It all ended in tears for Jimmy Anderson when last he faced Sri Lanka at Headingley but he returns next week for the first Test expecting England to take the first big step towards an early season whitewash.
England’s record wicket-taker broke down after his attempt at holding on for a draw with the bat two years ago was ended with just two balls left as Sri Lanka secured a famous series win and Alastair Cook’s captaincy reached its nadir.
Yet such has been the progress since then that Anderson will face Sri Lanka again on his least favourite ground confident enough to predict that England should begin their Test summer with a 3-0 clean-sweep.
‘It was right up there with my worst moments,’ said Anderson of that dismissal at Leeds by Shaminda Eranga with safety in sight.
‘It had been a long game and to get within two balls of saving it left me crushed at the end. Hopefully we won’t be in that situation this time.’
It would be a huge shock if England have to battle for survival again at Headingley both because of their own resurgence and Sri Lanka’s lack of strength without the retired giants Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
If England are to return to the top of the world Test rankings in the next year or two then home series against Sri Lanka and then Pakistan this summer really do need to be won convincingly and Anderson knows it.
‘If we build on how we played in the winter then there’s no doubt we can win 3-0,’ said Anderson.
‘Home conditions against a rebuilding Sri Lanka provides a great opportunity for us but it’s important we concentrate on ourselves. If we do get everything right then there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll win.’
The confidence is based on the way England have rebuilt themselves after the massive low of their 5-0 Ashes thrashing two and a half years ago and the loss in all formats to Sri Lanka that quickly followed.
At the centre of it has been Anderson’s close friend Cook who came close to quitting in the aftermath of that miserable Headingley defeat by Sri Lanka but who held on to the captaincy and is now at the helm of a vibrant young side.
‘The way the team has progressed since then has been far greater than anyone could have imagined,’ said Anderson. ‘The last 12 months in particular have been a real breath of fresh air in the way we’ve been allowed to progress.
‘We’ve been given the freedom to go out there and enjoy playing. International cricket can be highly pressurised but the captain and coach have done a great job in taking that pressure away from the players and allowed them to enjoy themselves on the field. Our guys have got bundles of talent and they try to get that out there for people to see now.
‘I’m not sure whether Trevor Bayliss’s arrival was a catalyst for our progress or coincidence but Cooky has done a fantastic job and certainly since Trevor’s come in he’s taken more responsibility. Cooky is the figurehead in the dressing room, the one people look up to, and he’s in charge. Trevor has given him that responsibility. It’s Cooky’s team now.’
It may be a young England team but Anderson, at 33 and with 433 Test wickets, remains central to it in partnership with the man who is now rated as the best bowler in the world in Stuart Broad.
Anderson has long been the leader of England’s attack but will he now have to play second fiddle to his new-ball partner?
‘No. Ill still be picking ends,’ smiled Anderson. ‘People say there must be a rivalry between us but there really isn’t. The relationship we’ve got is one of helping each other out. We help each other get wickets and we know how we do that. I remember playing with Darren Gough and Andrew Caddick when they were almost literally fighting over the last wicket.
‘We don’t have that. There’s the likelihood he’ll go past me in terms of wickets taken and that would be a proud moment for me too. When I passed the record the first gift I got was from Stuart who said he was pleased to share so many wickets with me. There’s that mutual respect and I’d be proud if he goes past me one day because I’ll know I’ve been involved in many of those wickets.’
For now he is delighted to be a senior figure in what should be an exciting final phase of his career. ‘I’d like to go on for a bit longer,’ he said. ‘I’ve spoken to a few people about coming towards the end and everyone says to keep going for as long as you possibly can because you miss it so much when you can’t.
‘This team have got endless amounts of potential. It’s frightening really. It’s incredible for instance that someone like Jos Buttler is not in the Test team. To have players like that trying to get back in makes this a really good place for English cricket.’