Do you know that weirdly satisfying feeling you get when you run a bath and get the water at just the right temperature? Or simply, when you put a USB cable in the right way up even when it was a total guess? When things are smooth and effortless, simple and clean. It all just somehow fits into place.
At Trent Bridge with the Ashes 2015 still in the balance, Stuart Broad just clicked.
It has happened before. The Oval against Australia in 2009. Trent Bridge against India in 2011. Lord’s against the Kiwis in 2013.
Broad removed Chris Rogers and Steve Smith in his very first over of the day and his near-perfect display of seam bowling in English conditions proved far too good for the clueless Aussies, who were all out before lunch. All eight of his wickets were caught in the slips, including a brilliant catch by Ben Stokes that prompted the most memorable pose of Broad’s career. Trent Bridge in 2015 was a performance that displayed the very familiar irresistible hallmarks of Broad at his best.
Just when Broad clicks, everything seems right about his bowling. He runs into the crease with a bouncy spring, head bobbing with the rhythm of his approach like a Churchill Dog on drugs, maybe.
With a delivery stride smooth and coherent, his gangly legs and arms, which are often sprawled out like an ant under a young boy`s microscope, suddenly move together in a majestic harmony, as if he is a mere puppet on the strings of a musical instrument.
If looked closely, you can spot a beautiful fluidity there. His coil and hang time are part of a motion rather than a forced process. His landing feet kiss the crease and his spikes gain just enough traction on the dry turf, before his back hip and leg whip around as he rotates through his action. The ball snaps right out of the end of his fingers.
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Broad is long past the point of needing to prove himself, of course. He is a player who divides opinion. While the vast majority of England`s fans love him, nearly all of Australia`s supporters love to hate him. When at his best, he is one of those bowlers who can produce a magical spell that suddenly turns a game on its head.
Go back to the fifth Test of the 2009 Ashes, when, as a young, raw seamer, he took four wickets in eight balls to effectively seal the Ashes for England on Day 2 at the Oval. Then in 2013, when he wiped away any chance Australia had of winning in Durham, with a six-wicket haul in the fourth innings, with all of his victims picked up in the space of 45 deliveries. Fast forward to 2023, and the fear among batters is still on display. Openers David Warner and Usman Khawaja both prodded tamely outside their off stump like an old woman poking a wasp’s nest with her umbrella. That’s the impact he makes.
Broad has scalped 602 wickets thus far, a tally he could still add to at the Oval as England look to prevent Australia from beating them at home for the first time since 2001. He has taken a total of 845 wickets in his international career. Alongside Anderson, Broad is one of only two fast bowlers ever to pass 600 Test wickets for their country and took his 150th Ashes wicket in his final game at The Oval this week.
Some of the most iconic and memorable spells of English Test match bowling have come from Broad`s right hand and his union with Anderson has resulted in one of the greatest bowling combinations in the history of Test cricket.
But despite a record that puts him in the rarefied company of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Dale Steyn, Broad`s exploits are often underappreciated. In any other era, Broad would have been the undisputed star of England`s show. Instead, he has most often been portrayed as the Robin to Anderson`s Batman, judged not on his own merits, but in light of those of his ‘opening partner’.
Broad with James Anderson (Pic: AFP)
Then there`s the question of his place, the assumption that others could do better, which has bubbled under the surface of his entire career, Test or not. If you Google `should Stuart Broad be dropped`, chances are that you will see a host of former players who have, at one time or another, called for him to be left out. The scrutiny on him has rarely ever let up.
Yet, he is the highest wicket-taker for England against Australia, having become the first from his country to take over 150 wickets in the contest. Despite all that he has achieved, there is a feeling that Broad is under-appreciated.
Perhaps, Broad doesn`t get enough praise from his own countrymen because there`s no happy medium with his bowling. When he`s good, he’s great. But, when he is out of sorts, his bowling too often becomes cannon fodder. He can frustrate and delight in equal measure.
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Broad has all the attributes of a fast bowler that lend to bowling these kinds of spells with clinical regularity and why he can’t do so is a difficult question to answer. And if he were to do so, the greatness with which he is often associated would become a far more realistic possibility. However, there is a certain beauty to the mercuriality and volatility of these performances and when it does happen when everything works, it is simply a wonderfully fulfilling sight to behold.
Now with Broad on his way out, will any England fast bowler ever enjoy the luxury of being hailed as the greatest red-ball seamer the country ever produced? Will there ever be another English seamer who can control a red ball as skillfully as Broad? Perhaps if they want to.
Chris Woakes and Ollie Robinson could ultimately go down that path, even if Woakes is still part of the white-ball setup and Robinson has ambitions in that direction.
As Broad prepares himself to retreat into the periphery, honing his golf swings and pacing his marble mosaics at home, he will once more aim to hit the ball like a firecracker on his final appearance in whites.
Exploding off a length, jagging off the seam, and whipping through to the keeper with effortless ease. You know, just Broad things!
This article was first published on August 31, Monday.