England v Australia, 5th npower Test, The Oval August 19, 2009

The one game that matters - Anderson

In 2005, as England entered the final Test of the Ashes needing only a draw to regain the urn, James Anderson had been summoned to the squad as cover for Simon Jones, one of the series heroes. He didn't make the final eleven, as the safety valve of Paul Collingwood was preferred, but four years on Anderson is a player who must perform if England are to wrench the Ashes from Australia's grasp.

Anderson experienced most of the 2005 hype from the outside looking in but over the last five weeks has been at the centre of the action - from his match-saving heroics at Cardiff, to a crucial display of swing bowling at Lord's and another incisive role at Edgbaston. Then the wheels came off at Headingley. It wasn't just Anderson, the whole team had a shocker and the man himself admits England were "awful."

He knows that bouncing back from such a defeat would have been difficult had the final Test followed on straightaway, but believes the 10-day break from the tensions of the Ashes battle will give England a great chance to move on after the Leeds nightmare.

"It was a pretty awful show from us. The Australians had the momentum so hopefully this week has just taken the sting out of it and swung it back to the balance," he told Cricinfo. "It's all down to one Test, so you can pretty much forget what has gone on in the past and just focus on the five days of cricket coming up and give it everything we've got."

As much as the players would like to forget what happened over the three days at Headingley they have had to look back at the harsh footage to learn from their mistakes. A similar post-mortem took place after the debacle at Sabina Park in February, when England were skittled out for 51, a bottoming-out that led to plenty of soul-searching.

"We had to have a look at it very seriously, the areas where we went wrong and why it happened," Anderson said during a promotional event for ASICS. "We tried to go through everything and figure out what happened so it doesn't happen again. We thought we'd got over performances like that after Jamaica when we got bowled out for 50, but obviously not. We've had a great run since Jamaica and we've just got move on with clear minds to this week."

Anderson has tried to detach himself from the enormity of the game he is about to play. He spent a week back at home recovering the hamstring tweak that affected his bowling at Headingley and is now fully fit after a few sessions with the Lancashire physios. However, with the start drawing near the mind has begun to wander.

"I've not really thought about it too much," Anderson said of five days that could change his life. "I've had a full week trying to get my hamstring right so I'm fully fit so it's actually taken my mind off what will happen on Thursday.

"It's very different this time because I'd not played in the lead-up to that [2005] so this time you really feel part of it all," he added. "The team is also very different this time, there aren't the experienced players that we had in 2005 but there is a lot of excitement about what can happen. We want this team to keep going forward and improving and one of the ways we do that is winning this week.

"We've all started to think about it a bit more since joining up again the other day but we are just trying to prepare as we would for any other Test, keeping it as normal as possible even though there will be so much attention surrounding it."

As hard as they try, though, the players know this is anything but a normal Test. And, not only are the Ashes at stake, but there is also the Test swansong of Andrew Flintoff, Anderson's new-ball partner for two matches in this series. "He's just desperate to get on that field one last time in a Test," Anderson said. "He wants to go out on a high and everyone else wants that for him. We know it's massive for the team but it's huge for Fred as well."

James Anderson is an ASICS ambassador. For further information head to www.asics.co.uk

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo