Jimmy Anderson has taken 403 wickets in 104 Test matches but his priority, even with the Australians approaching, is something slightly less countable.
What Anderson wants, at the age of 32, with three Ashes series wins under his belt, is a legacy. He wants to bring the next generation of cricketers through, players who will go on to compete long after Anderson has hung up his battered old cricket boots.
For England to have a successful future beyond this Ashes series, those youngsters have to flourish. The team will look to the likes of Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Jos Buttler and Mark Wood to take responsibility as Anderson does now. The pace bowler knows this and, while he wants to win the Ashes, there is also a long-term goal, to create the right conditions for the next generation to play the best cricket they can.
There have been signs of this, in the hard-fought Test and one-day series against New Zealand. It is a new experience for Anderson, being on the far side of the age divide, and one that he is enjoying. “At the moment, the make-up of our team is different from any other series that I’ve been in,” he said. “It’s quite a young side, I would say the most talented that we have had.
“It’s really exciting, a great time to be involved. The guys who have come in have been a breath of fresh air. Guys like Mark Wood, who is loving being around the set-up. That rubs off on everyone when you see people like that. So it’s a very different feel.”
The job of the senior players is to protect and enhance this different feel, to make sure that the youngsters are confident enough to express themselves. They need to feel trusted and supported, and Anderson makes sure that they do. “The only way that people come into the side and play like they have done in this one-day series, or in the Test series before, is if they are relaxed, and they are comfortable in the environment.”
The evidence of 2015 suggests that Anderson, as well as Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Stuart Broad, the other veterans of three consecutive Ashes wins, have done exactly that. The new generation do not look inhibited, anxious or awkward, which is a triumph for the group.
“What we have done well in the last few months, and certainly in this one-day series, is allowing the younger guys to go out there and really show off their talents,” he said. “The important role of the senior guys is to try to get those lads to just relax and try to take some pressure off by putting in performances ourselves.
“With guys like Wood or Ben Stokes, you’ve got to try to make them as relaxed as possible. They’re very skilful players, it’s about getting those skills out.”
Anderson spoke about the responsibility of “drawing on the experiences” of when he was a junior player, first breaking into the England side 12 years ago. That was not an especially welcoming place and Anderson sensed that he was seen as a threat by the senior players of the time.
“When I first started, it didn’t help that the team wasn’t doing very well, so people were always looking over their shoulder,” he said. “And that environment has changed a lot. It was something that Andrew Strauss when he was captain was very keen on getting rid of. Because when he came into the side, a similar time, 2004, there was that same thing: people watching their own back.”
There is no prospect of that now. Anderson speaks with real enthusiasm about Stokes, Wood, Buttler and Root. “The amount of talent they have got is quite scary,” he said. “When you bowl at Jos in the nets and you look at him you think he can be as good as anyone: an AB de Villiers type of player. Obviously he is not there yet, and he has a lot to do. But it is exciting that we have that talent in the team. It is about them playing and playing and playing to realise how good they can be.”
And then there is Root, the leader of the new generation and a man whose talents Anderson – speaking as he faced the media during an exclusive Slazenger Cricket nets session – is already in awe of: “He is frighteningly good.The way he adapts his game throughout the three formats is extraordinary. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone in an England shirt do that as well as he does. And he’s 24 years old.”
Root is the example which Anderson hopes the others will follow. Whatever happens in this Ashes, there is a more important future.
“I don’t think there is a huge amount of pressure on us,” reflected Anderson. “Australia are favourites. We have shown signs of improvement, but we are not quite there yet. I’m excited about where we can go.”
James Anderson was speaking on behalf of Slazenger Cricket whilst facing off against the media at an exclusive nets session. James Anderson will be using the Slazenger V1200 bat during this summer's Ashes, available for £299.99. For more information and to view the full Slazenger Cricket range visit Slazenger.com.Reuse content