James Anderson has admitted he cannot afford another performance similar to the first Test against Pakistan otherwise the England selectors will take the decision about retirement “out of my hands”.
Anderson used a press conference on Monday to reiterate he wants to carry on playing for England and is not about to retire after what he described as a “bad game” in Manchester where he took one wicket in two innings and was visibly angry with his performance. It has left him unsure of his place for the second Test this week as England ponder rotation.
It sparked rumours of retirement, with Anderson taking only six wickets this summer at an average of 41.16, and a strike rate of one wicket every 92 balls, his worst at home. He did not bowl that badly in Manchester but admitted he let a dropped catch off his bowling by Ben Stokes get to him, a sign of the increasing pressure he is putting on himself to prove he is not finished yet.
“It's been a frustrating week for me personally. I've not bowled very well and felt out of rhythm,” he said. “For the first time in probably 10 years I got a little bit emotional on the field, got a bit frustrated, let it get to me a little bit. It reminded me of when I first started playing, when you get frustrated and a little bit angry you try and bowl quicker and quicker and it doesn't help.
“It was one bad game and I’m sure I’ll have another bad game in my career. I just don’t want every time I have a bad game for there to be whispers going round that I’m going to pack in. For me it’s about trying to find a way of dealing with that, dealing with the outside noise. I’ve done that really well in my career, but it’s a little bit different now.”
Coming back for second spells is when the injuries and 18 years of Test match bowling have a sapping affect. Anderson has taken 12 second-innings wickets in his last 14 matches since August 2018 and none in four matches this summer.
England showed they still believe Anderson is in their first-choice attack, picking him for the third Test against West Indies, when coach Chris Silverwood vowed to select his best bowlers to win the series.
Anderson remains clear that he wants to carry on to the next Ashes series. He will be 39 by the time that series starts in November 2021 and has struggled on Australian pitches, bowling with the Kookaburra ball. It is pace that England need in Australia.
Most great players deny retirement until the constant speculation over their future becomes too draining, especially when combined with poor form. Alastair Cook went into the 2018 summer publicly denying suggestions of retirement but bowed out in the fifth Test against India that September.
Asked if he wants to play in the next Ashes series, Anderson replied: “Yes, absolutely. It’s not like that’s a focus of mine; I want to play as long as I possibly can. If I keep bowling the way I did this week, the opportunity to retire will be taken out of my hands. It will be a selection issue.
“I’m still hungry to play the game. I think the frustration for me this week was that, after one bad game... the sort of whispers that go around. I don’t think that’s really fair. But, for me, I’m still hungry.”
England are due to tour India this winter for five Tests. The series is likely to be cut to three or four Tests and could be played in the United Arab Emirates rather than India, depending on the coronavirus pandemic. Anderson has a good record in the UAE, but was left out of the team on the last tour to India with a bowling average of 53.
England have to build for the future and could leave him of the squad for India but still keep him on a central contract to play in home conditions next summer, which would give him the chance of a proper farewell if the pandemic is under control and crowds are back. Anderson commands so much respect within the England set up that they will be reluctant to make the decision for him, hoping he will know when he has had enough.
Anderson is 10 short of becoming the first seam bowler to take 600 Test wickets, and eight Tests from overtaking Cook’s record for the most England caps. He expected to hit the 600 mark this summer, but if he does not play in the second Test this week then it is likely to hang over him for much longer.
“If I get 600 wickets then great; if I don’t, then I’m happy with what I’ve got. I know I can perform better than I did this week. I want to keep getting better and keep helping England win games of cricket,” he said.
“I still can’t quite believe the number that’s next to my name when the teams go up on the TV, 154 does sound like quite a lot of games. But I feel like I’ve still got quite a few more left in me. That has to be the focus for me – to focus on the next game, trying to stay fit. The last 18 months has been frustrating injury wise. I want to get back to enjoying my cricket – I didn’t enjoy bowling this week – but I want to remember why I play the game, enjoy doing what I do and play as long as I can. If I can go past Cooky it will probably be the one thing I’ve got up on him.”
He added: “I have to keep working hard. Selection is out of my hands, I’ve got to work hard and show that I’m bowling well. I think also I didn’t feel like I bowled poorly in the West Indies series,” he said.
“I felt good with the way the ball was coming out, and don’t think too much changes with one bad game. Everyone has a bad game, I’m sure I will have more bad games. It’s trying to keep a positive mental attitude, focus on the next game, put everything else behind. When you play well you can’t dwell on that either, you have to put it behind and focus on what’s coming up.”