Anderson-cum-Spielberg aims to help Warriors
Plenty of sportsmen end their careers with a trunk load of anecdotes about their adventures and exploits. Plenty have glamorous tales about exotic lands and far-flung destinations. Plenty come, play and depart without leaving a trace on the lands they have visited. Not many take the time to look around. Even fewer bother to lend a hand to those less fortunate.
It is easy for the top players to become insulated from real life. It easy to live inside a bubble: surrounded by acolytes; staying in the finest hotels - this interview was conducted in the resplendent Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai - travelling in style and blessed with a team of support staff who cater for every whim. If the England squad were to add a spot welder and balloon animal maker to their travelling entourage it would hardly raise an eyebrow. It would be easy to lose touch with reality. It would, in short, be easy to become spoiled.
But James Anderson is not that sort. He winces when he sees the police beating a path through crowds of spectators just so the players' bus is not delayed. He winces at the crowd of beggars who sleep in the streets around the hotel. And, like most well-meaning travellers, his winces at his own impotence in the face of such inequality. It is easy to scoff at celebrities - and, for the sake of argument, let us call cricketers celebrities - who involve themselves in charitable causes in a somewhat clumsy but well-intentioned way. But it is surely better than the alternative. Being well-intentioned isn't such a bad quality.
Anderson hopes that his involvement with a new project - a film named Warriors about Maasai people in Kenya who are using cricket as a tool to educate, inform and unite - can, in a small way, make a positive contribution in the world. He hopes that it can, in a small way, even remind people of the virtues of cricket.
"We are so lucky," Anderson said. "We get presidential treatment wherever we go. When we go to and from the ground, you see the police hitting people to get them out of our way. We're so privileged. It's difficult to know how to react when you see these things. We've done some charity stuff on the last couple of tours. In Bangladesh, for example, we went to see a burns unit. It's not that we think we can change people's lives but maybe we can help in a small way.
"The image of the game of cricket has been tarnished over the last couple of years. We've had the betting scandals and it seems there are always questions about the future of Test cricket.
"So it would nice to try and help someone through cricket and show people that there are positive things that cricket can do. If we can send a strong message that might, in a tiny way, reach a small village, or a small tribe, that can only be good."
Anderson is, in many ways, an unlikely spokesman. He is a modest fellow; shy and softly spoken. He is about as unlike Bono as a man can be. But, partly thanks to the influence of his good friend Barney Douglas, the ECB's video producer, he has grown increasingly keen on an intriguing project and knows he can use his public profile to help attract some attention to a worthy cause. Douglas is the director of Warriors while Anderson is the executive producer.
The pair first worked together on the Ashes diaries that were an unexpected delight of the 2010-11 series. Often a video that has been through the mangle of any official body has every drop of originality and humour squeezed out of it but, on this occasion, the good-natured wit of Anderson, Graeme Swann and, crucially, Douglas, who was very much the unsung hero of the videos, shone through. The process of coming up with ideas for the videos and the process of filming and editing the scenes planted a seed in Anderson that just might grow into a second career at some point.
"I'm excited by it," Anderson said. "I think I've a little bit of a creative side to me. If I enjoy and if it goes well, it maybe something I do in the future. I'm past 30 now so I have to think about these things. It's great to do something a bit more fun and relaxed.
"Getting on well with Barney has helped. We have worked quite closely together over the last couple of years. That was part of it. But then when I heard the story and saw what the film was trying to achieve, I was drawn to it. Now I'm trying to get the message out there and help promote the film. If there's anything I do to help with the cricket sequences then I'd be happy to and, if time allows, I'd love to go to Kenya at some stage."
The film follows the fortunes of a group of Maasai individuals who have, rather wonderfully, formed a cricket team on the plains of Kenya. Not only that, but they have started to use the team and the sport of cricket as a tool to unite and teach their communities. So people who previously fought as rivals are now working together. And, in teaching the values of teamwork and personal responsibility, the team also hope to instil important messages about safe sex, female rights and community values.
It is a remarkable, and a remarkably brave, ambition. The Maasai community is male-dominated. Women have few rights - even to their own bodies - and HIV is both rife and stigmatised. In some cases children are married off in return for livestock or alcohol and female genital mutilation remains prevalent. These "cricket warriors", as the film refers to them, feel education and change is the only way to secure a long-term positive future for their people.
Cricket has given the team status in their community. Their peers are beginning to listen to them; schoolchildren, boys and girls, are looking up to them. But, in a hierarchical, patriarchal society, there is a real and sometimes fierce conflict between the traditional and the modern. There are no guarantees of a happy ending.
"There are so many messages the game can give," Anderson said. "Getting 11 random guys and getting them to work together, even though they might not get on and may be from very different walks of life, just shows how you can work with different people."
Douglas interrupts: "People in this team used to raid each other for livestock. They used to fight. But now they've come together. They want to be unified as a team."
"Cricket has always been tagged as the gentleman's sport," Anderson continued. "That's definitely still there. The game has changed and has probably become more competitive. Maybe there isn't as much camaraderie between opposition teams any more. But the respect all players from all countries still have for the game is still there and it is never going to die out."
Anderson and Douglas hope the film will be ready for release in September 2013, but are still in the process of securing the necessary funding. For more information on the film visit the film's facebook page or follow them on twitter. Click here for the trailer.
Whatever the future of the Maasai and their cricket team - and they have hopes of touring the UK in 2013 - it is surely admirable that Anderson is using his position with the game to shine a light upon those less fortunate than himself.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo