It could be the best £4.50 James Anderson has spent. He has used the last six months working out why his high standards dipped in last summer’s Ashes and decided it is time at the age of 41 to rework his run-up.
To help with this, Anderson has used a public running track next to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, paying his fee at the door to do so like other runners, before working through speed drills that he thinks will help with his approach to the crease.
Anderson took five wickets in four Tests and averaged 85 against Australia, rarely looking threatening. A combination of injury at the start of the series timed with some unhelpful surfaces (“Kryptonite” he called them in his Telegraph Sport column) got him off to a slow start and he never really recovered. With Stuart Broad exiting the big stage in grand style, it naturally led to many thinking Anderson should do the same but he was determined to carry on, believing it was a one-off blip.
‘I don’t think I bowled poorly in the Ashes, but I wasn’t threatening’
He has not played competitively since the Oval Ashes Test and did not pick up the ball again until October. Now he is back refreshed and ready to go to India for five Tests where conditions will be even harder for seamers than anything they faced in the Ashes when the series starts in Hyderabad on January 25. To help himself, Anderson has decided that after 183 Tests, 690 wickets and over 20 years in international cricket, he needs to reshape that most fundamental aspect of a bowler’s technique: the run-up. The rest of us might not notice a discernible change, but to him it feels different.
“I’ve tried to look at the Ashes honestly. I don’t think I bowled poorly, but at the same time I didn’t feel threatening either,” he tells Telegraph Sport. “The ball didn’t swing. The pitches were not particularly suitable to me but taking wickets when conditions are not in my favour is something I have prided myself on in the past. India is a place where conditions will not be in favour of the seamers but I’ve been there before and had success, so I’m just trying to marry all that up and make sure I’m in a really good place.
“My run-up is the main thing, just trying to make sure it is better. One thing that was not right was my run-up speed. I can’t rely on that fast twitch snap at the crease that I’ve had over the years so I’ve been working on my momentum in my run-up to get speed that way. That feels like it is working really well, the ball is coming out really well and I just need to transfer that outdoors now.
“Something that has worked well for me is mixing up training, making sure it is not doing the same thing over and over. Things like working on running technique and speed I have to do a bit more than most people now getting to the age I am at. I have to cover every base to make sure when I get to India I am in a good place.”
‘I don’t see why I should finish just because of my age’
Broad’s absence will not be hugely felt by Anderson, because retirement was a gradual phasing out. Broad did not go to Pakistan last winter and both were rotated in recent years. It did, however, put Anderson’s future in the spotlight, and he was a little nervous over whether he would be given another central contract. A one-year deal was offered and accepted.
“Sounds brutal but you just have to move on,” he says of Broad. “No thought has crossed my mind about finishing. I’m getting a lot of people coming up to me saying congrats on a great career but I keep having to explain that was Stuart, not me.
“I still feel like I’ve got a lot to offer this team. I would not still be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t feel like that. I still feel like I have got the skills to win England games of cricket so as long as I feel like that, I don’t see why I should finish just because of my age. The training I have done this winter, I feel like age is just a number. Cricket is a game of numbers and people will always look at my age when it comes up on the screen when I come on to bowl but for me it is irrelevant. It is how you feel as a cricketer and I know I can still dive around in the field and put a shift in with the ball just like I have done for the last 20 years.
“I feel the last 5-6 years have been the best of my career. Although the Ashes did not go as well as I wanted it to, there have been many series when I have not bowled well throughout my career and it is just a case of putting in the hard work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
‘We might even open with two spinners in India’
India’s pitches will challenge the Bazballers. Taking 20 wickets has been one of the main drivers of the Ben Stokes era, his field settings and innovative tactics will be put to the test if pitches are flat. If there is prodigious spin that may well help England, who will see it is a leveller for their spinners. The four seamers in the squad – Anderson, Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson and Gus Atkinson – will be rotated.
Wood and Atkinson provide shock pace, Robinson and Anderson the reverse swing skills that could be crucial. It feels as if they could be a seamer light in the squad, with Stokes unable to bowl and three of the four either knocking on in age or injury-prone. The other, Atkinson, is an unknown quantity. There is no specialist seam bowling coach on this tour, and Brendon McCullum has often said why does the team need one when they have Anderson in the dressing room to pass on his experience?
“That has been my role over the recent past anyway is stepping into that mentoring role as a senior figure. I have a duty to pass on information to people. We have bowlers who have not bowled in India before, so it will be a different challenge for them. We have to help where we can.
“There are only four seamers going so we will not be expecting to bowl a huge amount of seam. It is just a slightly different role. You might not bowl the overs you do in England but they are still important. It probably puts more importance on spells you do bowl. These are the things we will pass on to the guys. Reverse swing will play a big part. There might be occasions where we don’t open with a seamer. We might open with two spinners. Your role changes a huge amount then, you come on third or fourth change with set batsmen in. That is the challenge of playing in India.”
Anderson’s record in India is good: 39 wickets at 29. He bowled a superb spell of reverse swing to help win the first Test on the last tour but became redundant on the spinning pitches India then prepared. This will be a tough tour, seven weeks in India playing at some of the less fashionable venues and little preparation, with England choosing a week in Abu Dhabi over warm-ups against local opposition. A modern trend that will not change.
“I’m more excited going into this tour than previous tours to India. In the past it has been a real slog and we have tried to grind it out,” he says. “We will look to play the same way of the last two years but be smart about it. Something we have tried to progress is playing that aggressive style but learning what works in different conditions. Nobody had us down to win 3-0 in Pakistan and we can take huge confidence from that. Conditions could be similar, not identical, but slow wickets for seamers and we have to be smart.”