James Anderson insists Ryan Harris blow weakens the Aussies
England pace linchpin James Anderson believes Ryan Harris' career-ending injury means Australia will pose a reduced threat in this summer's Investec Ashes.
Harris had to bow out before the start of the headline series in Cardiff tomorrow, having suffered a serious recurrence of the knee problems which restricted him to just 27 Tests - including 12 against England, in which he took more than half of his 113 wickets.
Anderson had mixed feelings as he reflected on the absence of a much-respected opponent.
"Obviously it's less threat," he said. "He's been a fantastic bowler throughout his career.
"It's very sad to see a fellow bowler being forced into retirement (through injury)."
Anderson, who will be two years Harris' junior again when he turns 33 at the end of this month, is back for his sixth Ashes as England seek to soothe memories of their 5-0 whitewash defeat at their last attempt two winters ago.
He has fonder recollections of facing Australia in Wales, where he and Monty Panesar held on in an unbroken last-wicket stand to help England salvage an opening draw on the way to series victory in 2009.
"It was very good to get out of that game with a draw," Anderson said.
"I remember very little expectation from me and Monty at the time, just do as best we could - wasting time and all the tactics to try to get out of the game with a draw."
It is with ball, of course, that England's all-time leading wicket-taker will be hoping to play a starring role this summer.
He said: "You always try to improve on your past performances, constantly.
"That's what I'm trying to do, fine-tune and come up with plans for their batsmen as well.
"You always try to outdo your previous performances - so that's what I'll hope to do."
Anderson was one of a clutch of England players, including captain Alastair Cook, who along with the tourists met the Prince of Wales in a presentation on the outfield at the SSE Swalec yesterday morning.
"He was very much lending his support, encouragement - and it was lovely to see him," the England paceman said.
"He asked me about the game and preparation, wishing us good luck."
Anderson is confident, even without match practice for more than a month since the end of England's drawn series against New Zealand, that he has his preparation right - and he believes too that Cardiff is as good a place as any to begin Ashes.
"At my age, I don't think I necessarily need the match time," he said.
"All of our players have played here before - we have Ashes experience here, and quite fond memories as well.
"So I don't think it matters too much where we play.
"We'll have great support here, as we did in 2009, and everyone is looking forward to it."
Meanwhile, Anderson says his sledging days are over.
Ahead of tomorrow's opener in Cardiff much of the talk has been about on-field dissent between players, with Australia paceman Mitchell Johnson telling opposite number Anderson he was "one of the biggest ones in the England team" when it comes to serving up volleys of abuse.
But Anderson says his days of looking for trouble are behind him. "The pre-Ashes phoney war has been in full swing for a while now - and I've already been called a hypocrite," said England's leading Test wicket-taker.
"It's all because I said that verbal confrontations are not something I need as much these days. I've come to realise I don't need to chirp away. It was something I used effectively for a few years and it helped my game. But I'm at a stage in my career where I'm not keen to engage opponents in wars of words as much as I did."
Anderson's new-found approach has been questioned by Johnson and Australia wicket-keeper Brad Haddin.
"The response from Haddin and Johnson was that I should look in the mirror because I've started plenty of confrontations," Anderson added.
"Well I'm not saying I didn't. What I am saying is that it's not something I rely on any more. We (England) are not going to seek out trouble, go looking for fights or start sledging."