James Anderson interview: 'I’m still hungry to play for England, it's keeping me driven for when we do restart'

England's fast bowler believes the enforced break due to injury and then the coronavirus could help extend his career to 2021

James Anderson appeals for a wicket against South Africa at Newlands in January
James Anderson has been going through his action in his living room as he tries to keep his body grooved for when cricket returns Credit: GETTY IMAGES

If there is one potential benefit from a lack of cricket this summer it could be the fact it prolongs the career of England’s greatest bowler, with James Anderson convinced there are still overs left in his body.

Anderson wants to continue playing cricket for England and is not ruling out the summer of 2021 even though he has managed just three Tests in 13 months and finished two of them injured.

Anderson bowled just four balls before breaking down in last summer’s first Ashes Test and a heroic performance in Cape Town in January, which dragged England back in the series against South Africa, resulted in a broken rib injury that has prevented him playing since.

Now the coronavirus lay-off has put on hold Anderson returning to bowling in the early county season, when he would ideally put overs in his body in preparation for the Test summer.

Just like the Chinese marathon runner who ran 31 miles in his apartment when in lockdown earlier this year, Anderson cannot quite let go of bowling. He has been going through his action in his living room as he tries to keep his body grooved for when cricket returns. 

“We mapped out the start of the summer a few weeks ago and the games I was playing for Lancashire. It was all sort of building up for that first Test match of the summer,” he said. “It all looked pretty good. As and when it happens, whether it’s this summer or whether it’s the winter, my plan is to try and get back into that England team and hopefully the next time I do I’ll be able to stay fit for a little bit longer. 

“I’ve not actually thought about never playing cricket again. I feel like we will play again and I will play again at some stage. But with the uncertainty of what’s happening at the moment, I think it would be silly to actually not think about not bowling a ball this summer. To me at the moment that’s pretty realistic with the situation around the world.

“I think just looking short-term we’re not going to play, but long-term I think I’m still going to play. I think I could get to next summer at the moment. If that’s the case or whether we get some games in in the winter, I feel I can play a part. I’m still hungry to play, I’ve still got ambitions to play for England so I think that’s going to keep me driven at home trying to keep fit so that whenever it is we play again I’m ready to go.”

The England management have sent the players fitness kits to keep them in shape while the country is in lockdown and Anderson is part of a group challenge with Stuart Broad and Mark Wood using Peloton exercise bikes that replicate cycling classes online.

But nothing can reproduce the physical effort of bowling outside. “It [the lay off] could go one of two ways to be honest. I could train really hard but depending on how my head’s working I could be the size of a house by the time we play cricket again. But we’ll see.

“If I do get back out on the field I’m going to enjoy that so much. There’s more to life than sport as we’ve seen. What people are sacrificing in the NHS and people losing their lives to this virus, so there’s much more important things. But I think the fact I’ve been able to do this for a long time and I get to play a sport as a job means when I do get to do that again I’m really going to cherish it and enjoy every single moment of it.

“I have been walking around the last couple of days just going through my action in the living room and stuff like that. It’s just sort of ingrained. When you don’t do it for a while you miss it and subconsciously your body just wants to do it.”

Anderson has been following a fitness programme but nothing replaces actual cricket Credit: AFP

The first Test against West Indies is due to start on June 4. The season has been put on hold until May 28 and Anderson believes the players will need more than a week to be ready for a Test series otherwise they risk injury.

“If we’re still on this lockdown in May then I can’t see that being feasible having just seven or eight days to get back into bowling and playing a Test match a week later.

“But if we can get out and about in May, if that’s a possibility, and start training again with counties then I can see it being a bit more feasible. We’ve just got to do the best we can with what we’ve got and see what happens when that time comes.”

The ECB are working on the logistics for playing behind closed doors with coronavirus testing points and isolation tents at grounds. England are used to playing in empty stadiums overseas but Test matches are popular in this country and Anderson is not convinced about playing behind closed doors.

“Obviously in an ideal world, we would have supporters there. I saw some of the football being played behind closed doors and it just doesn’t look right to me.  For some of the bigger games, you had people gathering outside the ground which sort of defeats the object of playing behind closed doors.  

“I’m not saying we’d have crowds gathering outside Edgbaston or Lord’s or whatever.  But if and when we do play cricket again, surely it’s got to be with crowds watching.”