Anderson puts Tests ahead of IPL swansong
James Anderson has reiterated his commitment to England on the eve of the third Test in Johannesburg. Confirming that he will not be entering into the IPL auction, Anderson made it clear that, whatever overs he has left in his career, they will be bowled for his country in Test cricket. Other players may be lured by domestic T20 leagues, but he will not.
"My heart is with playing Test cricket for England," Anderson, who missed the first Test at Durban with a calf injury, said. "So that is what I'll concentrate on doing for the foreseeable future.
"At the moment, where I am at this stage of my career, I want to make sure I'm in good nick to play Test match cricket for England. A couple of months off won't be a bad thing. I'll make sure I come back for Lancashire at the start of the season and get ready for the Test matches at the start of the summer. That's where my head is at."
At the age of 33, and entering his 14th year of international cricket, Anderson's importance to England's Test fortunes is arguably higher than ever. With the team rebuilding both on the field and off it, his experience as the attack leader is second-to-none. And, when we come to reflect on this period for England cricket, and Anderson's role therein, it may be that July 2014 comes to be seen as a turning point.
True, there have been many setbacks since then - the World Cup springs to mind - and there are doubtless more to come. But, from that moment, it is possible to make out a gradual improvement, with a new team taking shape and results starting to improve.
July 2014 was the date of the second Investec Test at Lord's. England, despite every advantage, were well beaten by an Indian side with a poor record away from home. Coming not long after the end of a chastening Ashes whitewash, an embarrassing showing in the World T20 - England were defeated by Holland in their final game - and a home Test series defeat against Sri Lanka, and it seemed there was no end to their pain.
To add to the burden, Anderson soon became embroiled in an investigation into his behaviour following an off-field clash with Ravi Jadeja in Nottingham. England, it seemed, were not very good and not very attractive.
But following defeat at Lord's - Ajinkya Rahane punished England for squandering winning the toss on a green pitch, before Ishant Sharma bounced them out in the second innings - the coach at the time, Peter Moores, held meetings with Anderson and Stuart Broad and made it clear that things had to change.
England required more from them, Moores said. A young England side, finding its feet in international cricket, required its senior players to lead the way. And a young captain, Alastair Cook, had plenty to occupy his mind without struggling to understand why old friends and colleagues appeared unable to set the tone. Anderson and Broad needed to take responsibility; they needed to lead the way; they needed to be better.
The conversation brought almost immediate rewards. Anderson, bowling with greater intensity, was named England's man of the series for their next two Test series - (against India and West Indies; he had already won the award in the previous series against Sri Lanka, making it three in a row) - while Broad, bowling a fuller, more probing length, was unlucky not to have been named likewise for the Ashes. Arguably, neither has ever bowled so well, so often.
It would be understandable if Anderson, knowing he is coming to the end of his playing career, followed the lead of players from numerous other teams and attempted to cash in with appearances in domestic T20 leagues. But he does have the advantage of knowing that ECB central contracts and match payments are worth substantially more than those from most other countries - with the exception of Australia - and he would be far from certain to win a deal in the IPL, anyway.
But England supporters will be reassured that, in a year that offers a daunting 17-Test schedule, Anderson is as focused and committed as ever.
"There is a slight worry about domestic T20 competitions doing so well," he said. "But speak to players and there is a still a passion to play Test cricket. It's a real test of someone's character and skill. It still excites me. I love it. I prioritise it in my head and my heart.
"I'm not the only person who feels like that in the world. Hopefully it's not just players but fans too, but we need people to keep supporting the [Test] game so that it does flourish. Seventeen Tests in a year is a huge challenge, but I get excited about it and I look forward to it."
Training was optional for England on Tuesday, but they will have been encouraged by the sight of Nick Compton - well on the road to recovery from his stomach bug - timing the ball sweetly in the nets. While neither Cook or Joe Root looked in the best of form, the squad is now deemed to be free of sickness.
Moeen Ali was the only one of the bowlers to have a net, but Anderson took the opportunity to peer at the wicket and suggested it should offer bowlers more than the Cape Town surface.
"There will be more swing here because of the conditions," Anderson said. "And hopefully there'll be a bit more in the pitch as well.
"The important thing is to think about the swing and the lengths we're going to bowl. We know we might get a bit more carry and bounce, so we need to bowl a fuller length even with that bounce."
England will be glad they have Anderson back to exploit any help that might be apparent. Thirty-three he may be and a veteran of 111 Tests, but he remains he remains crucial to their chances of success.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo