Jimmy Anderson says he and England are preparing to face the toughest challenge on the international calendar.
The 27 year-old Lancashire bowler flies out to South Africa this weekend for a near 12-week tour which incorporates two Twenty20 internationals, five one-day internationals and four Test matches.
South Africa are a tough limited overs unit, but have failed to produce their best form in world events, and they are also the No.1 Test match side in the world as we speak.
Therefore, Anderson describes the tour as “it’s up there with Australia in Australia”.
England’s preparation for their African adventure has been good, despite an embarrassing 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Australia in the NatWest one-day series through September in England.
They regained the Ashes from the Aussies by winning the Test series 2-1, and they followed that aforementioned one-day series with an admirable showing in the Champions Trophy in South Africa, where they reached the semi-finals, last month.
On both England’s Test and one-day prospects, Anderson said: “They are deservedly No.1 in the world. They are difficult to beat, but Australia beat them in South Africa before they came here, and we can take confidence from that. We can also take confidence from the Ashes win.
“It will be much harder (than the recent Ashes). Playing in South Africa will be a really hard test for us, but we are pretty confident.
“They have a strong captain in Graeme Smith, he brings the best out of his players. As we saw last summer, when they were here, they are very hard to beat. If we can get a result in South Africa, it gives us more confidence to try and retain the Ashes in Australia.
“The Champions Trophy was massive for us. 6-1 (against Australia) was a bit embarrassing, and it’s something we don’t want to happen again, certainly in the near future.
“We played brilliantly against Sri Lanka and then South Africa. If we can re-create that form with consistency, we can progress as a one-day side. Having found some form in South Africa will give us confidence going back there.”
Anderson’s last full tour of South Africa, in the winter of 2004/5 was a frustrating one personally despite the fact that England won a thrilling Test series 2-1.
He was left carrying the drinks and bowling in the nets until an injury to Simon Jones meant he played in the fourth Test at Johannesburg. He returned forgettable figures of 2-117 from 28 overs in the first innings and 0-32 from six in the second.
He didn’t play in the fifth Test, and said: “I don’t want to play like that again. It was a tough tour. The team was settled, but all of a sudden there was an injury after three Tests. Having just bowled at a stump for four or five weeks, I wasn’t in a great place to be playing Test cricket.
“I have sort of put that to one side. That was the first part of my career, now I’ve started a new chapter.”
Since then, Anderson’s stock has risen. He was named one of the five Wisden cricketer’s of the year for 2009, and he currently has 310 international wickets to his name. He is one of the first names on the England team sheet in all forms.
His experience, to a certain degree, was even demonstrated over the most recent weekend when he revealed a desire to captain his country one day. He even admitted that he was “gutted” not to be offered the vice-captaincy for the forthcoming tour.
“I would like to think that I could do a good job, whether it’s in Twenty20, one-day cricket or Test cricket,” he reiterated to the media at Old Trafford on Monday.
“I’d love to be captain of my country, I’m sure a number of people would, and I don’t see it as impossible for me to do that. Eventually I would love to captain a team, whether it be England or Lancashire.
“Obviously vice captaincy is a stepping stone towards that.
“Certainly as I’ve become settled in the team over the last few years, I’ve had more input into team meetings, I’ve been able to offer a bit more to the younger players in terms of advice and tips.”
Anderson meets up with the England squad at Loughborough tomorrow to go through some medical checks, and flies out to Bloemfontein with the one-day squad on Saturday evening.
Included in that one-day squad is his Lancashire colleague Sajid Mahmood, who returns to the international fold for the first time since April, 2007.
Anderson believes he is much improved: “He’s worked really hard at his game, and with the coaches here,” he said. “Peter Moores has been brilliant for him, he’s given him a lot of confidence.
“This is a huge opportunity for Saj, and I’m sure he’ll grab it.”
Anderson, once nicknamed the Burnley Express, mentioned Moores in reference to the help that the ex-England coach has given Mahmood. But Jimmy also paid tribute to the Lancashire coach for his work with himself.
“He was the guy that started off the run I’ve had recently,” he said. “He gave me that confidence and extra responsibility. He seems to have done that here (with the Lancashire players).”
Photos: Ken Grime
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd