Alan GardnerAssociate editor, ESPNcricinfo
How does an international cricketer occupy their time during the unprecedented pause on life brought about by the coronavirus outbreak? Much like the rest of us, the primary concern is for the health and safety of family members, while also managing childcare (and home schooling), as well as maintaining a positive mental outlook in challenging times.
One or two activities are a bit more specific, however. James Anderson had been hoping to make his comeback from injury over the coming weeks, proving his fitness with Lancashire before a planned return to the Test team for the West Indies series in June. Now he is confined to home, focusing on strength and conditioning exercises – which includes bench-pressing his daughters – and wondering if he will get back on the field at all this summer. Oh, and trying to keep grooved a bowling action that has helped him to 871 international wickets.
“I have been walking around the last couple of days just going through my action in the living room and stuff like that,” he says. “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.”
The pull of the game remains strong for Anderson, even at a time of life when injuries have begun to bite that bit harder. In January at Newlands, he became the oldest seamer since Freddie Brown in 1951 to take a Test five-for for England; a cracked rib ruled him out of the rest of the tour and there is a good chance he will be 38 (his birthday is July 30) by the time he plays again. Even if the entire English summer were lost beneath the shadow of COVID-19, he remains intent on making a Test comeback.
“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,” he says. “To me at the moment that’s pretty realistic with the situation around the world. Just looking short-term, we’re not going to play but long-term I think I’m still going to play. Whether that’s if we get some games in the winter, I feel like I could 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.”
When it comes to fitness work, England’s players have been provided with personalised programmes to work on while in lockdown. Anderson has been on “virtual workouts” with his pace-bowling partners Stuart Broad and Mark Wood, using the Peloton cycling software, and believes he would have been fit enough to go to Sri Lanka, had England not opted to rest him.
But events since England’s players returned early from their tour have emphasised that there are bigger issues at stake than playing professional sport.
“I’m not fretting about playing cricket really. It’s more the uncertainty of everything that’s going on at the minute. It’s quite a scary time for everyone. My family’s health is the first priority and cricket very much secondary to that. I’m not really thinking about when we’re going to play cricket. I’m just thinking about keeping my family healthy by staying inside, and staying healthy in terms of mental health side of things as well.
“Having young kids, my eldest is in year six so she might not go back to primary school again so she’s obviously missing all her friends and not getting to see the year out is something she’s coming to terms with. Different sorts of things we’re trying to deal with as a family and just trying to keep everyone healthy and happy really.
“I’m certainly going to enjoy getting the whites back on and getting back out there as I did in Cape Town. It could be quite a long lay-off now and I think everyone is in the same boat in all sports not playing at the minute. The chance to get back out there, we’re all going to cherish that moment when we do.
“There’s more to life than sport as we’ve seen. What people are sacrificing in the NHS and sadly people are losing their lives to this virus, so there’s much more important things in the world. So 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 enjoy every single moment of it.”
On the more practical subject of when the season could begin, Anderson warned against expecting players to be able to turn up after an extended period of downtime and play a Test match. The ECB has already announced that there will be no cricket played before May 28, which even in the best-case scenario would put pressure on the Tests against West Indies, with the first of three games scheduled to start on June 4.
“I think you can’t expect to just start the season after a couple of weeks’ notice. I think guys who have been sat around for a long time, some of the players might have been ill as well, you’ll need some sort of build-up because you can’t go from not bowling at all to then having to bowl in a Test match at very short notice.
“So I think there’ll have to be some sort of build-up, how long that is I’m not sure. Obviously the powers that will be sort that out if and when that happens.”
And while Anderson is almost a red-ball specialist these days – his last T20 appearance came in 2014 – he concedes he would be open to pulling on the coloured clothing again if financial imperatives meant limited-overs cricket was prioritised in a truncated season.
“Absolutely. I want to be playing cricket and if that is the only cricket going on, if it’s the Hundred or the T20 Blast, I’d love to be involved in that. If there wasn’t any red-ball cricket this summer, it would be a long, long time for me to be ticking over in the nets. I’d much rather be playing some competitive cricket like that than not.”