Broad shows class once again but England need new blood Down Under
Selectors must plan for trip to Australia next winter with an eye on taking an attack that is capable of bringing back urn
Anew television commentator will be manning the microphones soon. Very tall, and very articulate, Stuart Broad will raise the standard immediately. Too many at present seem unable to name a fielder who stops or drops the ball.
Since Graeme Swann retired, Broad has been the most quotable of England cricketers, the one with most to say, either about himself or the game.
And it is this fluency of speech – long ago Broad lost it with the bat, after a horrible facial injury – of which England’s selectors should be wary, or more so than they apparently are.
Broad, on his recall for the second Test, showed again what a master he is with a new Dukes ball in England, where he has now taken 311 Test wickets at only 26 runs each. A three-wicket burst with the second new ball prised open West Indies’ first innings; another threewicket burst with the first new ball prised open West Indies’ second innings, a valuable contribution to England’s thoroughly professional victory in only four days of play.
It was good to see Broad’s competitive juices flowing again. How typical of him that he should call for a review in his first over when not even his wicketkeeper heard a nick; and how typical of Chris Woakes that he should not want to risk wasting a review when he would otherwise have had his 100th Test wicket.
Over the years, Broad has learnt how to pitch the ball fuller, so that he now traps a higher proportion of his victims bowled or lbw; and to bowl with amazing precision at lefthanders from round the wicket, as in the last Ashes in England when he dismissed David Warner seven times for a score below 14. Broad has added cutters in proving that ageing pace bowlers can learn new tricks; and he has also perfected the gift of the gab.
At Southampton, when he was omitted from the XI for the opening Test, Broad cited the statistic that he was England’s leading wickettaker in the winter series in South Africa; and so he was.
But he was the only specialist bowler to play in all four Tests, and had the new ball every game; half of his 14 wickets were numbers seven to 11 in the South African batting order; and he dismissed a South African opening batsman only once.
An impressive fact on the surface that he was England’s leading wicket-taker, but not perhaps the whole picture.
Broad has reinvented himself by acquiring a wider variety of skills, and he has reinvented his own narrative. One of his themes has long been that another magic spell is “around the corner” – and at Old Trafford there were echoes of those heady days when he kicked up his heels, arrowed in at the top of West Indian off stumps, or thumped into their pads, arms raised in celebration of the wicket more than in appeal to the umpire.
The cruel reality, however, is that in the 4½ years since his last magic spell at Johannesburg in January 2016, Broad has taken five wickets in an innings – the normal yardstick to prove penetration – only twice. Of course, it is a difficult feat when England have five bowlers on tap, but before then Broad had achieved it 15 times.
Cleaned up: Stuart Broad took three early wickets to put England on course for victory, his second coming as he bowled Shai Hope
England need opening bowlers who can do heavy lifting, not rely on Stokes the battering ram
His eloquence has masked a gradual, and natural, decline. In his 28 Tests at home since Johannesburg, armed with Dukes balls, Broad has been so economical that he has lowered his Test average to 28.
Meanwhile, in his 21 Tests abroad, including last winter in South Africa, he has taken 57 wickets at 30 – and the next Ashes series will be abroad, in Australia.
Reality there will be even crueller if Broad is selected for the next Ashes tour, as a player that is, not a commentator. The English pace bowler who succeeds in Australia is young, on the way up, in his prime; canny fast-medium thrift has never worked.
So, England’s selectors can feel relieved that their players have pegged this series back to 1-1 and can still regain the Wisden Trophy. But they have to appreciate that, for all the fine talk, Broad and James Anderson are not going to win another Test for England in Australia – they have not done so since 2010-11 – and game time this summer should be given to those who might do so, especially as it is conceivable there will be no Test cricket this winter.
England need opening bowlers who can do heavy lifting with a ball that has gone soft, not rely on Ben Stokes to be the battering ram, as he was on the final afternoon at Old Trafford, breaking the one significant West Indian partnership when the tourists needed two to survive. Stokes’s knees might not still be functioning for bowling purposes in 18 months’ time.
If there is scope for any of England’s existing fast-medium bowlers to go to Australia, it could be Woakes, who has been steadily improving abroad, although not enough to impact on Australia last time.
Not Anderson, and not Broad, except as a new generation of commentators.