James Anderson is fitter now ahead of next month’s Test series against West Indies than he was before last year’s Ashes despite the coronavirus lockdown, says England strength and conditioning coach Rob Ahmun.
Anderson, 37, bowled just four overs in the first Ashes Test before a calf injury ruled him out of the rest of the series. England’s leading wicket-taker of all time returned for the winter tour of South Africa only to miss the final two Tests of the series due to a rib injury.
But despite the lack of cricket caused by the recent pandemic, Ahmun told Sky News‘ Arron Armstrong that Anderson is in a good place to add to his 584 Test scalps and that the enforced break could prolong the seamer’s career by one or two years “without a shadow of a doubt”.
“We took a lot of learnings away from the James Anderson experience last year, to be honest, and part of that was the competitive cricket that the players need to be exposed to before they go back to performing on the highest stage,” said Ahmun, who joined the England set-up from Glamorgan in 2014.
England red-ball training group
Moeen Ali (Worcestershire), James Anderson (Lancashire), Jofra Archer (Sussex), Jonnny Bairstow (Yorkshire), Dom Bess (Somerset), James Bracey (Gloucestershire), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Rory Burns (Surrey), Jos Buttler (Lancashire), Zak Crawley (Kent), Sam Curran (Surrey), Joe Denly (Kent), Ben Foakes (Surrey), Lewis Gregory (Somerset), Keaton Jennings (Lancashire), Dan Lawrence (Essex), Jack Leach (Somerset), Saqib Mahmood (Lancashire), Craig Overton (Somerset), Jamie Overton (Somerset), Matt Parkinson (Lancashire), Ollie Pope (Surrey), Ollie Robinson (Sussex), Joe Root (Yorkshire), Dom Sibley (Warwickshire), Ben Stokes (Durham), Olly Stone (Warwickshire), Amar Virdi (Surrey), Chris Woakes (Warwickshire), Mark Wood (Durham)
“This is why we’ve got this big squad, so there will be an inter-squad match just to make sure that these lads are prepped as much as possible. We’ve also tried to engineer the training sessions so that our best bowlers are bowling at our best batters as well.
“I’ve been in pretty close contact with Jimmy all the way through this. Even from the calf injury last year he’s actually improved his physical capacities all across the board, which for a 37-year-old international bowler to do is fantastic.
“Again, it’s just testament to the level of preparation and hard work that he actually puts into his physical training. He understands that if he doesn’t do that, that he’ll probably not get onto the park. So for him the physical stuff is a vital part of his day-to-day match preparation.”
Anderson revealed recently that before returning to individual training at Lancashire a month ago that he’d been practising hard at home, where he can fit half of his run-up on his drive.
After stepping up his individual practice at Emirates Old Trafford, Anderson has switched to Chester so that Lancashire can host the West Indies touring squad in their bio-secure ground.
Ahmun explained that Anderson, like all of the bowlers, submits regular fitness test scores to him as well as GPS data and that as of Thursday England’s battery of seamers “are all already operating around 90-95 per cent of match intensity, which is great”.
Their collective workloads include bowling double spells and back-to-back days that can consist of up to 25 overs each, but despite the high fitness levels Ahmun says that it would be common sense to expect a fair amount of rotation in the West Indies series.
“I think it’s a pretty tough ask, to be honest, for any cricketer to play three Tests back-to-back,” he said. “That’s part of the reason why we’ve chosen quite a large squad. I’m sure there will be an element of rotation.
“The one thing that the players have missed out on in this period is competitive cricket and we know how important that is to making sure that a player is fully prepped for international cricket, so it would be wrong for us to expect a player to play three back-to-back games.
“It has been a long process to get the players to where they are now. We’ve developed their workloads over a long period of time to make sure they’ve had enough time to develop the chronic load they need to be able to withstand the rigours of Test match cricket.”
Anderson indicated earlier this month that he and his England team-mates will discuss ahead of the first Test how best to promote racial equality after touring skipper Jason Holder said his players are likely to display a ‘show of solidarity’ in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the global protests in response to the killing of George Floyd.
The seamer said possible options include leaving the pitch should any of his team-mates encounter racism or taking the knee, as all Premier League footballers have done since their season resumed this week.
Ahmun, who comes from a BAME background, believes that “people’s attitudes are changing and how awareness of how black lives do matter is changing”; while he acknowledges that there is much more work for society to do to eradicate racism, he says the show of support by top-flight football has given him heart.
“I think it’s great, to be honest, in helping raise awareness,” he said. “What the football guys have done over the last couple of weeks has been fantastic. There has been Black Lives Matter but there has also been Marcus Rashford and the free school meals as well, so they’ve actually caused some real social change which has been fantastic.”
Ahmun explained that he has been racially abused once in his career, during his decade-long spell as a coach at Glamorgan.
“We were at a T20 game and the sun was shining and there was a lot of beer being consumed by the members of the public; myself and the physio were sat on the sidelines during the game and there was racist abuse directed towards myself and the physio, who was from an Afro-Caribbean background,” he recalled.
“We were both pretty shocked and disgusted, to be honest, because cricket is a big family sport and there were people there with young children. So we immediately told the groundstaff and that person or persons were thankfully ejected from the ground.
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