibbs, who bowled about a million overs to do it - admittedly off of about three languid paces.
I'm not sure if anyone's asked the current record holder - but I'd suspect that his response would be similar - if slightly less bluff.
Of those still active, Pollock and Kumble are closest, but you can't see either of them getting close - especially given that HWAMNBQ has vowed to press on to even greater heights. Beyond that, it's something of a lottery, In all honesty, there are no outstanding bowlers who make you think 'Wow, he's going to pick up a stack of wickets'. Good bowlers, yes - but no one really outstanding.
Having said that, I don't agree with some commentators who have effectively written off the possiblity of anyone ever getting to the record.
Don't get me wrong, it's not going to be a cinch - but the number of tests played these days means that it's surely not that much of a stretch. England, like most teams, average 13-15 tests in an average calendar year. Averaging five wickets per test, 150 tests is a 10 year career - an incredible achievement sure, but not totally far-fetched. Not as far fetched as, say, someone averaging more than 99.94 in their test career.
Shane Warne's career lasted fourteen years, so has Murali's. If you start when you're 20/21, to still be wheeling away when you're 35 isn't beyond the realms of possibility.
However, the bowler would have to be something slightly out of the ordinary. He'd have to have a pretty good USP to use some Marketing-speak.
Quick bowling and limitless stamina will get you so far - Walsh and Ambrose each got over 450 wickets. Metronomic accuracy and consistency will get you rewards too - 500 or so of them given sufficient fitness - vis. Kumble, McGrath and (eventually) Pollock. But it takes something exceptional to take you into the stratosphere. Warne turned leg spin into an artform by effectively approaching it with a quick bowlers attitude, huge turn, mixed with miserly control of line and length normally associated with finger spinners. As for Murali - well we all have a different ideas of what his USP is...
So what sort of bowler will it be? Here's a chance for the famous TRSM crystal ball to enjoy an airing. Admittedly it's the same crystal ball that predicted England getting a draw in last winter's Ashes series and that Roy Keane wouldn't last a month in charge at Sunderland but, hey, no one's infallible.
- It'll have to be a spinner. Unless genetic engineering makes massive advances, there's no way a fast bowler will last long enough to reach 800 plus wickets.
- Most likely from the sub continent, possibly Australia.
- They'll have to be a superb athlete.
- They'll have to be seen as a bowler only - nowhere near an all-rounder. It's to Warne's huge credit that he actually became a pretty useful No. 8 over the course of his career - at one stage in Summer 2005 he was carrying the Australian's bowling AND batting!!
- He'll have to drop out of ODI cricket fairly early.
Maybe, then, a tall leg spinner, bowling leg breaks with uncommon accuracy - capable of varying pace, to the point of being able to deliver fast leg cutters - possibly a version of Kumble with about half the number of ODI appearances.
Never say never.