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James Anderson finds his groove before England lose the plot

Veteran seamer disappointed after late wickets for Australia take edge off improved day

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
James Anderson admitted his disappointment after an encouraging England fightback with the ball, in which he claimed his second-best innings figures in Australia, was undermined by the loss of four wickets during a furious final hour of play on day two at the MCG.
England's bowlers limited Australia to 267 with a disciplined display, conceding a first-innings lead of 82 - but saw much of their hard work undone by twin strikes from Mitchell Starc and Scott Boland, as the tourists limped back to the dressing room on 31 for 4. However, Anderson would not be drawn into commenting on another top-order batting failure, stressing that "we're a team here and we're all working hard to get better".
"Disappointing," he said of how events played out. "Firstly, on the bowling front, I thought we did really well to stick at our task throughout the day. We talked a lot about the lengths we want to hit and the pressure we want to create, and I thought we were really good at that, created a lot of chances, put a lot of balls in the right areas, and got the rewards.
"We were pretty pleased with 260 [267]. If we're being honest, in the first innings we should have got somewhere near that if not more. It certainly felt possible on that wicket. And we knew it's a new-ball wicket as well, it felt like it did less as the ball got older, as the day went on and some more sun got on the pitch it felt like it did a lot less. So we knew that last 12 overs was going to be tough, with the new ball, but even so to lose four wickets was really disappointing.
"I thought the spell from Starc and [Pat] Cummins was outstanding, but that's what you expect, they are world-class bowlers and they have done it in Test cricket for many, many years. So it shouldn't take anyone by surprise that they bowled like that. But yeah, disappointed to lose four wickets in that period."
England lost Zak Crawley and Dawid Malan to consecutive Starc deliveries in the fifth over, before Haseeb Hameed edged Boland behind with minutes left in the day. That left England's average for their top three in 2021 at 21.33 - the third-lowest for a calendar year (minimum ten Tests) - and with hopes of setting Australia a target in the fourth innings once again resting on the shoulders of their captain, Joe Root. But Anderson remained supportive of the efforts being put in by the batting group.
"There was a spell, late first session, I felt like I was going to get a wicket every ball, I honestly felt in that good a rhythm"
James Anderson
"I think it's dangerous to go into, certainly as a bowler, talking about our batting," he said. "We're a team here, we're all working really hard to try and put in some much better performances and improve as a group. We haven't bowled great in the first two games, we know we could have bowled better. We've gone away and worked hard and today we've put in a much better performance.
"And all I can see from the batting group is how hard they are working to put things right. It can be very difficult, certainly in foreign conditions against a class bowling attack it can be difficult. So I don't want to get into too much of a bowlers versus batters thing, we're a team here and we're all working hard to try and get better."
Anderson's 4 for 33 in 23 overs, which included ten maidens, was the sixth four-wicket haul he has taken in Australia (along with a single five-for in Adelaide in 2017). It included the key wickets of David Warner and Steven Smith, as well as Australia's top-scorer, Marcus Harris, and enabled England to stay in touch in a must-win Test despite being rolled for 185 on day one.
"Yeah, I think it would be up there," Anderson said of his bowling. "Probably since 2010 it's definitely the best I've bowled out here. I felt in good rhythm. Didn't feel great yesterday, actually - but then changed ends today and felt much better. Got into a really good rhythm, felt like I was challenging every ball. There was a spell, late first session, I felt like I was going to get a wicket every ball, I honestly felt in that good a rhythm.
"So it's nice to get some wickets in when you're in that rhythm, it doesn't happen all the time. To bowl them out for what I thought was a reasonable score on that pitch was pleasing as well."
It had been a rocky start in Melbourne on Monday off the field, with the start of play delayed following the emergence of several positive Covid-19 test results in the England camp. All of England's players returned negative lateral flow tests in the morning, but the fate of the series could still hinge on a further round of testing for the squad.
"It's going to depend on the PCR tests, and what situation that leaves us in," Anderson said. "As long as the group that were in at the ground today are negative, I don't see why we can't carry on."
Having been left out in Brisbane - "I felt I was fit for that game, but the decision was made" - Anderson admitted to rustiness in Adelaide before finding his groove in the third Test of the series. It may have come too late to prevent Australia from retaining the Ashes at the earliest opportunity, but the 39-year-old said he was still enjoying the chance to prove what he could do in an England shirt.
"It's been a tough tour so far, it always is here - it's never simple or plain-sailing, there's always stuff going on," he said. "I've got the opportunity to put an England shirt on so I'm enjoying that. I absolutely love doing that every time I get the opportunity. Obviously we'd love the results to be going better and the performances to be better. It can happen, just keep working hard at that, and hopefully it will get better at some stage."

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick