Anderson is recovering from a mild groin strain picked up during Lancashire’s County Championship match against Somerset last week. While the 40-year-old expects to be fully fit for the Ireland Test at Lord’s on June 1, he is likely to sit out that match to preserve himself for the Ashes, which begins at Edgbaston on June 16.
“If you look at our team, if we play to the best of our ability with that mindset, I don’t think anyone can cope with us,” said Anderson. “So yes, I think we can win.
“I feel like if we can keep the same mentality and the same sort of feeling in the dressing room we’ve had. It’s fairly relaxed, we’re trying to enjoy ourselves, we’re trying to entertain people, take the positive option.”
In many ways, Australia will be the acid test to a lot of the values England have assumed since the start of last summer. Particularly a desire to entertain and not judge performances solely on winning and losing.
That attitude has only been challenged once so far, when England lost to New Zealand at Wellington. They had bossed the second Test for the first three days, asking the Blackcaps to follow-on before losing deep into the final day by a single run. Anderson was the final wicket.
Will such altruism fly this summer given the fervour of an Ashes? In an interview with Sky Sports, Stokes said he would declare to give Australia a chase in the final Test at the Oval even if England just needed a draw to win the series. Referencing Stokes’ comments, Anderson hopes the approach and mindset remain in their fullest capacity. Particularly given the correlation between playing without fear and impressive performances.
“We’re going to get the same messaging from Brendon and Ben about how we go about playing. I think there’ll just be a little bit more attention around it because it is an Ashes series. But I just hope we can play the same way because it’s been brilliant to be part of.
“I’m excited by the way we’ve been playing, it’s about something greater than the outcome. It’s about entertaining people and trying to enjoy ourselves while we do it. The end result has been taken away to an extent in the last few months, and I think that focus on ourselves has helped produce performances and produce results.”
Australia represents something of a final frontier. Victories over New Zealand, India, South Africa and the 3-0 series win in Pakistan has seen them best all challengers so far. While a tour of India at the start of 2024 is a fascinating opportunity to see how an adventurous batting style translates to turning surfaces, this summer’s visiting attack – the best in the world right now – will provide the sternest resistance so far.
Anderson anticipates some adjustments but cites success at “each stage that we’ve been through” as an indicator they must do unto Australia what they have done against everyone else.
“I’m sure we’ll have to do something slightly differently against Australia because they might have different plays and whatever else. But we’ve coped with everything that’s been thrown at us so far. It’s been exciting.
“They are naturally extremely competitive, aggressive when they play. They’ll have discussed it and have their own plans and own ways of how they are going to cope with it. I just think if we do what we’ve been doing and play as well as we possibly can, I don’t think anyone in the world can cope with it.”
It’s worth noting Anderson’s recent home Ashes experiences have not been that great, even during a period when England have not lost a series on these shores since 2003. He injured his calf on the morning of the first match in 2019 (2-2) and pulled up during the third Test of the 2015 series, which England went on to take 3-1. You can understand why he wants to minimise the risk of injury by skipping the Ireland match.
In between were two 4-0 away defeats, along with 2013-14’s 5-0 defeat six months after the home win in 2013. That was Anderson’s second whitewash after the 2006-07 tour where he made three appearances.
“I’ve gone from potentially bowling 35 overs in an innings, potentially trying to winkle a few out, to just giving it everything in your spell”
Indeed, the last failure Down Under saw Anderson dropped alongside Broad. Stokes’ first order of business upon becoming captain was to recall them.
Since then, Anderson has enjoyed a new lease of life under a captain who has focussed squarely on taking wickets rather than consolidating run rates. Though the batting has taken the headlines, such positivity with the ball has seen England take the full 20 wickets in all of Stokes’ 12 Tests. Anderson, meanwhile, has 45 dismissals at 17.62, leaving him just 15 shy of the 700 mark.
“I’m not trying to just bowl into the channel and get him to leave then hope he prods at one in 16 overs time,” Anderson said. “I’m trying to get a wicket every ball. It might sound strange, the whole point of cricket is to get people out as a bowler, but there are different ways of going about it.
“I love it. I think it’s great. I’ve gone from potentially bowling 35 overs in an innings, potentially trying to winkle a few out, to just giving it everything in your spell knowing we are on. There’s a better feel, everyone is involved and there are ideas coming from everyone.”
The main source of the ideas is singled out for special praise. Across an international career that will turn 20 on Monday – the anniversary of the first of 179 caps, against Zimbabwe – Anderson has played under eight different captains. His current, and almost certainly last captain, is the one he rates highest.
“Yeah,” Anderson answered after a long pause when asked if Stokes was the best. “It is hard to say over a short period of time but he’s had an amazing start. I think he is completely different from any captain I’ve ever played with before and I’ve really enjoyed it.
“I can’t fault anything really. I think everyone knew that he was a leader, the way he trains, whether it’s the gym or whether it’s catching or batting or bowling the way he goes about his business, he is the ultimate professional. The way he plays he leaves everything out there. So he’s a born leader.
“For me, it’s the finer details, not just on the field where his tactical nous has been spot on, but also his emotional intelligence off the field and how he talks to everyone in the group.
“If he needs to put his arm around someone or fire someone up, he’s just got a really good way of doing that. And the way he speaks to the group as well is excellent. I’ve been really impressed.”
James Anderson was speaking at a partnership launch announcing Radox as an Official Partner of England Cricket.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo