James Anderson’s desire to resume his record-breaking England career remains as burning as ever, according to his former captain Sir Alastair Cook, who believes that his old team-mate’s devastation at missing out on this summer’s Ashes campaign will help drive him in his comeback from a long-term calf injury.
Anderson, 37, bowled just four overs in this summer’s Tests against Australia, after breaking down early in the first Test at Edgbaston – a game that England went on to lose in his absence.
He was subsequently omitted from the current tour of New Zealand, and has spent the off-season working with the medical team at Manchester City in a bid to regain his fitness in time for the South Africa tour that begins next month.
Last week, another former England captain, Michael Vaughan, said that the time had come to break up for good the record-breaking alliance between Anderson and Stuart Broad, which began in earnest on the New Zealand tour in 2007-08, and which has since realised a total of 1042 Test wickets.
The emergence of Jofra Archer during the summer may encourage England that there is life after Anderson, and Archer will take centre stage for his first overseas international next week, when the first Test against New Zealand begins in Mount Maunganui on November 20.
Cook, however, says that we’ve been here before with Anderson, a player who seems determined to defy the ageing process as he seeks to build on his record of 575 wickets in 149 Tests.
“You never know with Jimmy,” said Cook. “He’s surprised us all, all the time. I remember going into a press conference as captain a few years ago, and saying there’s no way that we’ll get five Tests out of Jimmy and Stuart [Broad], and they surprised us all with their fitness record.
“I know how devastated he was after the Edgbaston Test match. It was a horrendous feeling for him, but his desire and hunger is incredible. He wants to come back and wants to play, and while you’ve got that, why wouldn’t you?”
At an age when most sportsmen are beginning to wind down, Anderson’s technical mastery has propelled him to new heights. He finished the 2018 home summer as the top-ranked Test bowler in the world, with his average dipping below 27 for the first time since the formative months of his career in 2003.
“His record over the last couple of years is getting better and better. Father Time catches up with everyone, and there will be a time when he moves on, but while he wants to do it and is able to do it, we should appreciate him,” Cook said. “But, speaking to him recently, he wants to keep breaking records for England and keep helping England win games of cricket, and I’m sure he will.”
Cook himself bowed out of international cricket with an emotional century in his final Test against India at The Oval in September 2018 – a match which finished with Anderson claiming his 564th wicket to move him ahead of Glenn McGrath as the most prolific seamer in Test history.
Cook then went on this summer to play a key role in Essex’s second County Championship title in three years, and recognises that such uplifting events in his twilight years have helped assuage any sense of regret as his professional career begins to wind down.
“It just shows how lucky I was that that happened,” he said of that Oval Test, when his innings of 71 and 147 included a glorious and sustained ovation as he brought up his 33rd and final Test hundred.
“To walk off there after winning a game and Jimmy breaking Glenn McGrath’s record. It’s all happy memories, and not many people have that, and that for me made the transition a lot easier.”
His experience contrasted markedly with that of so many other sportsmen, not least another former England team-mate, Matt Prior, who last week spoke to the PCA about his own struggles in the wake of his career-ending Achilles injury in 2014.
“Matt was an all-time great among English wicketkeepers, he played such a significant role over such a long time in getting England to No.1 in the world, but he didn’t get the chance to have the send-off that I had,” Cook said.
“It was taken out of his hands, and it all happened abruptly, so his last memory of playing for England would be the injury, the rehab, and all the bad stuff. My last memory was totally different.”
That said, it would have been understandable had Cook felt slightly conflicted during a remarkable English summer which, from a Test perspective at least, was crowned by that extraordinary final day at Headingley, when Ben Stokes’ century snatched a one-wicket win from the jaws of defeat.
Cook witnessed the denouement at first hand in his unfamiliar new vantage point as a summariser on Test Match Special, but he insisted he had no regrets at being on the other side of the rope for a change.
“It was a strange week,” he said. “But it was one of the great knocks. To be at Headingley, but without the nerves [was a privilege] – at least at the beginning of the day. Towards the end, I was as nervous as I would have been back in the days when I was trying to find a space in the changing room!
“I was actually ferrying Glenn McGrath around in the back of my car that week,” he added. “I didn’t quite think when I first played against him in 2006 that I’d be his chauffeur for a week during a Test match. But it was an incredible game to be a part of that, and I was lucky enough to be on air for the final overs.
“But there were no mixed emotions. People find that hard to believe, but it’s genuinely true. It was sad to hand the cap back, it was sad to make that decision, and you’re going to miss the identity of being an England cricketer but, for me, it was clear in my mind, and the right decision for my family at that time.”
But, at the age of 34, Cook has kept his competitive fires burning by playing a key role in Essex’s triumphant Championship campaign, scoring 913 first-class runs in 14 matches at 45.65, including a pair of vital innings in the title decider against Somerset at Taunton.
“2005 was the last season in which I played every game [for Essex],” he said, “and part of the reason for playing on after England was to experience that again, to play with guys like Ryan [Ten Doeschate] and Ravi [Bopara], who signed for Essex at the same time as me in 2003. To go back and play a lot of cricket with those guys meant a lot to me, actually.
“I’m not sure I’ll keep playing until I’m 40, but I will very much take each year as it comes,” he added. “And if we have the sort of success that we had this year, then that obviously makes it easier.”
Sir Alastair Cook was speaking at an event to mark 25 years of the National Lottery, which has raised £5.7 billion for grassroots sport. #BecauseYouPlay