James Anderson is fully committed to Test cricket, and helping England become world leaders in the format, but admits the five-day game is under pressure.
At 33, Anderson is now effectively operating as a Test specialist and his status as the England’s record wicket-taker, not to mention the fifth most prolific seamer in history, makes him an obvious cheerleader for the longer format. But it is still instructive to hear him defend the primacy of Tests.
When he won his first cap in 2003 the first Twenty20 international was still two years in the future, but the landscape has shifted irrevocably and the short form now appears more attractive with fans, sponsors and – arguably – players in some territories.
Nobody involved in the sport can have missed the stellar crowds in Australia’s Big Bash League, or ignore the pay cheques on offer in the Indian Premier League and beyond.
But Anderson, who will spearhead his side’s push for a series-clinching win against South Africa in Johannesburg this week, is happy to make the alternate case. Although his name was linked to next month’s Pakistan Super League, few elite players seem less likely to trawl the T20 tournaments for a final pay day than Anderson, who will report back to Lancashire in April having declined to chase an IPL deal.
“My heart is with playing Test cricket for England so that is what I’ll concentrate on doing for the foreseeable future,” he said. “There is a slight worry (over Test cricket) with the domestic T20 competitions doing so well. But speak to players and there is a still a passion to play Test cricket. It’s a real test of someone’s character and skill, to perform in this form of the game. It still excites me, I love it, I prioritise it in my head and my heart and I’m not the only person who feels like that in the world. Hopefully it’s not just players but fans too, because we need people to keep supporting the game so that it does flourish.”
On the face of it, the ongoing battle for the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy seems an unusual backdrop for a debate about the future of Test cricket.
A total of 85,095 fans turned out for the drawn match in Cape Town, a record at Newlands, while Ben Stokes’ blistering ball-striking provided more than enough thrills to satisfy any appetite. Another bumper crowd is anticipated at the Wanderers as the Proteas attempt to prevent the tourists turning their 1-0 lead into an unassailable advantage.
Toppling the world’s number one side on their own patch would be a sizeable achievement and Anderson, the only survivor from the triumphant tour in 2004-05, sees it as a big opportunity for an England side packed with less experienced players.
“It would be massive for us, especially with the journey this team has gone on in a short space of time,” he said. “We’ve shown glimpses of being a world-class team but we have also been very inconsistent.
“To get a win out here, somewhere South Africa have dominated for a long period of time and a big reason why they are number one, it would be huge for us. We are in an amazing position. To be ahead in this series with two games to go is an exciting place to be and we’re really looking forward to seeing it out.”
Anderson missed the victory in Durban with a calf strain but is now back up to full speed having returned in Cape Town, where he worked through 35 overs. England’s only concern this week has been Nick Compton, the last of the touring party to be hit with a sickness bug.
But, after missing training at the start of the week, he was back in the nets yesterday.
“It’s not ideal to see him get an illness so close to the game so it’s nice to see him up and about and making a good recovery,” said Anderson.
“It is a concern and an illness like that can take quite a lot of out of you.
“But, hopefully, he can use his time wisely over the next couple of days to get 100 per cent fit for the game.”