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James Anderson feels the rare thrill of the unknown ahead of Pakistan Test bow

Veteran of 2005 tour prepares to play first Test in country in 19-year international career

James Anderson in the nets in Rawalpindi ahead of the first Test, England Test tour to Pakistan, Rawalpindi, November 29, 2022

James Anderson in the nets in Rawalpindi ahead of the first Test  •  Getty Images

If you've been paying even vague attention, you'll have heard that James Anderson is the only member of this England touring party to have played international cricket in Pakistan prior to this winter.
Back in the winter of 2005, a younger, sprightlier but no less downbeat Anderson was part of the squad that last played Test cricket in the country. He did not get on the park during the three-match series, which the hosts took 2-0, but did take part in the subsequent ODI series, finishing with seven wickets. That included 4 for 48 in the final match - a consolation win with England losing 3-2 overall - at Rawalpindi, the venue for the first Test of this series.
Given his lack of red-ball action on that tour and the time between visits, the 40-year-old Anderson is reluctant to play the role of wise old sage when it comes to predicting how things could pan out. Heading into the first Test, he and the rest of the team are happy to take cues from the conditions, while maintaining Brendon McCullum's assertion earlier in the week that, however things pan out, a draw is not on the agenda.
"No, not at all," Anderson said, when asked if he had anything to pass on. "Seventeen years is a long time. It would be wrong if I said 'the pitch is going to play like this, or this is what to expect'. It's a completely different team we're playing against, completely different conditions.
"It's about adapting when we get out there. We talk a little bit about the opposition but mainly concentrate on what we do well - that's what we did in the summer. We don't know how it's going to play. Traditionally it is flat. We've seen Tests in recent times -
The extent of England's adaptation will be dictated by the varying conditions over the next month, and indeed over this first Rawalpindi Test match. England have noticed there has been dew for their morning training sessions, which will no doubt play a part early on given the 10am starts on match days, adding a bit of juice in the air and moisture into the pitch. Both of which bring Anderson to the front and centre of their plans.
England have also been concentrating on honing their reverse-swing skills in anticipation of what might lie ahead. The training camp in Abu Dhabi last week saw them experiment with an assortment of balls worn to varying degrees. Anderson had also been fine-tuning his technique with the Lions in Dubai since the start of November. Both he and Ben Stokes will be the main proponents of the craft this week, with Mark Wood out recovering from injury. However, Anderson doesn't expect it will play too big a part in the first Test.
"Just looking at the pitch out here and the outfield, it looks quite lush so whether reverse will play a huge part here, I'm not sure, at this particular ground," he said. "But we will try and cover all bases and make sure we've got options, if and when we need them."
As Anderson approaches the 20th anniversary of his England debut, this Test bow in Pakistan represents a new and final frontier. It will be the ninth country he has graced in the format, and even coming into this series with 175 caps and a seam bowler's record haul of 667 wickets, there is a palpable excitement from the usually reserved Lancastrian.
"Firstly, it's amazing to be back here," he said. "I want to say thank you on behalf of, not just myself, but the whole team for the welcome we've had. We know how many cricket fans there are in Pakistan and how much they love and support, not just Pakistani cricket, but cricket in general around the world. I've not played a Test match here so I'm delighted to have the chance to be able to play here.
As for who that first red-ball victim in Pakistan might be, Anderson claims he isn't fussed, even if he recognises that one man in particular is likely to be a key adversary in the days ahead.
"We are well aware how important a wicket Babar is for Pakistan, being the captain, as well as I'd say their best player. Yes, we will give him attention, but also we need to focus on the other guys as well because they're very strong.
"And I don't care who it is, as long as I get a wicket and try and help the team towards a win. That's what we've come here for - we want to win the series, so that's our main focus."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo