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James Anderson has called for Australians to keep the Ashes phoney war “respectable” and says that the insults can be “dangerous” for mental health.
Anderson was responding to rival captain Tim Paine, who was criticised for showing a lack of empathy when he said during protracted negotiations over quarantine protocols that “no one is forcing” England to tour. “If you don’t want to come, don’t come,” he said.
“It is dangerous to start talking like that, especially when we already have one player [Ben Stokes] missing because he is looking after his mental health,” Anderson said. “I get it that this is an Ashes series and we are going to have this bit of pantomime stuff away from the cricket, but let’s just keep it respectable.”
Anderson, a veteran of four Ashes tours and preparing for one last trip Down Under, has heard worse in the past but believes it is a reminder of what England can expect when they land in Australia. Four years ago, on the eve of the first Test in Brisbane, Nathan Lyon warned the Australia attack would “end careers” of England players.
“It is important everyone knows what to expect when we get there,” Anderson said. “There is always a lot of hype and noise around the Ashes in the build-up to it. Making everyone aware of that and having ways of blocking it out are important.
“It is designed to distract us. There are always little things that crop up. That is inevitable but it is important we try to focus as much as we can on the cricket. That is our job. Our job is not really to get involved in any off-field war of words. We have to focus on our jobs on the field and perform for our country.”
The prospect of Stokes donning his superhero cape and flying in for England’s Ashes campaign moved a step closer this week when he had his first net since July. Those close to him say he is feeling much better in himself thanks to the sharp improvement in the condition of his broken left index finger following a second operation last week.
It would lift the whole tour if Stokes was to make a comeback. The Test specialists leave for Australia on Nov 4, more than a month before the first Test, but England insist they are not pressurising Stokes.
Assessing the state of his finger is relatively straightforward. It will be judging whether he is ready mentally for the challenge and scrutiny of an Ashes tour that will be harder and is the most important decision for the England medical staff.
“It was really exciting to see him in the nets. He obviously feels he is getting somewhere near to coming back, which is fantastic,” Anderson said.
“Chris Silverwood said he is not going to rush him back and it is the same from the players’ point of view as well. We will be there to support him and whenever he is ready we will welcome him back with open arms.
“We saw in 2019 he is a match-winner with bat or ball and even in the field. He can turn matches by himself and to have that special gift makes a massive difference to us. It would also have an effect on Australia when they see him in our team. It just makes them think slightly differently and helps balance our side. Whenever he is ready to come back he would make an amazing difference.”
Anderson was the first senior England player to make himself available for the Ashes tour. During the summer, his family decided they would not be joining him in Australia, making the decision easier, but he was still a full part of the negotiations over quarantine conditions.
Anderson believes it would “make sense” for the England and Wales Cricket Board to contact Cricket Australia about rearranging the Ashes schedule to start in New South Wales after the state government announced on Friday it would be dropping hotel quarantine for all overseas arrivals from Nov 1.
England have agreed to a soft quarantine at a golf resort in Gold Coast, Queensland, before the first Test at the Gabba. Moving to New South Wales would give the players more freedom but Australia want to start at the Gabba, where England have not won since 1986-87.
“As with the stuff already, there have been discussions and I’m sure this will be something that will be brought up between ECB and Cricket Australia as well,” Anderson said. “I’m sure it is common sense to be talking about something like that but it is something way out of players’ hands.”
Anderson was at Emirates Old Trafford on Friday for Global Handwashing Day with England sponsors Lifebuoy. One thing that has changed for Anderson is not putting saliva on the ball, and there is no indication of when this might change. “It does make a difference in England, because we don’t sweat as much, but that will not be a problem in Australia,” he said.
The lack of pace in England’s Ashes squad is a rerun of previous tours, but Anderson has never bought into the idea that speed is everything in Australia.
“It gets talked about all the time that you need this X-factor in Australia,” he said. “You look at what we had in 2010-11 and what teams that have won there since have done and it is about hitting areas, being consistent, patient and having enough skill to get wickets on flat pitches, and I think we have got that.
“You can’t just pick fast bowlers because you think you need fast bowlers. They have got to be good enough. We have definitely got enough to take 20 wickets in each Test match and that is what we hopefully will be doing.”
On Global Handwashing Day, the ECB’s official hygiene partner Lifebuoy, together with Chance to Shine, ran a coaching session to help educate children through the power of cricket, on the importance of hand hygiene.