And so it was an oddly cagey Anderson who faced the media in Leicester on Monday, at the behest of the Test sponsors LV= Insurance, but before he’d had any cast-iron assurances that his name will be back in the frame for another Lord’s appearance, when the squad for the first Test against New Zealand is announced on Wednesday.
“Until that squad’s picked I’m not counting on anything,” he said. “My job’s to try and prove that I’m in good form, take wickets for Lancashire and help them win games. That’s all I’m bothered about, and then we’ll see what happens whenever the team is announced.”
Chicken-counting aside, however, Anderson’s return for his 170th Test appearance, and 96th on home soil, is a given. Not only has he proven his form and fitness on the county circuit – including with the eye-catching dismissal of his former England captain, Joe Root, in last week’s Roses clash – he and his long-term sidekick Stuart Broad are just about the only capped England seamers available to Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum as they prepare to begin their captain-coach alliance in a fortnight’s time.
Saqib Mahmood and Matt Fisher, both of whom debuted in Anderson’s and Broad’s absence in the Caribbean, have succumbed to stress fractures, the same complaint that Sam Curran is currently returning from, while Craig Overton and Chris Woakes – who shared the new ball in Antigua in March – are labouring with knee injuries. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood are coming back from elbow operations, and Ollie Robinson – the man who ought to be in possession – has been a fitness concern since struggling through the Hobart Test in January.
Anderson and Broad, on the other hand, just keep rumbling on. “I don’t know, it’s just luck I guess,” he said of their longevity. “We still love playing, we’re really hungry to take wickets, and still love that feeling you get from it. I’ve spoken to Stuart a lot over the last few months, we still feel like we’ve got a lot to give the game, whether it’s for Notts or Lancashire, or for England.”
Nevertheless, Anderson admitted that, with his 40th birthday approaching in July, his omission for the West Indies tour had caused him to reassess his priorities as he enters his 20th season as an international cricketer.
“I definitely questioned it, yeah,” he said. “I talked it through with my family as well, and they saw it as I did, that I feel like I’ve got more to give to the game. The longer time went on, the more I was with the Lancs lads doing pre-season training. I was still doing the gym work, and I wasn’t bored of it. I wanted to be there doing it, irrelevant of what was going to happen in the summer.
“If I play the whole season for Lancashire, then great. If I get a Test call-up then brilliant, but at the minute I’m really enjoying playing cricket. It did come into question, I guess – do I want to do I want to carry on? But in my head, I quickly decided I did want to see what happened this year.”
And if there were any residual doubts, then they were emphatically quashed by the 11th and most recent of his first-class wickets this season – the uprooting of Root’s off and middle stumps at Headingley on Sunday, as Anderson’s typically frugal figures of 15-7-17-2 briefly set Lancashire up for a final-day victory push against Yorkshire.
“I did enjoy that one, it was nice to get a player of Joe’s quality out,” Anderson said. And it was doubtless all the sweeter given that Root had still been England captain for the Caribbean tour, and therefore was at least complicit in Anderson’s controversial omission.
Did he say anything to Root when he got him out? “Absolutely not, no. Didn’t need to. Just pick the two stumps off the ground,” Anderson said. “We do talk. We’ve not fallen out or anything. Yeah, we chatted. I spoke to him before he announced that he was stepping down. There’s still a huge amount of respect between the two of us so there’s no animosity.
“The biggest thing for me [on Sunday] was that we were pushing for a win,” Anderson added. “Obviously he got 140 in the first innings; we know how good a player he is. A few of our guys were seeing him up close for the first time and realising how good a player he is; they all commented on it. It was fruitless in the end, but we were pushing hard for that win, and he was the best player so it was nice to get the best player.”
Three months after the event, Anderson says he hasn’t had a full explanation for his omission from the Test squad, and still doesn’t know whether there was a perceived issue with his attitude in Australia, where his eight wickets at 23.37 couldn’t prevent a 4-0 series loss. However, with his focus now back on adding to his England-record tally of 640 wickets, his thoughts are firmly fixed on the coming summer, as he hopes to help the new team hierarchy pick the performances up after a torrid 12 months.
“It’s gone now. It’s history. I’m not bothered about what’s gone in the past,” he said. “All I can control is what I do in the future. I’ve got to try to prove that I’m still good enough to play international cricket and keep my fingers crossed that the selectors and the captain think so as well.
“I don’t think from a performance point of view my confidence would have taken a knock. I felt like I bowled well in Australia and since I’ve been bowling back in England I’ve felt like I’m in good shape and bowling well. So from that point of view I feel like I know what I’m doing and I don’t think that will change, really.
“I guess you do start questioning other things when that sort of thing happens – is it something I’ve done around the group or whatever else? I guess that’s the one thing that you start thinking about. But when it comes to cricket I’m pretty confident that I’m doing okay.”
Anderson will be reassured too by the vote of confidence he received from Stokes after his accession to the Test captaincy, and is ready to return the compliment after seeing glimpses of his leadership style during the Ashes campaign.
“He’s a natural leader and the lads all look up to him in the dressing-room,” Anderson said. “When he’s had the opportunity to be captain… I think there was maybe an hour in Australia, and you could see he’s got a real good tactical brain on him. He’s the hardest trainer in the group and sets the example of how to be an international cricketer.
“We’re at quite a low point at the minute as a Test side. Where we are in the Test championship, we’re going to have to do something serious to be able to turn it around and get back up towards where we want to be, towards the top. I don’t think that necessarily happens overnight. But with Brendon and Ben, we’re never going to take a backward step. It could be a really exciting time for English cricket.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
(With Inputs from ESPN)
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