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August 21, 2004
On the day that Great Britain embarked on an Olympic gold rush, the nation's cricketers caught the mood immaculately with a clinical performance at The Oval. And, in keeping with the team ethic that has catapulted England towards the top of the Test table, it was left to one of the more marginalised members of the squad to apply the final touches.
It's been a difficult 12 months for James Anderson; a period in which he's gone from poster boy to drinks waiter with barely a pause for reflection. Six months ago, as England cavorted around the outfield in Antigua to celebrate their first series win in the Caribbean for three decades, Anderson cut a forlorn figure - out of the side and out of favour, he was unable to take as much pleasure in the achievement as he would have no doubt wished, and admitted as much in some candid comments to the press.
Today, however, he was right back in the thick of things with four prime wickets, including the biggest scalp of all - Brian Lara, caught at slip after prodding uncertainly at a series of waspish seamers. The dismissal not only ended Lara's fourth (and probably final) tour of England without a century, it also meant that each of England's frontline bowlers - Harmison, Hoggard, Flintoff, Jones, Giles, and now Anderson - have all had the pleasure of his wicket this year. That is quite a comment on the depth of England's bowling.
Anderson has been used sparingly by his captain, Michael Vaughan. He bowled just 16.3 overs in two innings at Old Trafford (the supposedly injured Flintoff, by contrast, send down 32) and many observers felt that Simon Jones - with his extra pace and skilful use of the old ball - would be a better bet for an unforgiving Oval wicket. Yet all that Anderson needed was a degree of confidence, and once he had regained his snap, there was no holding him back.
It was a day for youth, and not all of it English either. For all Chris Gayle's bat-flinging exploits at the top of the order, the real star of West Indies' show was once again Dwayne Bravo, who has developed beyond his team's wildest dreams in this series. His second Test half-century came in a hopeless cause, but the maturity of his shot selection - and his pluckiness in the face of Harmison's hostility - put his elders to shame.
It has been a dispiriting series for West Indies, but Bravo's emergence is proof that from even the most hopeless drubbings, the odd silver lining can be gleaned. The gold on this occasion, however, belongs entirely to England.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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