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James Anderson will confront the cricket challenge he hates most: packing his bags, getting on a plane and saying goodbye to his wife and young family, knowing that he will not see them again for nine weeks.
And the home-loving Anderson admitted: ‘It perhaps sounds quite cold and calculating when you say you have to just switch off from your family and home. But it’s what you must do.’
Any cricket tour for the Andersons, of course, brings back the painful memories of five years ago this month, when England were playing their final one-day international in Colombo against Sri Lanka.
Twenty-four hours earlier, on the eve of the match, Anderson’s wife Daniella, who had been due to travel with her husband to the Maldives for their long-delayed honeymoon, had phoned to tell him she had miscarried.
‘In situations like this, when you’re thousands of miles away and a loved one needs you, you feel pretty hopeless as a husband,’ said Anderson. ‘All I wanted was to be with Daniella, right there and then.
‘What she had to endure, and my absence so far from home, highlighted the downside to being an international sportsperson. That was one of the most painful experiences of my life.’
He flew back to England on the first flight after the match and, sitting alongside Daniella as they recalled that agonising time, he added: ‘I was so full of angst that I wished away every minute of the 10-hour flight.’
While James and Daniella talk, Ruby Anderson (aged one) amuses herself, chiefly by pressing her lips together to make gurgling noises. Her sister Lola (aged nearly four) is at playschool from where, while Daniella gets ready for a rare girls’ day out with her friends, James will collect her later that afternoon.
We are in the Lowry Hotel, Manchester, coincidentally the venue for the couple’s wedding reception in February 2006, and the Andersons are talking fondly of what they have crammed into the last three weeks: family trips to Nickelodeonland, to Legoland and to London to see the Thomas the Tank Engine movie, then a short break in Spain.
And the time is precious because Anderson will soon say goodbye to them all again to continue his career as the leader of the England Test and ODI attack.
Since the couple were married, Lancashire paceman James has spent every winter abroad. The latest starts with a tour to India that runs until the end of the fourth Test in Nagpur on December 17. If Anderson is required for the two Twenty20s that follow, he will not see his family again until December 23. Then, after either nine days or a fortnight at home, he is due to fly back to India on January 2 for five ODIs, then on to New Zealand for a tour that will keep him away until March 28.
In total, from late October this year to late March 2013, those England cricketers selected for all formats can look forward to a maximum of nine nights at home out of 155, or the best part of five months.
Daniella freely admits that this is not what she signed up for when she accepted James’s proposal of marriage in early 2005. A highly successful model regularly on the catwalks of New York, Milan and Paris whose previous boyfriends include former Oasis front man Liam Gallagher, Daniella ‘gave up a lot’, says Anderson, to be with him, including her London home and, were they not so besotted with each other, they might not have been able to overcome the long absences that put cricketing relationships under occasionally unbearable strain.
‘It’s true,’ said Daniella. ‘It wasn’t the life I wanted. I’d thought if I ever got married I’d be with that man all the time. I’d started this new life with a man that I loved and I wanted to make new friends with him, but he was never here, so it was a struggle.
‘I had my life in London which I loved, now I was on my own in a strange place and I was miserable, I missed all my friends, I missed him and I was like, “Oh crap, what have I done? How am I going to cope if he’s never here?”
‘I just had no idea he would be away from home so much. Before the children came I really thought, “Well, if he’s away over the winter, that’s fine because I can go. Then if he’s here in the summer, he’ll be here”. I didn’t realise that when he’s in England they’re never at home either because they’re away for a week at a time in different cities. It’s constant.’
James said: ‘She told me at one point that she couldn’t do it any more. It was difficult. I guess at one stage … I don’t know if unhappy is the word, but we were a little bit lost.’
Since then, as well as the actual time they have been apart, they have had to cope with Daniella’s miscarriage — ‘I was in bits,’ she said. ‘It was so tough for him and he wanted to come home but I told him to stay and play and he did really well. I was so proud’ — and a variety of other concerns well understood by partners living apart.
There were also crises like the England tour security fears in the aftermath of the terrorist atrocity in Mumbai in 2008. Daniella describes that as ‘really scary’. ‘He was trying to reassure me that all would be well …’ she said. ‘All I wanted was for him to come home.’
But James was at least able to make sure he was present for the birth of their two beautiful girls even if, for Ruby, that meant a round-trip home from Australia in 2010, mid-Ashes. His three days at home attracted a measure of Blimpish criticism.
Plans had even been discussed for Daniella to set up camp in Perth for the winter, going out well before the start of the tour and having Ruby born there because Daniella ‘couldn’t imagine James not being at the birth —I just couldn’t cope with that’.
Familiarity with what is about to happen again has eased certain aspects of the hurt and James and Daniella are prepared for their emotions to take another battering in the days and weeks ahead. They have found a way to put their family life on hold. They have had to.
But while neither would dare compare their experience to that of those posted abroad on duty for the armed forces, for example, the idea of what they must do is one thing, doing it quite another.
‘I definitely do feel like a single parent sometimes,’ said Daniella. ‘It’s horrible having to take the kids to a party or a situation where other kids are there with mums and dads and Lola says, “Where’s my Daddy?” She is at the age when she gets cross if he isn’t around. She hates cricket because it means Daddy going away.’
‘I try to make a huge fuss of them all when I’m around. I asked Stuart Broad, whose dad Chris was often away with England, what he remembered of his childhood and he says he recalls his dad being away a lot. But he also remembers the fun they had when he was back, so I try to make sure we have fun.’
Daniella said: ‘We’ve been through this parting business before. But this time I’m not going to be with him or see him. I’m trying not to think about it. I won’t until the day. Then I’ll get very upset.
‘And, inevitably, as the time to go approaches, for him the excitement of what he’s about to embark on builds. I understand. This is what he does and he loves it and is doing it for us. I don’t want to bring him down.
‘He wants to enjoy it while it lasts because it’s not going to last for ever. Few people get to do what he does. We both appreciate that and think he should get on with it while he can, because when it’s over, he’ll miss it.’
James said: ‘I have to switch off when I go away because the more you think about the things you’re missing, the more you can get distracted and upset, particularly when things aren’t going well on the pitch.’
And Daniella knows that being together on tour can create problems. ‘We’ve managed to spend time together on tour in the past but that’s hardly ideal either,’ she says. ‘The guys want to give time to their families, but the fact is they’re working. Then you think, “What am I doing here?” All that angst. And it’s worse when the kids are there.’
James said: ‘Clearly there are downsides — not seeing Daniella and the children for long periods, missing birthdays [Lola’s fourth and Ruby’s second this winter] — but at the same time I want to create a stable base so the kids can grow up and have a happy childhood without worry.
‘The great thing about absences is that they come to an end. The intensity of reunion is pretty strong. Maybe that’s a reward for being away.
‘Daniella once asked me what age fast bowlers play to in international cricket, and when I said 32, 33, she was quite happy, especially as I’m 30 now.’
‘Our life together hasn’t been anything like what I envisioned,’ said Daniella. ‘You can’t help who you fall in love with, so you’ve got to lump it really.
‘But he has a bit of making up for lost time to do, and when the moment finally comes, I’ll make sure he does.’