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Anderson is delighted to prove he still has plenty to offer England

 

By Jonathan Liew

Exactly 11 years ago, Mike Hussey eased a good-length ball through the covers to complete one of the most sensational Ashes triumphs ever known.

To this day, the word 'Adelaide' conjures up macabre memories for England fans. The moment at which defeat was snatched from the jaws of... well, not defeat. The point at which all hope was lost.

The bowler who delivered that ball was a young James Anderson. Yesterday, he returned to the Adelaide Oval and claimed his first ever five-wicket haul in Australia. He is 35 now, but when there is spring in the pitch, moisture in the air and movement in the surface, there are still few bowlers in the world you would want to face less.

At Brisbane, Anderson was restricted to four-over spells to avoid draining him in the heat. It may have been the optimum way of using more dynamic bowlers like Jake Ball and Stuart Broad, but Anderson is the sort of operator who likes to work his way into a spell. In more temperate conditions here, he bowled unchanged through the first hour, and it was a sight to watch.

He had a huge role in bowling out Australia for 138, and England - with Joe Root to the fore - will resume on 176-4 in their pursuit of 354. They need 178 more runs for an unlikely win.

Peter Handscomb barely stood a chance. He tried shuffling across his crease, he tried staying put. Still he could barely middle the ball. The one time he did, Dawid Malan snapped up the catch at third slip.

Later in the day, a moment to send shivers up the spine of any England fan. Mitchell Starc lobbed a catch straight up in the air, Anderson lunged for it, dropped it and landed awkwardly. His trousers were ripped to shreds. He was clutching his hamstring as he left the field.

It was a reminder of how crucial Anderson remains, even in conditions that have not traditionally suited him. This has been one of the best years of his career, and his career bowling average is the lowest it has been since his fifth match: 14 years and almost 500 wickets ago.

And so when Anderson returned in a new pair of trousers, something of England's spirit seemed to return with him. He cleaned up Starc in his first over back, holding the pink ball aloft to celebrate a five-wicket haul.

Anderson has returned better figures, but if you were to compile a list of his best performances away from home, Adelaide 2017 would be somewhere on it.

"Everything's clicked," he said when asked about his stellar year. "I've felt in good rhythm throughout the year. I feel like I'm bowling as well as I ever have, and my body is in as good a shape as it ever has been.

"People keep telling me I'm about to retire, so I want to show I can keep going. I'm not planning on stopping any time soon."

This, perhaps, is the fundamental misconception about Anderson. His surly demeanour, barbed comments, guarded interview style: all these feed into the image of Anderson as something of a reluctant workhorse. And when things are going against him, that scowl of his could shatter glass. But buried beneath is a simple, earnest adoration of the game.

It was Anderson's first five-wicket haul Down Under and all too timely. Will it be enough to see England to a remarkable victory? Who knows?

"We're delighted to have any sort of chance to win," he said. "We didn't think we would after two days. There's a huge amount of work left. But we're in with a chance. We're going to turn up with the same hunger, fight."

With England still requiring 178 and just six wickets remaining, there is every possibility Anderson could be striding to the crease with a few runs remaining. He is very much up for hitting the winning runs.

"I'll fancy a bat if we need 10," he said. "Any more than that, I think we're struggling." Fanciful, perhaps. But 11 years after one of the most traumatic deliveries of his career, there would be few more emphatic ways to set the record straight.

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