James Anderson and Stuart Broad are prepared to put in the hard yards in a holding role during England's Test series in Sri Lanka, and accept that they are unlikely to play every game in Asia over the next two months.
England opted to pick only one of Anderson and Broad at a time in their 3-0 series win in Sri Lanka in late 2018, with the pair taking just one wicket between them in a combined 55 overs as spin dominated the series. While Sri Lanka's most recent home series against New Zealand saw the seamers play a slightly greater role, head coach Mickey Arthur told the Guardian on Thursday that he expected "typical Sri Lankan conditions" in the two Tests at Galle this month.
Speaking on Sky Sports' Cricket Show, both Anderson and Broad said that they expected to perform a defensive role in the series, and said that they are anticipating some rotation among bowlers on their tour of the subcontinent. Straight after the second Test in Sri Lanka, England will fly to India for a four-match series, starting on February 5 in Chennai.
"You do play a slightly different role [in Sri Lanka]," Anderson said. "As was the case last time we were here, the spinners are the attacking option and the seamers then have a holding role - it's almost breaking up the spinners and trying to give them a rest, whereas in England, they might be doing that job and you're the more attacking bowler. It's a different outlook on it as a seamer, but you're still in the game and you can still get wickets."
"Galle might be a pitch that if you bowl 20 overs, 1 for 40, you've actually done a brilliant role," Broad said. "If you do that for your whole career, you're not going to stay in the side that long, averaging 40, but it's being realistic. For a spinner in England, a perfect job would be: first innings, 20 overs, 1 for 40, and then he comes into the game later on. I think we flip that over here: we can hold in the first innings, and then you might get reverse-swing later in the game when the pitch is warm… and the ball roughs up slightly.
"It's unrealistic to think that you're going to play all six Test matches and be the leading wicket-taker in these conditions. You just have to not get greedy when you get that opportunity: if you play three Tests out of six, [you have to] do your role for those three Tests, not selfishly try to get wickets to get you in the next game."
Anderson suggested this week that Sri Lanka will have "a slight advantage" going into the first Test, having recently completed a two-match series in South Africa while England have not played a Test since late August. England's red-ball specialists trained in a heated marquee at Loughborough in the final few months of 2020 while the white-ball sides have not played in more than a month, and Broad admitted that the touring squad was "a bit shy" on match fitness a week out from the first Test.
"In international cricket these days you don't get these sorts of breaks, normally," he said. "It is a long period of time without spending time in the field, keeping the bones used to fast bowling.
"We're probably a bit shy on match fitness but you've got to make the best of what you can. We've got warm-up games over the next two days, and that'll be just about acclimatising to the conditions, but it is by far the shortest preparation time I can remember on an England tour."
Meanwhile, Anderson backed Jonny Bairstow to make a success of his recall to the red-ball side after a year-long absence, but suggested he had underachieved in his Test career to date. Bairstow averages 34.74 with the bat after 70 Tests, but said on Thursday that his game is "in the best place it's [ever] been" going into the Sri Lanka series.
"As we've seen when he's played for England in the past, he can bat anywhere in the order, and he's got this determination that [means] he wants to do well, he wants to succeed," Anderson said.
"He's someone who I look at him and think he should probably have done better than how he has done for England. But obviously, situations with going up and down the order, it's not been easy for him. I'd like to think that he's got much more in the tank for England."