James Anderson is set to step-up his preparations for the tour of South Africa with the England management “really hopeful” he will be fit to take part.
Anderson, the leading wicket-taker among seam bowlers in Test history, was forced to miss the tour of New Zealand after sustaining a calf strain at the start of the Ashes series.
But he has now recovered to the extent that he is to be included in a training camp in Potchefstroom that starts about two weeks ahead of the South Africa tour. If, as expected, he comes through that camp, he will be cleared to play in the Test series that begins with the Boxing Day Test in Centurion. England will also play two warm-up games before the Tests.
Other fast bowlers expected to take part in the camp include Mark Wood, Olly Stone and Jamie Overton. The coaching team will include Jonathan Trott, Glen Chapple, Neil Killeen and, subject to finalising a deal, Darren Gough. Jonny Bairstow is also likely to attend, though his involvement could yet depend on how long he remains in New Zealand.
While the camp is, in part, about ensuring England have a strong group of pace bowlers for South Africa, it is clear from the selection of those involved that England have one eye on the next Ashes series in 24 months. Instead of simply picking the next best array of English seamers, there appears to have been a deliberate attempt to pick quick bowlers who the team management believe could prosper on Australian surfaces.
“Jimmy is going out to Potchefstroom,” Ashley Giles, the managing director of England’s men’s cricket told the BBC. “We’re hopeful. We think he is on track, which is great. The medical team are happy.
“The older you get these things linger longer. We felt no point forcing it for this short tour.
“It will be interesting to see the pitches we play on in South Africa. I think they’ll be green and they’ll go for a bowler war and take us on. It’s not something I’d take on with Jofra Archer and Jimmy Anderson, but it will be an exciting series.”
Giles also admitted that planning for that Ashes series was well underway. Confirming that Joe Root would, barring unforeseen circumstances, captain in that series, Giles described the contest as “the big prize” for England cricketers. And he hinted that, had England had a little more time to plan for the recently contested series, which followed quickly on the heels of the World Cup, they may have ended 2019 as both World Cup and Ashes winners. To that end, there will be more emphasis – both at England and county level – on producing the skills that could lead to success in Australia.
“We have talked about Joe leading and winning in Australia,” Giles said. “We’ve not said ‘maybe if you get there.’ We plan for him to be our captain.
“That series will come round quickly as we know with the business of the schedules. None of us know what is around the corner, things can change quickly. But in our planning when we sat down even before the Headingley Test we were looking to Australia.
“That’s the holy grail for Joe. Going to Australia and winning is the big prize and we have enough time to plan for that.
“Planning for the recent Ashes series was not going to be possible in three weeks but we almost go there. With a fair wind or more Ben Stokes magic we might have done the double.
“Whatever people say, there was definitely more focus on our white-ball teams in the past few years. We’re not moving everything to Test cricket, we’ve got to find a balance on all forms that are important to us.
“We’ll see a more traditional way of playing; playing the long game with ball or bat. Sometimes with ball you have to stick in, refer to plan A and if in doubt go back to plan A.
“That messaging goes into the county system. There was a focus on 2019 and trying to win the World Cup.
“We’ve seen the increase in quality of short-form county cricket. We’ve got this goal – to win in Australia – and we need a system underneath than can produce better players capable of doing it.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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