The last few weeks have provided James Anderson with plenty of time to think.
To think about whether this break due to the pandemic will prolong his career; how strange behind-closed-door Test matches will be, starting against the West Indies on 8 July; the difficulty in breaking the habit of a lifetime by not shining the ball with saliva and whether that will mean it’ll swing less. But the most profound thoughts that have occupied his mind have centred around race.
With the George Floyd protests in the United States and the subsequent Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the UK, and across the world, this England-West Indies series will play out in a unique and testing societal atmosphere.
On Wednesday, West Indies captain Jason Holder said he will discuss with his players how best to show support to the global anti-racism movement during the series. And England’s leading wicket-taker confirmed the hosts will look to join them in an act of solidarity.
“It’s been a very thought-provoking few weeks for everyone,” said Anderson. “It’s made me do a lot of thinking. We will have conversations about what we can do as players to make a stand, definitely.”
Like many of us, Anderson has looked at his own interactions and of those around him and wondered if he had missed anything. Or, perhaps most importantly, if he could have done more. Not just in an international career that started in 2002 and a professional one that began two years earlier, but further down the chain too.
And while he says he hasn’t experienced racism in the game – that is to say, noticed it occurring in his presence – he wonders just how much he has been oblivious to.
“It’s something as players and a game we need to be more active,” said Anderson. “It’s made me think ‘have I experienced racism on a cricket field’ and I couldn’t remember any instances. I wasn’t there in New Zealand when Jofra (Archer) was racially abused. It made me think and it made me think ‘have I turned a blind eye to things?’”
This week both Daren Sammy and Michael Carberry have talked of their experiences within cricket. Sammy, a former West Indies captain, was left furious after discovering a name given to him during a stint in the Indian Premier League was racist, while Carberry, who played five Tests for England, all during the 2013/14 Ashes tour, spoke dishearteningly about systemic issues within the English game.
“Cricket is rife with racism,” he began on The Cricket Badger podcast. “The issue you have in cricket is, the people running the game don’t care about black people in it. Black people are not important to the structure of English cricket.”
On Wednesday, Anderson also came across a tweet from Cricinfo journalist George Dobell which stated that there was only one active state school educated black cricketer played first-class cricket by the end of 2019. That, along with other factors, has led him to wonder how he can do more.
“I’d try to support my team-mates if they did suffer any sort of abuse but have I been active in supporting them on likes like that. So that’s really what I’ve been thinking about.
“Can I be more active in basically just… I think the game in general as well. I saw the stat that George put up that there’s only one black player who’s come through the state system in county cricket and that’s just not okay. So I think again as a game we need to actively make this game for everyone. It can’t keep going the way it is. It’s just not okay. So that’s the sort of thing I’ve been thinking about really. Is there more I can do as a player to help the situation really?”
On the performance side of things, he has stepped up training and has even been able to bowl at a batsman. His Lancashire teammate Keaton Jennings has been the one in his sights as they train in Chester while the West Indies self-isolate and train at Old Trafford having arrived on Tuesday. The second and third Test will also be played here, at Anderson’s home ground, where he averages 21 with the ball.
Having last played at the start of the year in Cape Town – he picked up an injury after his first-innings haul of five for 40 – the desire to get back playing has seemingly never been greater. Though he is not contemplating retirement he is certainly wary of proving he still merits a place. Which as odd as it sounds for someone with 584 Test wickets, is perhaps in keeping with a player whose last two injuries have come in the last year, both early on in marquee series against Australia and India. Especially given three Tests against Pakistan await soon after.
“As long as I can prove to myself that I am good enough to keep playing, good enough to keep my place in the team, then I will keep going and I’ll keep working hard on my fitness. The last year has been frustrating for me,” he said. “Before that, my injury record was pretty good. I’m hoping it was just a dodgy 12 months and hopefully my body is in a good place now to be able to cope with whatever’s to come in the next 12 months.”