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July 30, 2013
James Anderson summed it up in typically understated style. "It's quite strange saying state of the art and Old Trafford in the same sentence," he said. But the most fraught decade in Lancashire's history will officially end on Thursday when Old Trafford stages the third Investec Test against Australia.
If things go well for Anderson, he could be part of an England side that retains the Ashes on his home ground. If they do, Lancashire should give him a replica Ashes urn filled from one of the many skips that have surrounded this ground over the past couple of years.
But being on the cusp of Ashes success has not sat easily with England in recent series. In 2009, They were 1-0 up when they came a cropper at Headingley, losing by an innings as they were rushed out for 102 by Peter Siddle and Stuart Clark. Two years later, they were also one up when they arrived in Perth and faltered against Mitchell Johnson on a hot streak.
If Australia do respond again, the story begs for David Warner to do it. In disgrace after punching Joe Root in a Birmingham bar, loaned out to Australia A to regain form in southern Africa, and back with a big hundred under his belt: all the elements of the story are there - apart from about five hours batting.
"He's a very dangerous player," Anderson said. "He's somebody we looked at the start of the series and we'll look at him again this week. He can be dangerous, especially if it's a flat pitch and not swinging so that's something we'll be very conscious of."
Assuming England are unchanged - Kevin Pietersen trained on Tuesday - seven players will have been present in Perth and six at Headingley. This side will certainly be forewarned about lapses of performance.
"In the last two Ashes series the third Test has been a stumbling block for us so we have to make a conscious effort that we don't look too far ahead - don't look at the outcome before concentrating on the smaller bits that will help us win that game," Anderson said. "We are not looking too far ahead and we won't look too far past the first hour on Thursday.
"Most of the guys in the dressing room have experience of what happened at Headingley - and Perth as well when we played out there last time. Hopefully we can use that so it doesn't happen again."
Anderson's assessment of Australia was somewhat kinder than that which has been commonly seen in the media. "It's been tough so far," he said. "We narrowly won at Trent Bridge. We won more comfortably at Lord's but we still had our backs against the wall a couple of times - we were 30 for 3 each innings. We still have improvements to make and we know how dangerous they can be. Maybe they might be even more dangerous now they have nothing to lose."
There can have been few better times to be a Lancastrian fast bowler. Anderson was able to mark his 31st birthday by netting with England in a transformed stadium - the latest English ground to be transformed in a golden period which has somehow survived the financial crash that arrived at a most inopportune time. The stands are red and so, for a while, will be the balance sheets, but Old Trafford is heading for the biggest crowds in its history as the north-west reaffirms its central role in English cricket.
|"The council offices are just across the road so we all went over and stood outside the front protesting. It was all about force in numbers." James Anderson did his bit for the Old Trafford redevelopment campaign|
It is good that Lancashire has, in Anderson, such an impressive representative on the field, a fast bowler at his peak, as proud of his north-west upbringing as was Brian Statham half a century before him.
He tells in his autobiography, Jimmy, of being "the proud owner" of Lancashire's first replica shirt at the age of 12. He sat alongside his father to watch Lancashire win the Benson and Hedges Cup final at Lord's in 1995 and strolled around on the outfield afterwards, dreaming of playing at Lord's in front of a capacity crowd. "As a Lancastrian - and this applies to Yorkshiremen, too," he said, "the club badge is revered from a young age."
The third Test, incidentally, will not be entirely a display of Red Rose pride. In a quirk of fate, the first day happens to coincide with Yorkshire Day and there are reasons to believe that the lot over t'Pennines are planning a playful way to muscle in on the celebrations.
"It's always nice playing at a ground you're comfortable with and have played at for years and years, knowing the people that work here," he said. "It makes you more relaxed which is important, especially around a high-pressure Test match."
His birthday has further heightened his sense of the passage of time. "It does make you look back, wondering where the time has gone," he said, "It's quite strange saying state of the art and Old Trafford in the same sentence. It was getting a bit tired a few years ago and we were very lucky to get the money together to be able to redevelop it."
For many years, the only sign of council interest in the cricketing Old Trafford - there is a football ground of the same name up the road apparently - was a speed camera directly outside the main entrance, which caught out many an unsuspecting Lancashire member as they accelerated too enthusiastically through the gears after a good day at the cricket.
Anderson, like most Lancashire players, crossed that road to join the crowds lobbying outside Trafford Town Hall when the future of the ground was in the balance. He did not press his way into the council meeting alongside Lanky The Giraffe, the club mascot, one of the more surreal moments in the long-running campaign. He is not a placard waver, or a singer of protest songs - he strikes you as a bit more of an undercover agent: more Spooks than Billy Bragg - but he turned out, did his bit and cared about the outcome.
"We lobbied - it was good," he said. "It was a slow process and it looked at one point as if there was a big spanner in the works. The guys here did fantastic work. The council offices are just across the road so we all went over and stood outside the front protesting. It was all about force in numbers. Having players there emphasised how important it was for us. It was looking like we weren't going to get Test match cricket back here and the ground needed a coat of paint; it was looking tired."
No matter how many wickets Anderson takes in his career, no matter how long his spells, how never-ending his labours, it is a fair bet that he will never look as tired as Old Trafford did.
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