“I don’t not get on with them...” says Jimmy Anderson of the Australians, emphasising the negative, trying to explain as precisely and safely as possible just what he thinks about the opponents of this summer and this winter.
Anderson is not one to stir things up but he is not a man for platitudes either, for faux-chumminess or for pretending that affection exists where it does not. This is simply not a relationship that means very much to him.
At the end of the last Ashes series the England and Australia players, in keeping with tradition, had a drink together. Anderson, though, admits that he could not easily enjoy it, unable to suddenly see these adversaries as mates when they would be adversaries again in three months’ time.
“We had a beer at the end of the series but it was quite strange. Because you’re thinking at the back of your mind that you don’t want to give too much away because you’re going to see them in a few weeks. So it was quite odd.”
This is not told with any real animosity or edge, just a shrug. As Anderson explains, he does not have the time to get to know the Australians. But he does not give the impression that this is a desperate worry for him.
“It is difficult,” Anderson explains. “It doesn’t really happen with any country. Unless you play with them in county cricket or the IPL or whatever, it’s hard to build a relationship with the opposition. Because the schedule is that tight, that you’re just going from game to game, playing against each other, there’s no time in between just to chat.”
Anderson is simply being serious and being himself, which is why he has no time for the affected disdain the Australians tried with the England players back in the 2006-07 series. “At the start of that series they were ignoring us. You would walk past people that you knew would just blank you, they made a point of doing that.”
So it is not much of a surprise, then, when Anderson says that Darren Lehmann’s criticisms of England’s style of cricket hardly keep him awake at night. “To be honest, I’m not interested what Darren Lehmann thinks about what style of cricket we play.”
The priority this summer was to win, which England did, and while Anderson would rather England had played better, it was not for the sake of impressing the Australia coach.
“We didn’t play well, and we were scrapping like mad to try to keep ourselves in games and to try to win games. At the end of the day, we won a Test series and that’s what we set out to do. As much as we’d love to entertain everyone, hit sixes and bowl people out quickly, it doesn’t always happen like that. And sometimes you’ve just got to try to win any way you can.”
For all the suggestions of a PR problem with the England team, after their strangely subdued third straight Ashes win, Anderson insists that the team “don’t play to get the acclaim or praise of the media”, and that starting the series as favourites slightly took the edge off their victory.
So there is a chance this winter for England to win their fourth consecutive series, for the first time since the late 1880s. It would be a remarkable achievement for this team, of which Anderson is the spearhead. Successful sides can only last for so long and while it might be hard to envisage the same standards lasting indefinitely, Anderson does want this great outfit to continue together for at least a few more expeditions.
“I hope so,” Anderson says, before admitting that he does not know the long-term plans of Graeme Swann, Kevin Pietersen or Andy Flower. “But I hope [we go on together] because I think we’ve got something really special. We’ve got a lot of experience but we’re by no means over the hill yet, the core of the team. I’m hopeful there’s a few more series in us yet.”
There is a new young set emerging, with Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes and Steven Finn all on the Ashes tour, all aged between 22 and 24. “The more young guys that we can get in the squad, not necessarily playing all the time, but if you can get them in and around the squad, and used to the international scene, that will obviously make the transition easier in the future. But it is useful to have guys who’ve got experience to help the other lads through.”
Anderson remembers his first tour to Australia – aged 20, for the one-day series after the 2002-03 Ashes – and how he was not made to feel as welcome as he might have been.
“It was a very different team then. It wasn’t as easy to come into the side, you were thought of as a threat rather than as a new member of the team. We were aware of it and it doesn’t help the team.”
Now Anderson is on the other side he is determined not to allow the same thing to happen. “Things have changed. A few guys who were around then have drawn on that experience to try and make things easier now for the guys coming into the team, to try and help them settle in a bit easier. We know what works in a successful team and you need it to be a settled dressing room, and I think making people comfortable when they come into the team is a huge part of that.”
The experience that runs through the England team was arguably the decisive factor this summer. “There were some very tight Tests in there that could have gone either way, it could quite easily have been 2-1 to them,” Anderson says, admitting that England were “saved by rain” at Old Trafford, “looked like losing” at Durham before they won and that Australia were “in control” at The Oval before the contrived finish.
“We have had experience of not only winning tight Tests, we’ve managed to hang on for draws in quite a few in the last few years. You can draw on that experience, especially when you’re in tight situations. I think we did that quite a lot, and also the fact that Australia are quite a young side and probably not used to winning those tight Tests.
“We were put under quite a lot of pressure by them. But we managed to win those crucial moments, it just got us over the line.”
This winter will be different, though, and Anderson – who will be using the Slazenger V100 Ultimate TAS bat Down Under – is aware that England will have to improve.
“We know we’ll have to play better if we’re going to win in Australia.” The standard has already been set – the 3-1 win in Australia in 2010-11 – and Anderson acknowledges England have not played quite that well since. To get back to that level, before anything else, they will have to start stacking up first-innings scores again.
“The amount of runs we got is something we’re going to have to emulate – it will be very difficult – but it’s something we’ve got to strive for. [Alastair] Cook and [Jonathan] Trott didn’t perform as well as they would have liked [this summer], and they will be trying to turn that around for Australia. I think it will be really tough, I think it will be a close series.”
James Anderson will be using the Slazenger V100 Ultimate TAS bat during this winter’s Ashes, part of the new 2014 Slazenger range available to pre-order in November. For more information, visit Store.slazenger.com