England’s all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson can’t wait to go face to face against Steve Smith in the upcoming Ashes, which is scheduled to begin at the Gabba from December 8. The 39-year-old had a fascinating contest with Indian skipper Virat Kohli, dismissing him twice in seven innings, when India recently toured England.
The right-arm seamer now wants to take on Smith, who has been England's nemesis in each of the last two Ashes campaigns. The right-handed batter amassed 687 runs at 137.40 and helped his team thump England 4-0 in 2017-18 and then accumulated 774 runs at 110.57, including twin centuries in the opening Test at Edgbaston, during Australia's 2-2 defence of the urn in England in 2019.
"As a bowler you always look at the best player, and for me over the last three, four or five years, Steve Smith's been Australia's best player. He's been the one they rely on for their volume of runs, obviously supported by guys around him like (David) Warner and (Marnus) Labuschagne recently. But he's been their go-to in the last few years, so he'll be the one that we will be keen to get out early," Anderson told Fox Cricket's Road to the Ashes podcast.
"This summer was probably my favourite contest with Virat. We've had a few good battles over the years, both in England and India, but this year was certainly my favourite. I got him out a few times but also he got some runs as well, and we had a battle on the field where there was definitely a mutual respect there. It was in a really nice manner, if that makes sense. Obviously we were going at each other, but it was in a in a well-spirited way. So I really enjoyed that."
England haven’t won a Test series in Australia since 2010-11 and Anderson will once again have to play a key role if Joe Root and Co. want to emerge victorious, especially in the absence of Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes. "We've got to start well. The Gabba in particular is huge for us. If we can get one-up on a few batters early, then that can have a real snowball effect throughout the series.
"Bowling in Australia is not necessarily more difficult, it's just different. In England the Dukes swings more often than not, and with the wickets we play on, you can get some seam movement as well. But you're not going to get much swing with a Kookaburra, so it's just about trying to hit good areas. You've just got to be relentless, and so accurate. And that's where people do struggle."
Anderson wants to feature in all five Tests but knows that’s not going to be easy in Australia. "I will do exactly what I did in our summer. Hopefully I'll be playing all five, but I'd be happy with three or four. You manage it as you go through the series. If any of the bowlers' workload spikes - if we do a 50-55 overs in a Test match - you've got to look at the next one, and if it's sensible to play because they come so thick and fast.
"We've got a decent squad of bowlers, so we can rotate a little bit, as we have been for the last 18 months to two years. The likelihood of playing all five at my age, to be honest at any age in Australia, (is slim). It does take a lot out of you, especially in the heat in some of the venues. So we just have to wait and see."
The Ashes tour had been the subject of tense negotiations after England's players and their families expressed concerns over tough Covid quarantine restrictions in Australia. "It's been a long few weeks of discussions, but it's great that we're all getting on the plane and can't wait to get going now," Anderson said.
"My family won't be coming out there. I've got two kids at school, so any sort of quarantine just means that they can't get the time to come over. But for those guys with younger families, and particularly those guys who play all formats, it's a long time away from home. We've spent two years, pretty much, in bubbles and not seeing families, so to have another three months away from them, especially over Christmas and New Year, would have been tough."