James Anderson is just two wickets away from surpassing the great Wasim Akram to enter the top 10 all-time leading Test bowlers – and he is out to raise the bar in his comeback match for England.
Anderson, who already stands alone among Englishmen with 413 wickets in his record-breaking career, was a teenage hopeful at Old Trafford when Wasim was plying his trade so successfully for Lancashire.
As a four-time Ashes-winner he has certainly made a name for himself since, yet at 33 Anderson hopes he can help England reach new heights this winter.
They could hardly have been presented with a more exacting schedule than Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates and on to South Africa to face the world’s No 1 team over Christmas and the new year.
But Anderson, fit again after the side strain which ruled him out of the final two Tests of last summer’s Ashes success, has no doubt Alastair Cook’s tourists can measure up to an unenviably tough challenge in the desert.
No touring team has beaten Pakistan since their relocation five years ago – including England, who lost 3-0 in 2012 and return with Anderson one of the four beaten then and trying again.
He said: “It’s an exciting challenge – the conditions, the heat - and if we do perform well it will be very satisfying.
“We want to improve on the performances from the summer.
“We know we can play better than we did, even though we won that series, and we want to continue to improve and show people how exciting we can be.”
Pakistan are especially strong at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Stadium, venue for the first Test of three which starts tomorrow.
It is there too, though, that England’s seamers can expect the most help from any of the arid surfaces of the Emirates.
Anderson will rank success on this tour with the famous victories he has been part of in Australia or India.
“Especially with Pakistan’s record here, it’s going to be a big ‘ask’. And if we do manage to win it would be right up there,” he said.
“It’s huge. We’re aware of the challenge ahead and of how we performed last time here, with a heavy defeat. But we lost the Ashes in 2013/14, (then) won them back, so it’s all about how you prepare and play in a particular series.”
He said: “What happens in the past doesn’t really matter that much.”
First of all, he just wants to get back out in the middle for his 108th Test.
“I’m itching to get going again,” Anderson said.
“Obviously, it was frustrating to miss the last couple of Tests of the summer. I want to play as much as possible ... if I can play all three in this series, then that’ll be great.”
Anderson will not have to worry about prising out Azhar Ali in Abu Dhabi because the Pakistan No 3 has been ruled out with a foot infection.
Azhar made more than 250 runs, at above 50 an innings, against England in 2012.
On hearing of his initial absence in this return series, Anderson said: “In that No 3 spot he was the guy to get out for them, even with the experienced players after him.
“I thought he was the key wicket for us. But they’ve got other quality players who’ve got plenty of runs out here. So there’s other players we’ve got to watch out for.”
Azhar’s misfortune appears to fall into the category of curious sporting injuries.
He reportedly first hurt his foot during the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca undertaken at least once by all Muslim men and the scene of huge crowds gathering to fulfil the religious duty.
An infection set in and forced the one-day international captain out of last week’s decider as Pakistan beat Zimbabwe 2-1 in Harare.
Whoever is batting instead, Anderson knows his opportunities to get them out will be brief, with short spells inevitable for the seamers.
He said: “When we came out here last time, we bowled four or five-over maximum spells and it means you’ve really got to be on the money from ball one.
“It puts a little bit more emphasis on you as a bowler.”
He added: “You can’t just ease into a spell, you’ve got to nail it from ball one.”