Statistically speaking James Anderson scaled the summit at The Oval when he became Test cricket’s most prolific seam bowler yet he insists he has not been at the top of his own game.
Showered with praise he might have been since surpassing Glenn McGrath’s tally of 563 with the series-sealing wicket last week but the 36-year-old’s own assessment reveals being stung by snubs from Joe Root when India were on top and England needed a wicket.
So, as he turns thoughts to preparing for a first Test assignment without his close friend Alastair Cook by his side in more than 12 years, it is a completely rounded performance rather than a round 600 that occupies them.
James Anderson may have reached the summit of fast bowling, but he’s aiming even higher
Anderson celebrates after taking his 564th Test wicket – more than any other seamer in history
‘I have never been driven by milestones so that will never effect my decision on how long I go on for in my career,’ he said. ‘If I stay in the team it will be because I still get people out. This summer, I wouldn’t say I was outstanding, really.
SRI LANKA TOUR 2018
10 October – First ODI
13 October – Second ODI
17 October – Third ODI
20 October – Fourth ODI
23 October – Final ODI
27 October – T20
6-10 November – First Test
14-18 November – Second Test
23-27 November – Final Test
‘It’s nice to look back knowing I got over 20 wickets in the series, and to get nine wickets in a game, like I did at Lord’s, is something I get a buzz out of because that feels as though you have really contributed to the winning of it.
‘There were spells when I felt like I was bowling as well as I ever had but others not so much. As a perfectionist, I want to try to get those spells where I feel as good as I ever have to outweigh the not-so-good ones. That’s what I am going to keep striving for.
‘I like being the go-to bowler for the captain and there were times during the series when he went for other bowlers because they were bowling better than me at that time. They got the ball ahead of me and that made me realise there is still more to give.
‘Not just settling for a nice spell with the new ball and then coming back and not being as good with an older ball. I want every game to be as good as it possibly can be.’
The challenge in Sri Lanka this autumn will be to adapt to unforgiving conditions for the pacemen of stifling heat and grassless, docile surfaces. England’s form on the road has seen them win just one series in six years while Nasser Hussain’s team of 2000 is the only one to beat the Sri Lankans away.
The fast bowler admits he is disappointed with inconsistency in his game in the India series
|M Muralitharan (ICC/SL)
SK Warne (AUS)
A Kumble (INDIA)
JM Anderson (ENG)
GD McGrath (AUS)
CA Walsh (WI)
N Kapil Dev (INDIA)
SCJ Broad (ENG)
Sir RJ Hadlee (NZ)
HMRKB Herath (SL)
Anderson said: ‘Part of the development of this team, if we want to be successful and get to No 1 in the world as we do, means that we have to win in different conditions away from home. Looking back to when we got to No 1 a few years ago, we dominated at home but we always won the odd series away which really makes a huge difference.
‘This Sri Lanka trip is going to be a real test and they’re not going to make it easy for us. I’ve already been hearing stories of teams that have gone there and been given nets that are green and seaming around. Then, they come to the actual pitch they are playing on and it’s dry as you could imagine and turning from ball one. They really try to get into people’s heads and that’s something we are going to have to cope with.
‘On the last tour there I had a bit of success with the new ball and I know that period is really important. There might not have been swing but at least there was a bit of carry. Judging by their recent series though I am not expecting too much carry this time. Suranga Lakmal, their captain, has not had much bowling in their recent games and that has been when he has been their only seamer.
‘It doesn’t suggest seamers are going to tear it up but it is our job to try to find ways of getting wickets. Whether it’s reverse swing, changes of pace or just being relentless on the top of off-stump and mixing the fields around a little bit.’
Anderson took an impressive 33 wickets at an average of 18 in England’s home Tests this year
What makes Anderson’s 33 wickets at 18 runs apiece in home Tests in 2018 all the more impressive is that he required cortisone injections in his ankle and his troublesome shoulder at the start of the season. He puts it down to the attention to detail he now gives to the management of an ageing body.
‘Certainly in the three years since I have played one-day cricket, I have benefited from that extra bit of time to get the aches and pains out of the body after one series into the build for the one coming up. I know Stuart (Broad) feels the same.
BETTER WITH AGE
138 – Number of wickets Jimmy Anderson has taken in the last three years, nearly a quarter of his record total of 564
‘It makes a massive difference being able to get your body into a condition to cope. Going into this five-match series in six weeks there were lots of questions, even posed by the players in the dressing room, on whether there would be injuries to the bowlers, whether we would need to be rested. The fact us two over 30 we have come through it means we’re happy.
‘For me, it’s about the gap leading up to the series and in that period this summer I worked as hard as I ever have, if not harder, on the things in my body that are problematic — my shoulder was giving me a bit of gip so that needed both massage and gym work. Similarly, I was trying to get my legs as strong as possible.
‘These days I do a lot of old-school road running but the majority of it is sprints on grass.’ Positivity abounds when Anderson talks about the evolution of a team that head into the winter ranked four in Test cricket. Sam Curran, he says, is a special player.
Anderson will miss retired Alastair Cook (left) on a professional and personal level in Sri Lanka
However, England are losing another one of those in Cook, whose 33 hundreds include nine in Asia, where he averages 53.13.
‘His record in the subcontinent is phenomenal,’ said Anderson.
‘It’s one of the best of any Englishmen I would have thought in that region of the world. So he will be a huge miss and very difficult to replace. It was always going to happen at some point and it has probably come sooner than a lot of people might have thought.
‘But eventually the same will happen with me in however long. Someone will be asked to come in and do the job I’ve been doing for a number of years. It’s the nature of sport. Teams change.’
Jimmy Anderson presents BBC Radio 5 Live’s Tailenders podcast with Radio 1 DJ Greg James and musician Felix White.