When in doubt, give the ball to James Anderson

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'What Jimmy has and can still achieve is astounding' - Joe Root (1:46)

Joe Root and Virat Kohli heap praise on James Anderson after he becomes the most prolific pace bowler in Test history (1:46)

It was, in the end, pretty much a microcosm of England in the field for much of the last decade.

While England captains like to talk about the variety of options at their disposal and the importance of looking after their prize bowling assets, they eventually all do the same thing: throw the ball to James Anderson and let him do his thing.

That was what happened here, anyway. Anderson, aged 36 and with more miles on the clock than any seamer in Test history (he has bowled more deliveries, anyway), was in the 14th over of a spell deep in the last session of the fifth day when he nipped one back through the gate (more of a chasm, really) of Mohammed Shami to wrap-up the match and the latest milestone. No seam bowler has taken as many wickets in the history of this great game.

It was a typical performance, too. Having struck twice in his opening spell, Anderson was recalled to the attack when the game was in danger of slipping from England's grasp. Two batsmen were set - the partnership was worth 149 when he was recalled - and Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid were all going at four an over; Stuart Broad wasn't much better.

So, with an old ball and on a flat surface, Anderson was called into the fray once more. The nip and zip of earlier had gone: the ball was nearly 70 overs old, after all, and any life in the surface was limited to turn out of the foot marks. It was, in many ways, an Asian-style pitch now.

But his first four overs in the spell were maidens. That, against two men who had thumped 17 from the previous two overs and plundered 40 more from the five overs delivered at the other end. And eventually, with Anderson adding the control his team required, Adil Rashid was able to settle into a spell where he aimed at those foot marks and preyed on the fact the batsmen could now see the distant possibility of an historic win.

The figures will show Anderson claimed only one wicket in that spell. That of a tailender, too. But the 13.3 overs he bowled contained nine maidens and saw only 12 runs scored off them. They cut off India's runs and helped build pressure. They played an important role in the eventual result.

But who would that surprise? If you reflect on most of the highpoints of England's Test history over the last decade - the Ashes win of 2010-11, victory in India in 2012, the Ashes win of 2013 - Anderson was a key part. And, just as at The Oval on Tuesday, it was a 13-over spell at Trent Bridge that sealed a 14-run win that went a long way towards deciding that 2013 series.

Perhaps those two away series are particularly instructive, though. Anderson didn't take a five-for in either of them. Yet he finished the 2010-11 Ashes as the leading wicket-taker on either side (he claimed 24 wickets at 26.04 apiece) and was hailed by MS Dhoni as "the difference between the sides" in India after claiming 12 wickets in the series. The next most successful seamer claimed four.

Maybe, though, we learn more when we look at the failures rather than the successes. When England lost in the UAE in late 2015, for example, Anderson's 13 wickets cost 16.61 apiece and he conceded 1.87 an over. When they lost the 2017-18 Ashes, his 17 wickets cost 27.82 apiece and he conceded 2.11 an over. And when they were thrashed 5-0 in 2013-14 and Anderson was clubbed for 28 in an over by George Bailey, he was one of the few left standing in an England attack that had fallen apart. The defeats weren't because Anderson lacked effectiveness on those surfaces; they were because he lacked support.

He's not perfect. Even during this series, he squandered the new ball at Trent Bridge by bowling a fraction too short and there are times his hatred of conceding runs can lead to a slightly defensive approach. But the fact is, whether it is Nottingham or Nagpur, a green seamer or a lifeless pudding, there is nobody who offers their captain the control and reliability of Anderson.

And here he is now, compensating for his diminishing pace with increased skill and remarkable fitness levels. If his captain, Joe Root, is right and Anderson is "at his best" now, he would surely be one of very few 36-year-old seamers in history to have managed it.

"What Jimmy has achieved and what he is capable of still achieving is astounding," Root said. "He's probably bowling at his best. Throughout this summer, he's been outstanding.

"We have to do everything we can to prolong his career. Hopefully there's still going to be a number of series where he's leading the attack and terrorizing the batters."

The point of all this? Anderson is a more dangerous bowler in English conditions. Of course he is. But he is more valuable to England abroad. When nobody else can match his level of control. When his skills can't be matched by Chris Woakes or Broad or anyone else. When he is required to plug the gap in England's spin resources by providing the role of economical, pressure-building bowling.

England captains keep talking about resting him. They keep talking about using him in shorter spells and they keep talking about the great options at their disposal. The truth is, though, that three in a row - Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook and Root - have all come to rely heavily on Anderson and, even know, for all the years and all the miles, he remains as important as ever.