James Anderson

On a roll: Jimmy Anderson successfully appeals for the wicket of George Bailey, who was out for a duck. Photo: Reuters

Reverse swing and seam movement re-entered the Ashes series in Melbourne, and England's best exponents have accepted them gratefully. Without old-ball curve and cut, James Anderson has moped about the country looking as likely to trip over his bottom lip as take a wicket, but with the assistance of an abrasive MCG wicket on Friday he had wickets, catches and, belatedly, a smile.

Anderson and Stuart Broad are, alongside Peter Siddle, the iron men of this Ashes year, the only bowlers to have participated in all nine Test matches so far. While Broad has enhanced his reputation on the Australian leg, Anderson has suffered. Without ever bowling badly, he has lacked edge, sometimes pushing the ball through too fast in the hope of keeping up with this month's fashions, at other times robbed of the magic bestowed by atmosphere, pitches and the Dukes ball. Without Broad in the second innings in Perth, he suffered an unspeakable humbling for a 300-plus wicket-taker.

Tim Bresnan dismissed by Mitchell Johnson. Click for more photos

England vs Australia: Day 2 of the Ashes

Tim Bresnan dismissed by Mitchell Johnson. Photo: Pat Scala

Finally, conditions in Melbourne turned in his favour. The match has resembled one of those cartoons where two men are strangling each other, both falling blue-faced to the ground. Anderson thrives when able to apply scoreboard pressure on slow wickets. It has been a while since Trent Bridge, when he monstered the Australian batting with crafty cut and swing, but the real Anderson had not disappeared.

Australia's response was initially positive. But after Anderson got a shortish-ball to hold up on David Warner and Ben Stokes' off-cutter was too good for Shane Watson, the home batsmen went into the trenches. Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers battled through a slow hour before Anderson produced the ball of the day, moving in late on Clarke and clipping the off bail as the Australian captain watched and cursed.

For a time, Rogers and Steve Smith looked like they might tunnel a way out. Rogers' driving down the ground was pretty to watch. Otherwise he moved towards the ball like a close-talker at a party, edging forward with his feet but waiting until the subject was within his personal space before engaging it. The formula worked well for him, while Smith carried on his positive touch from Perth.

Yet, the scoreboard was not moving, and the key partnership ended when Smith cut Broad and was well held at second slip by Ian Bell. Anderson came back from the members' end and had George Bailey caught behind. This was beginning to have a familiar look. The older the ball got, the more it had a nip and a duck. The drop-in wicket could have been ordered by Andy Flower.

Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson came together at much the same score as in Brisbane, but this was no true Gabba deck. Johnson struggled for his timing and before long Anderson was back in the game, dropping two catches in front of the wicket - another specialist catching position from the English Tests - before pocketing Johnson. At last his face cracked a smile, which Graeme Swann did say was hard to come by before tea.

On both sides, Haddin is the only batsman who has negotiated the choke point that this wicket has become. When he was facing, the ball zinged off the bat fast and clean. It almost looked fake, like a cooked-up advertisement for a bat maker. Haddin was the only Australian to master Anderson, cutting, off-driving and then glancing three fours in one over. But Haddin couldn't find a partner. Instead it was Anderson who found one, in Broad, who cut off the Australian tail.

Everyone is encouraged to find his own way out, but even the best have struggled. On Thursday, Kevin Pietersen had chosen someone else's way - Chris Tavare's, perhaps, or Geoff Boycott's - but on Friday morning he went back to his own. Even the great Kevin couldn't manage it. We thought we would have to wait for a tea-time stunt to see a loud mouth visiting celebrity leaping to square leg to avoid being bombed by an Australian fast bowler, but Pietersen was doing it as early as the second over of the day. Like a husband who had remained faithful through a long and troubled marriage, resisting all temptation, only to take up with a teenage pole dancer at the age of 80, Pietersen had waited too long to decide that being good wasn't worth the effort. It was a betrayal of the vigil he had staged on Thursday, and, when Johnson scattered his stumps, an undignified end.

But no batsman has scored more runs in the match than Pietersen, and England have Anderson and Broad, with the support of Bresnan and Stokes, to thank for taking back the initiative. A slight variation in pitch quality, an imperceptible shift in the balance of will between the two teams, and suddenly the Australian juggernaut has been stopped. It came too late for England's Ashes campaign, but it is good for the game that Anderson has had the chance to leave Australian followers not with a maudlin press conference but a demonstration of why he has been one of the greats.