After England claimed victory at Lord’s to go 2-0 up in the Test series against India, Ben Jones analyses another firecracker spell from Stuart Broad.
Stuart Broad is an odd cricketer. There are very few truly great players – for that is what Broad is – who are so routinely questioned, doubted, despite their modus operandi being so clear. When England lose a Test, calls for him being dropped come louder, more regularly and in a more impassioned tone than similar calls concerning England’s other cemented stars, James Anderson, Alastair Cook, and Joe Root.
This is peculiar. In the last three years, the only seamers to take more Test wickets than Broad are Anderson and Kagiso Rabada, an all-time great and a man well on track to being one. Broad is an elite bowler.
Yet still, people don’t trust his methods. “He bowls too short”, people cry. Well, Broad bowls short with the new ball in order to maintain control, and because it works. At the start of Test innings, his full deliveries average 33.72 and go at over 4rpo; his good length balls average 18.62 and go at 1.5rpo. “He’s lost his away-swinger”, people cry. Well, he doesn’t try to take the ball away from the right-hander, because he averages 24 with his in-swinger. Yet people just don’t trust Stuart Broad.
In part, this is a result of the way in which Broad paces his bowling performances. We don’t often talk about a bowler ‘constructing an innings’ in the way we would a batsman, but the same principles apply. Individual shots and deliveries don’t exist in a vacuum, but as part of a nexus of other shots and deliveries, each impacting the last in new and subtle ways. Batsmen are allowed to play their way in, to build up that nexus; bowlers are expected to hit the ground running.
Broad doesn’t do this. Despite his excitable on-field persona, his tendency to over-celebrate wickets before they’re given out, and his profound inability to judge DRS appeals correctly, Broad is essentially a very patient bowler. His method, most of the time, is not dissimilar to the principle behind a wind-up dynamo torch. If you have the torch turned on whilst you’re winding the crank, then the light given off is constant, but slightly dim. If you leave the torch turned off whilst you’re winding away, then when you do eventually turn it on, it shines brighter.
That was the way Broad’s bowling unfolded today. Shortly before the wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara, he was looking relatively innocuous. He had dismissed Ajinkya Rahane (who he has now dismissed five times in Tests, at an average of 11) through the Indian playing a relatively loose shot, rather than through his own particular skill. Broad was now tasked with dislodging Pujara, who had dug himself a trench at the crease – 31% of the balls bowled at him were left alone, the highest figure for all but two players in this series – and England were perhaps starting to get twitchy.
At this point, Broad had found the least swing (0.5°) and the least seam movement (0.6°) of any England bowler in the innings. He was struggling.
Like I say – while you’re charging the torch, the light is rather dim.
What followed was a furious barrage of mosts, biggests, and bests. Broad bowled a ball to Pujara that was full and fast, swinging viciously into the stumps. It swung 3.8° into the batsmen. No ball swung more in the innings.
Shortly after, with a sore Virat Kohli digging in, looking immobile but defiant, Broad pulled out another extreme. He bowled a ball to the Indian captain that jagged back 2.5° back in, glancing the gloves on the way. No ball bowled had done more off the pitch. Broad had changed the parameters of what the pitch was offering, what the ball could do through the air.
The next delivery, for Dinesh Karthik’s first ball, Broad unleashed another vicious, dipping in-swinger. It moved 3.2° – the only ball today that swung more was the ball which removed Pujara. A hat-trick would subsequently elude him, but Broad had taken India’s middle-order apart.
In the course of 25 minutes, Broad went from the man who was finding less swing and seam than everyone on the field, to the man who was finding ridiculous, outlier levels of lateral movement. He had, in essence, turned on the torch.
And that is Broad in a nutshell. By virtue of his feast-or-famine nature, in the intervening periods between his devastating excellence, he’s often rather subdued. He can struggle to influence matches. In the last five years, Broad has gone wicketless in 23 Test innings; Anderson, by comparison, has only done so on 13 occasions. Yet Anderson has only taken 6+ wickets in an innings on three occasions, whilst Broad has done so five times. The Nottinghamshire man can disappear, but when he’s on, he’s on.
Of course, you’d be hard pressed to argue that Broad was the key to England’s victory at Lord’s. He nipped in with key wickets, but by the time he made his intervention the series was 2-0 in all but name. But Broad has won England enough games, enough series, stood up at enough key moments, that he can afford the odd day where he rides the coattails of his teammates. He may even be rested at Trent Bridge, the site of his most memorable burst of brilliance. But this afternoon, he conjured up enough sparkle and sideways movement to suggest that there will plenty more magic to come.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz