April 24, 2012

'We can be one of the greatest England teams ever'

James Anderson talks about playing for the world's No. 1 side, and looks back at how he made his way in the game

Who were your cricketing heroes growing up?
I'm not sure I had any heroes. I loved to watch fast bowlers, though. I admired Allan Donald and Darren Gough very much. And I used to watch Glen Chapple and Peter Martin in county cricket. I went to Lord's to watch them in a final in the mid-90s. Then, a couple of years later, I was sharing a dressing room with them.

Were you always going to be a cricketer?
No. I never stood out as a young cricketer. I batted and bowled, but I didn't do either particularly well. But then, when I was about 15, I grew very quickly. I went from being one of the shortest in my year at school to being one of the tallest. Suddenly I could bowl much quicker and I started playing for the Burnley first team. Then a mate's mum mentioned to a coach at Lancashire that I was worth a look and I was soon playing for the Lancashire Under-17s. I would have gone to university had I not played for England - Lancashire offered to support me through university, which was good of them - but I don't know what I would have studied or what I would have gone on to do. I've been very lucky.

You were drafted into the England team very quickly. Were you ready for international cricket?
No, I don't think I was ready. The whole period was surreal. Everything happened so fast. My first full season was in 2002, and on the strength of that I was called into the England academy in Australia. That was a huge thing for me: it was the first time I had been away from home for any length of time - it was about three months - and I was just making new friends within that group when I was suddenly called up to join the full England squad.

It was extraordinary. I didn't think I would play - I was only there as cover - and then, when I did, I didn't know how long it would last, so I just decided to enjoy every moment of it. I was thrown in and I picked up any lessons I could. I think I benefited from the experience and I enjoyed it, but things like that are less likely to happen now, and that has to be a good thing.

The gap between county cricket and the international game has narrowed. The introduction of Lions games and performance squads has been one of the biggest improvements in English cricket in recent years. It means that when someone comes into the England team now, they know the people involved and they know what is expected of them.

The ECB look after the workload of young bowlers much better now, too. You might get the odd case - like Chris Woakes at Warwickshire - where a young guy is bowled into the ground, year in, year out, but generally the workloads are managed.

Your story is used as an example of both county cricket working and as an example of the benefits of taking players out of county cricket. How do you see it?
County cricket is crucial. I didn't play a huge amount of it before starting my international career and I've not played a huge amount since, but the standard is exceptionally high and it is an ideal place for young players to sharpen and showcase their skills. It has always attracted quality overseas players, too. Even since the start of the IPL there have been some great overseas players involved, who have lifted the standard of county cricket.

You had a long period carrying the drinks with England. Was that helpful in that it gave you time to work on your game? Or was it just frustrating?
It certainly wasn't helpful. Honestly, it would be difficult to describe how bad a job that is. It can be hugely frustrating. Dispiriting, even.

"I'm the type that will have to be dragged off kicking and screaming when it's time to finish"

Look, it's always great to be involved with England and it's always great if you're asked to go away on a tour. And there are times when you can learn and pick things up. There's another good thing, too. We've all been there. Even Straussy has done the 12th man shift for a while, so we all know what it's like. So anyone doing it now is treated with the respect they deserve. In the past that wasn't the case, but we've all been through it and we all know what it's like. It's one of the reasons we have such a good spirit within the squad.

You changed your bowling action for a while. What was that about?
Good question. I was told I had to change my action or I'd have problems with stress fractures. So I changed my action and I lost some pace, I stopped swinging the ball, and then I got a stress fracture.

There was a period when I was just running in thinking about my action. I wasn't thinking about where to bowl - which is all you should be thinking about as a bowler - I was thinking about what to do with my front arm and what I should be doing with my legs. I still see pictures of me bowling - I mean from around 2004 - and they bring back loads of bad memories. My action doesn't look natural and I can remember what it felt like at the time. It was all very frustrating.

In the end I went back to the action that I had. My body was used to it and it worked for me. Again, I think we've all learned from that. Obviously if a guy looks as if he is going to snap, then the coaches are right to step in and change things. The way I was coached wasn't very effective, but coaches have learned that everyone is different and they just tinker with things now.

When did you incorporate the inswinger into your game?
It was after my stress fracture. So from about 2006 I started to work on it. It was once I went back to my old action and felt comfortable with it again. It took about two years. I worked with all the bowling coaches. I've taken bits and pieces from all of them. And I've played with some great players and taken bits from them, too. Darren Gough had a great inswinger, so I talked to him about it.

When did you feel you had made it at the top level?
I always had the belief. I had that taste of international cricket very early and it showed I had the skills, on my day, to do pretty well. But maybe I didn't have the confidence to deliver those skills as often as I would have liked.

The key moment for me probably came when Peter Moores was in charge. It was 2008. He dropped Hoggard and Harmison and picked me and Broady and told me he wanted me to lead the attack. That was huge for me: it gave me huge belief and I don't feel I've looked back.

I suppose it has only been in the last couple of years that I've had the results to show for it. I was performing pretty well in England, but there were still questions about how I would do abroad, and in particular in the subcontinent.

Do you feel you have unfinished business in limited-overs cricket?
I want to carry on, if that's what you mean. I love one-day cricket. I know I didn't bowl as well as I could have done in the World Cup - I didn't bowl anywhere near as well as I could have done - but I think my form has improved quite a lot in the last six to nine months. It went well in the UAE.

I'd like to get back in the T20 side too. It's a really exciting format and we've a really exciting team. I've only played one T20 game in the last two years, so I'm looking forward to playing a bit more.

What went wrong at the World Cup?
I'm not sure. The whole team was under par, really, and we had a couple of really disappointing performances against Ireland and Bangladesh. Maybe it had just been too long a winter. We were away for five and a half months and when we first went away in October, all our thoughts and energy were on the Ashes. Then we had a seven-match ODI series and we went into a World Cup, which we hadn't really even had a chance to discuss. Maybe we were just a bit fatigued.

Do you still feel a part of things at Lancashire? Can you see yourself playing for them more in the future?
I'd love to play more for Lancashire. In an ideal world, when I finish playing international cricket, I'll spend a couple of seasons playing county cricket. Lancashire have given me incredible support over the years - they always welcome me back - and I want to repay that. I want to play until I'm 40 - I don't suppose that will be possible with all the demands there are on us these days - but I can't imagine not playing. I'm the type that will have to be dragged off kicking and screaming when it's time to finish.

Do you know what you're going to do after cricket?
Not at the moment, no but I'm starting to think about it. I'm presenting a few radio shows on 5Live with Swanny this year, called Not Just Cricket. We did a test show at Christmas, which went down really well, so that might be something I want to learn more about.

The next couple of years - with series against South Africa and India, and Ashes series home and away - will define the legacy of this England team, won't they?
Yes, that's how I see it. Once we became the No. 1-rated Test team we talked about our legacy. We want to be one of the greatest England teams there has ever been, and we honestly feel we have the potential in the dressing room to achieve that. I agree: the next couple of years will define us. But don't underestimate the West Indies, either. They are pushing a strong Australian side at the moment; they're a decent team. South Africa are very strong - I see them as the strongest side we've played against since the Ashes. And then there's India. Look, we slipped up over the winter, there's no hiding from that. So there are bound to be questions about how we can play in the subcontinent. We still have a lot to prove, but we showed signs of improvement towards the back end of the Sri Lanka tour. I think Jonathan Trott's century at Galle gave the rest of the batsmen confidence to play in those conditions. Winning in India would be massive for us.

Vitabiotics Wellman is a proud sponsor of James Anderson

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo