English cricket’s mindset for as long as I can remember has been to work in four-year cycles, culminating in an away Ashes series.
It tends to reset itself after tours Down Under and that is why a lot of players have played their last Test matches in Sydney. Some are dispensed with, others come in.
But I don’t envisage that happening to this England team because we’re in the middle of an era of potential success, and it’s not an ageing team that needs rebuilding.
I have no plans to stop playing Test cricket for England once this winter’s Ashes tour is over
Quite the contrary: this is a youngish team who need a bit of time. And I see myself as a big part of our aim to become the best Test team in the world.
That isn’t going to happen on January 18 next year, when the final Test finishes in Perth, but several months further down the line given where the team are now, third in the world behind this summer’s opponents, New Zealand and India.
Two years ago, when I set myself some goals on a tour of New Zealand, such as maintaining pace as a bowler, I saw the upcoming Ashes as my Olympics – something I really wanted to peak for.
Of course, I still want to peak for it in terms of fitness, bowling rhythm and wickets. I just don’t view it as the end goal as an Olympian might. Often they talk about their ‘journey’ when they pick up medals, as if their job is complete, but I don’t want this Ashes to be my final destination in international cricket.
Hopefully, I will be helped by what appears to be a recent change in attitude towards more experienced performers. There has been greater appreciation of those performing at an older age across several sports, such as Jimmy Anderson, Tom Brady, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Phil Mickelson.
Once you were written off as soon as you reached 30, but now a genuine enjoyment seems to exist for people watching these older players delivering. It’s no longer about pensioning them off, but enjoying them while they’re here.
I see myself playing a key role over the next few years as England try to be the No 1 Test team
And I think my new-ball partner Jimmy and I have proven that the more experienced you are, the more you can deliver under pressure.
I think I have maintained the high levels I set for myself throughout my England career and the bar I set for my personal expectations has not dropped. I genuinely think I am now better than ever.
My statistics playing Test cricket here suggest that I’m improving as a bowler and that’s huge testament to the current England dressing room and the one at Nottinghamshire, where Peter Moores and Stephen Mullaney have created a really positive environment.
A month shy of my 35th birthday, I am loving cricket more than ever; much more than I was at 25.
What’s pleased me most building up to Wednesday’s first Test against New Zealand at Lord’s is that I am already bowling at Test match intensity. I had a message from our fitness trainer Phil Scott, who looked at my GPS numbers a week ago against Worcestershire, and they were right up there.
Playing for Nottinghamshire, I have noticed that I am already bowling at Test match intensity
In fact, my run-up numbers were even a little bit more intense than my Test match numbers and I have benefited from some highly competitive County Championship cricket. I feel like I’m coming into this two-Test series a couple of matches deep even though we’ve not bowled a ball yet.
Part and parcel of being a red-ball specialist cricketer is ensuring I am fresh and fit for all seven Test matches this summer. I’ve missed one home Test in 11 years – the corresponding one at the start of last summer. I feel in great form, so I am ready to fulfil my part of the bargain.
What I do understand, though, is what I told Chris Silverwood, the England coach, last week – I cannot control selection, because that is other people’s opinions and judgments.
Only 696 players have represented England in Test cricket and that tells you that caps are not dished out for free, that you must work very hard for each one. It’s the ultimate and if it wasn’t, that number would be nearer 5,000.
Home advantage usually counts for something in international sport but that is not necessarily the case this week against New Zealand, who will arguably have more players in their XI with previous Lord’s Test experience than us.
Playing Test cricket for England is a privilege and not one I am prepared to lose yet
The core of our batting – Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Dan Lawrence and James Bracey – haven’t played in one. Besides New Zealand’s knowledge of conditions, even without the resting Trent Boult, they have one of the most consistent bowling attacks in the world in Neil Wagner, Tim Southee, Kyle Jamieson and Matt Henry. Their batting unit has great experience here too, with the likes of Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson and Tom Latham.
We are missing a few players post-Indian Premier League but I still see this as a good but well-natured Test series between two teams that get on with each other – it’s not like we are bitter rivals as we are with Australia – but will play tough, high-quality cricket.
With India to follow, after what happened to us over there last winter, and then the Ashes, Test cricket doesn’t get any bigger than the year ahead. I just don’t intend it to be my last.
Jimmy has repaid the ECB’s faith
You wouldn’t have imagined a fast bowler would beat the England Test caps record 20 years ago. It has taken phenomenal commitment and skill and, over the last few years, Jimmy Anderson had to be incredibly strong mentally because he’s had injuries that would have resulted in a lot of people giving up.
It would’ve been easy for him to say: ‘I can’t be bothered to do another rehab.’ He missed the whole of the 2019 summer with a calf problem, then he got a stress fracture of the shoulder and went home from the tour of South Africa.
Huge credit to him for getting fit and to the ECB for backing him, knowing that he is capable of winning Test matches. He repaid that faith in the first Test in Chennai earlier this year. I don’t see him slowing down now. He won’t have one eye on the finish. He will go until he can’t go any more and we should all enjoy watching him while we can.
James Anderson is on the brink of becoming England’s all-time Test record holder