With the record for test wickets by a fast bowler, James Anderson has established himself as England’s greatest ever bowler. Co-presenter of the BBC podcast Tailenders, Felix White, helped turn Anderson’s historic career into his debut autobiography.
Congratulations on being involved in Bowl. Sleep. Repeat, which has been nominated for The Telegraph Sports Book Awards Autobiography of the Year, in your role as ghostwriter, can you tell us how you came to be involved as ghostwriter on the book?
Thank you! I’m very touched that we have been nominated as it is the first book I’ve ever written and was certainly a collaboration that would have been deemed almost psychedelically left-field a few years previous. Jimmy and I, alongside Radio 1 breakfast host, Greg James, have been co-presenting the BBC podcast Tailenders for a couple of years now. The show was supposed to just be a few episodes during the Ashes in which Jimmy gave us some insight into the England dressing room. Three years later, it has snowballed to a never-ending weekly broadcast that is not reliant on any cricket happening at all. To begin with though, it became clear that we had a very rare insight into every aspect of what being a highly successful fast bowler for decades entailed through Jimmy’s honesty. The book came about as a bi-product of that. As my job is, in the main, as a musician, it felt like a completely different project for both Jimmy and I and one that we were keen to make have a voice of it’s own.
How closely had you followed Jimmy’s career before you began the project? Did you have any preconceptions before you started on the book and were there any particular stories or issues you really wanted to address?
Through Tailenders and my general love/borderline obsession with Cricket, I knew Jimmy’s career very well. A lot of the time it felt like I actually remembered the specific details better than he did! That was where it became interesting, because I was able to pour all of my fanaticism and recollection into the writing whilst searching for specific aspects of how it actually feels to achieve them. We became keen on bridging the gap between the viewer and the sportsman, punctuating the ways that playing for England can still resemble the relationships and communities you find in club cricket, and looking for a heartening current through it all.
Can you tell us a bit about the actual process of working with Jimmy to get the material for the book?
We put this together through stolen hours really; sometimes immediately after recording Tailenders, often when Jimmy was on tour in different parts of the world, and occasionally even in the pub. The intent was to compartmentalize sections, so that there were sections where a child club player picking up the game and thirsty for knowledge could literally learn the mechanics of swing bowling, and then it could move into something more personal to Jimmy through many of his now mythologised moments, then back into more general, flippant truths about cricketers and their lives. It made for a process that didn’t ever feel like a burden, which added to the novelty of the experience and allowed for it to be whatever it ended up as, without being too handcuffed to a theme or plan.
Was there anything unexpected that you learnt about Jimmy or any particular stories that surprised you or that you really connected with?
Despite taking more Test wickets than any fast bowler in the history of the game, Jimmy doesn’t consider his main skill on this earth to be swing bowling. He more values his ability to crush cardboard into his recycling bins at home by getting into it and stamping it down.
Jimmy is still in the midst of his career, so what was the motivation behind telling his story now?
It is extremely rare to find a cricketer, or a sportsman for that, who is still improving and at the peak of their game, whilst having traversed three generations. It felt like a timely moment to mine Jimmy’s head for all that experience whilst currently still living it, as you rarely ever get that opportunity to explore that.
Cricket is experiencing something of a halcyon period on the back of last summer’s epic events, although Jimmy didn’t feature in the World Cup and was hampered by injuries in the Ashes, how important do you think last summer has been for Jimmy and his fellow cricketers?
Cricket is a strange game in that it feels like it is perpetually terrified about it’s own existence. I don’t think it comes from the players, more the conversation surrounding it. It was a genuine relief and, more to the point, thrill, then that they won the World Cup in such dramatic fashion, on terrestrial television, with such a multi-cultural side. It really felt like the game was swooping around to re-define itself and mirror the world around it for a second. I hope it will be of huge significance to the game moving forward.
With the short form of the game gaining so much publicity and coverage in recent years, test match cricket, of which Jimmy has been a stalwart, is often having to battle against dissenting voices, how significant has Jimmy and his record-breaking career been in keeping test matches relevant and interesting for a modern audience?
Much the same as the last point, Test cricket has always had this anxiety. Jimmy has undoubtedly been able to stitch together some purpose to the side for over a decade. It’s also important that watching him bowl is genuinely an artistic experience. You feel like you are watching something completely innate and completely honed, where the battle of the game becomes momentarily graceful. Very few players in the history of the game have been able to combine both that and success, which makes it a total pleasure to witness.
As Jimmy approaches his 38th birthday, there are often murmurings about retirement, and when that day eventually comes what do you think Jimmy’s legacy will be?
I think he will be remembered, by the vast majority, as England’s greatest fast bowler ever.
What are you most proud of with this book?
As I mentioned, it’s the first book I have written, so it was diving into the unknown. I enjoyed the discipline very much and felt momentarily lost when it ended. I know from recording albums, that’s when you feel like you’ve done something worthwhile.
We can’t ignore the fact that we all had to get used to a world without sport, what have you particularly missed and are there any particular sporting events you are looking forward to?
I miss Cricket very much. I miss everything about it, but more than the sport itself, I can really feel the lack of a constant backbone or pulse to check in to without it whith is uncomfortable and disorientating. It’s really re-affirmed how important these things our in our lives to a lot of us. I’ve used the time to get into baseball though, watching classic old World Series games, and have found myself falling in love with it the same way I did Cricket as a child. It’s been a nice feeling to re-locate that giddiness of being enthralled by something still unknown.
Imagine if you will a world where we can all have dinner parties, which four sporting greats past or present would be invited?
I like watching specialists get unnecessarily irate about sport, and am not sure that I would be able to ask enough interesting questions to penetrate an evening with Mohmmad Ali etc so I would probably line-up the worst passages of play of 90’s football and the worst batting collapses in history on a computer, then sit it in front of Gary Neville, Roy Keane, Nasser Hussain and Michael Holding with takeaway Pizza and just ask them to discuss.
And finally, what three words would you use to sum up Jimmy Anderson?
Bowl. Sleep. Repeat!