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Cricket news - Anderson determined to resume after Coronavirus lockdown
"I've not actually thought about never playing cricket again."
If you close your eyes, you can see him. You can see James Anderson gliding up to the crease, all rhythm and grace. He's running in quickly but he doesn't look like he's expending too much effort. He is of course. But he never looks like he is. A couple of meters before the crease, Anderson curls his arms tightly and then whoosh. He whips the ball down menacingly towards the batsman. Close your eyes and you can see it.
Is it an away swinger? No, not this time. This time it's the other one, the inswinger, the one Anderson uses as the final blow after setting up the batsman with a battery of deliveries which shape away. Away, away, away bangs the drum. Away, away, away. The batsman knows the inswinger is going to come. Everyone knows it. But only Anderson knows when.
Close your eyes and see it. Wrist position adjusted with subtlety and skill, Anderson bowls the inswinger. The batsman is hit on the pads. Anderson turns to the umpire, screams an appeal with both arms stretched above his head in typical fashion. The finger goes up. And James Anderson, the fast-bowler with the most Test wickets in the history of the game, has yet another victim. If you close your eyes, you can see it all so clearly.
With little prospect of any live cricket for the foreseeable future, imaging James Anderson running in to bowl is more or less all we have. We can't watch Anderson live, for Lancashire or England. We can't watch him set a batsman up before sending them on their way. We just have our memories - and some old YouTube clips - to remind us of his brilliance.
Anderson is 37 now, of course. The last nine months or so have been hampered by injuries. It's obvious that there are not too many more deliveries to be bowled, not too many more batsmen to be dismissed or games to be won. The end is close now for Anderson, the opportunities to see him in action fading fast. In all likelihood, the coronavirus pandemic has reduced those opportunities significantly.
By how much, we don't yet know. Perhaps it will only be by a couple of Tests. But if it is worse than that, if there is no Test or County Championship cricket played this summer - unlikely perhaps but a possibility - what then? At the very least, we will miss out on a summer's worth of watching a master at work when the master at work doesn't have many summers left.
In a worst case scenario, though, one which nobody wants to contemplate, might Anderson never play for England again?
"I've not actually thought about never playing cricket again," Anderson said on a conference call with journalists on Thursday (March 26). "I feel like we will play again and I will play again at some stage. But with the uncertainty of what's happening at the moment, I think it would be silly to not think about not bowling a ball this summer. To me at the moment that's pretty realistic with the situation around the world.
"But long-term I think I'm still going to play. Whether we get some games in 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."
That Anderson retains that hunger is important. Hopefully, it will sustain him. But England's schedule for this winter currently involves a Test series in India. That's a tough place for a 38 year-old fast-bowler, as Anderson will be by then, to go. If there is no Test cricket this summer, would that tour be too much of a stretch? Would England risk taking him?
If they don't, and the home series against West Indies and Pakistan this summer are not rescheduled for the winter, would Anderson make next season having had 18 months out of international cricket? That would be highly unlikely. It is possible therefore - possible but awful and unthinkable - that Anderson has played his last Test.
This is all speculation of course. Nobody knows how the summer will pan out. Perhaps the only certainty right now is that England will be reluctant to pension Anderson off too soon. He may have missed a fair amount of cricket since the start of last summer because of injury, including the broken rib that ruled him out of the final two Tests of the South Africa series at the start of the year, but there is no sign that his powers as a bowler are diminishing.
In his last Test match, in Cape Town in January, he took 5 for 40 in the first innings and another two vital wickets in the second innings, to help England to a series turning victory. It was a reminder of the bowler Anderson has been and the bowler he still is, one who is able to bend games to his will. England would not have won that particular Test without him.
"I had mixed emotions in that week," Anderson admits. "I was delighted with the way I played and I think having missed most of the [previous] summer [against Australia] it was nice to put in a performance and get some wickets and get a win as well. To get injured again was a big frustration. But it was lucky in a way that was a broken rib. If it was a muscle injury it would have taken much longer to recover.
"I've been doing pre-season with Lancashire for a couple of months now and feeling really good. I was ready and raring and to go be honest. My bowling was as good as it has been, my speeds were good and fitness felt good. As and when it happens, whether it's this summer whether it's the winter, my plan is to try and get back into that England team and hopefully the next time I do I'll be able to stay fit for a little bit longer."
Despite the frustration of the past few weeks, there are positives to be found. For one, being in a state of near lockdown is a sharp reminder of the things we take for granted but shouldn't. The ability to go out and do what you want, when you want and with whom you want, for instance. Being able to call on a ready supply of toilet roll has never seemed so important. And yes, Anderson admits, it is a reminder that if, or when, he gets to play again, he needs to savour it.
"Something like this puts everything in perspective really," he said. "Cricket has been a huge part of my life for quite a number of years, but you see the importance of it, in the grand scheme of things, isn't that great. 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. 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 cherish it and enjoy every single moment."
Right now, Anderson's focus is understandably on his family - "My family's health is the first priority and cricket very much secondary to that" - but there will be a time when cricket resumes again. England will play another Test match, and then another, and then another. How many of those Anderson plays remains to be seen. But we can only hope it is some of them. The alternative simply doesn't bear thinking about.
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