James Anderson was not among the candidates for the Test captaincy, which went to Joe Root © AFP
The mantle of elder statesman does not yet suit James Anderson; nor does he carry himself like a grizzled seamer. He is, however, a supremely skilful fast-medium bowler and a very shrewd cricketer; someone who, while not immediately thought of as a captain, would nevertheless make a good job of leadership.
So perhaps it comes as something of a surprise to discover that Anderson was not even spoken to after Alastair Cook vacated the England job. That, at any rate, is how it still seems to the player, notwithstanding his absolute loyalty to Cook’s chosen successor, Joe Root.
“I don’t know if I’d have taken the captaincy but it would have been nice to have been considered for it,” he said. “From a personal point of view I’d have seriously thought about it, but from the outside looking in I’d have thought: is this actually where the team needs to go – with a 34-year-old as captain? I don’t know how long I’m going to keep going for and in the grand scheme of things it makes sense for a younger guy to do it. But most of the fast bowling captains I’ve known have been pretty successful and I don’t know why it is that more fast bowlers aren’t given the opportunity to do it. I’m all for bowlers being captains.”
Anderson skippered Lancashire on their recent tour to Dubai and his ability to dismiss virtually every world-class Test batsman against whom he has played is evidence of both great skill and a formidable cricketing intelligence. He is someone who studies how to get batsmen out and then does so. Now, though, the England job is water under the Calder Bridge and he will put his gifts at the service of county and country.
“I enjoyed captaining Lancashire,” he said. “It was only a pre-season tour but it was still nice to lead the lads out and win some games. But it’s not something I’m going to seek out or that’s going to bother me a great deal in the future. I enjoyed it but I see myself as a leader within the group and I don’t think that changes. I still help Steven Croft out when I can and I’ll still help Rooty out if I’m with England. My mindset never changes on the field, I’m always thinking about things that can help the team whether I’m captain or not.
“Joe’s got everything he needs to be a captain. He’s matured a hell of a lot and he’s become a father as well, which will help that process. He’s got a good cricket brain, he’s had a couple of years as a vice-captain and he’s comfortably our best player. People will worry whether his batting suffers but he’s dealt with anything that’s been thrown at him so far and I think he’ll cope with that in the same way. I will buy into whatever Joe wants from the team. If he wants me to change my bowling, I’ll discuss it with him.”
Anderson’s immediate goal is to prove his cricket fitness before Lancashire begin their County Championship programme at Essex next Friday (he only managed three of England’s seven winters Tests after a shoulder injury). This week he will get some overs under his belt and may offer the techniques of the Cambridge MCCU batsmen a rather more severe examination than they were anticipating.
A week before the Division One programme got under way, Anderson looked lithe and fit as he dutifully donned the three kits – white, red and avocado – which his county will be wearing this season and prepared for the scrum of media day at Emirates Old Trafford.
“My sole goal for this season is to be fit as possible and stay on the field,” he insisted. “I’ve had a frustrating 12 to 18 months with injury and I want to play as many games as I can. If I can play all the Test matches this summer then hopefully I hope I won’t be far away.”
One senses that Anderson has a desire to play Tests which is quite the equal of that possessed by Haseeb Hameed, who was six when Anderson made his debut. While he acknowledges his debt to Lancashire and floats the possibility that he might play on for them towards the end of his career, he is still keen to add to his 467 Test wickets and to play under Root.
As for the recent emphasis placed on playing entertaining cricket, Anderson commented drily that he hoped people have got some entertainment out of his 15-year international career before offering some wise thoughts on the development of those who are just finding their way in professional game.
“The biggest battle I see with the younger generation is trying to get them to focus on cricket,” he said. “There are a lot of distractions, whether it’s mobile phones or social media. What I see guys missing is the study of the game, not just how they can improve their cricket but the game’s history and the skills they need, both mentally and on the field. The way the game’s going it could be quite easy for a young cricketer to focus more on the short form. It’s a lot easier, it takes less out of you and it’s a lot easier on the brain. The worry for the longer form is that young guys will take the easier option.”
Adopting the comfortable course is not something of which Anderson can be accused. It looks like that one of the best swing and seam bowlers ever to wear an England shirt will be pulling his tripes out for county and country for a while yet. If he needs to go on a pre-season tour to Dubai, so be it.
“I’ve enjoyed the winter actually and. I’m ready to get going now,” he said. “I’ve got a Lancashire shirt on and I’m thinking about that first Championship game against Essex. I’m not looking much further than that. I’ve done a fair bit of bowling indoors but there’s only so much you can do indoors and there’s not a lot you can do outside in Manchester in mid-March.”
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo