How an innings defeat with Auckland kick-started James Anderson's Test career
Fifteen years on from breakthrough tour, fast bowler recalls guest appearance in NZ domestic cricket
"Baz brought that up, actually," James Anderson said with a smirk. "He wasn't happy with it. He was fuming. Apparently the whole team [New Zealand] were fuming at the time with Auckland."
Of the myriad numbers and quirks in a career entering its 22nd year, there is one that sticks out within Anderson's 282 first-class appearances. One that his current Test coach Brendon McCullum still holds against him.
Back on the 2008 tour of New Zealand, the series in which Anderson and Stuart Broad first took the reins of England's bowling attack, the Lancashire quick went on a secondment to Auckland to jumpstart what had, up until then, been a sporadic 20-cap career.
Anderson, 25 at the time, had come off the back of a harrowing ODI series against the hosts. He played all five games but took just four wickets at an average of 67.50, with an economy rate of 7.29 that jars even by modern standards. And on the tour of Sri Lanka three months earlier, he had been superseded by the 21-year-old Broad in the Test squad.
And after he missed England's three-day warm-up game, the coach at the time, Peter Moores, decided that a brief secondment to New Zealand domestic cricket was the best course of action, rather than have him stewing on the sidelines during the first Test in Hamilton.
Auckland jumped at the chance, shorn of bowlers with Kyle Mills and Chris Martin on international duty and Daryl Tuffey and Andre Adams taking part in the renegade Indian Cricket League. The link came through Ottis Gibson, England's bowling coach, who was knew Auckland coach Mark O'Donnell well enough to float the idea. Needless to say, the home board was less than pleased.
"We are not particularly enthusiastic about it," Justin Vaughan, chief executive of New Zealand Cricket, said at the time. "But we can understand why Auckland want to do it with some of their other bowlers absent. We would be happier if they gave a chance to a young New Zealand bowler, because we can see a scenario where Anderson bowls himself into form and then helps England win the deciding final Test because of that."
Wellington chief executive Gavin Larsen, whose side would face Anderson, went a step further, telling The Dominion Post newspaper: "We can't get our heads around this. It really hits me in the pit of my stomach."
Vaughan, unfortunately, was right. Anderson would only bowl in once in an innings defeat to Wellington, taking 2 for 95. But the tune-up meant he returned to the national team in Wellington in good enough fettle to come into the XI for the second Test, with Moores leaving out Steven Harrison and Matthew Hoggard after a lastlustre loss in Hamilton.
Anderson took 5 for 73 and then 2 for 57 as England made it 1-1, before winning it outright in Napier. It remains their last series victory in New Zealand.
Given where we are with Anderson's story right now - 177 Tests, 675 wickets and still more to come in 2023 - it's fair to say the Auckland stint was inspired. In an interview with StuffNZ last week, he regarded the appearance and the shot in the arm it administered as "probably one of the best decisions I've made in my career". He even revealed his Auckland cap still takes pride of place in his collection in his home study.
"It was amazing for me," Anderson recalled to the gathered English press on Monday before indoor training at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui, where the first Test is due to begin on Thursday. "I think Ottis Gibson knew the coach of Auckland at the time. He wanted Chris Tremlett to go and play but Chris didn't want to [he was injured] so then I put my hand up. I'd rather play that game than carry the drinks at Hamilton. It turned out to be a very good decision. I bowled a lot of overs - didn't set the world alight but bowled a lot of overs, it got me into a good rhythm and got me into a good place to play the next game."
He will return to Wellington for the second Test on February 21. Like Broad, it is a visit he is looking forward to, 15 years on.
"We've got find memories here and it is special," Anderson said. "Every time we go back to Wellington you remember that and look back at that as something huge for both of us, not just in terms of the way we played and what happened after that but just that moment, with Hoggard and Harmison having been such a massive part of England's success - 2005 and Harmy was No.1 in the world at one point. Them being those senior bowlers and us taking their places gave us so much confidence to go on and try and emulate them, I guess."
Anderson's Auckland jaunt is all the more interesting in the present day given the noise around Australian batter Steve Smith's stint with Sussex ahead of this summer's Ashes. The move was highly criticised in some quarters for giving an outstanding opposition player a leg-up ahead of what will be a hard-fought series.
As it happens, NZC floated a reciprocal favour from one of the 18 counties for the 2008, given New Zealand were touring England later that year. Moores' response to Vaughan's suggestion - "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it" - was far from committal. Anderson, however, was typically unperturbed by Smith's presence in County Cricket, much like the rest of his team-mates.
"I don't mind it, I don't think it will have any bearing on the result of the Ashes. Steve Smith playing four (three) games of county cricket won't have a bearing on how many runs he gets in the first Test. Some people might not think it's great that they're getting time in the middle but they'll have warm-up games and stuff like that in England anyway. So I'm not that fussed."
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo