England v Australia, fourth Test, day oneContinue reading
The future’s here. The future’s even more of Stuart Broad bowling with the new ball. You might think that sounds suspiciously like the past and you’d be right. Sometimes things don’t change all that much.
Actually one thing’s changed. Whether it’s enthusiasm, rhythm, a minor technical tweak or a combination of all three, Broad appears to have recovered some effectiveness.
Between his mostly insipid Ashes performances and now, Broad renounced video analysis and started training on feel and this wilfully primitive approach appears to have proven beneficial. He has regained some pace and just took a bunch of cheap wickets against New Zealand.
Is this resurgence a good thing?
England have had precisely one wicket-taking bowler for most of the last year – James Anderson. Broad’s resurgence means they now have two. This means there’s a good chance they’ll lose Tests by much narrower margins when the batting utterly collapses. Losing by much narrower margins is a very legitimate and reasonable goal for England away from home at the minute and one we fully support.
There’s also the fact that Stuart Broad is an immensely enjoyable cricketer. Many people hate him, including a surprisingly large number of England supporters, but that isn’t the same as not enjoying his presence. Whether you feel affection or not, who doesn’t feel a twinge of some emotion or other whenever he appeals? And who would honestly claim that he isn’t the most watchable batsman in world cricket?
What’s less clear is what this apparent rejuvenation means long-term.
Wagner has carved out his very own niche as an attritional short-pitched fast-medium bowler. It really shouldn’t be a thing, but somehow it’s been working for him – not least because it is a role he has committed to in a manner that would put Daniel Day Lewis to shame.
You need someone to bowl 10 overs on the bounce at the batsman’s armpit? Neil Wagner will give you 12. Neil Wagner is no dilettante. Neil Wagner is going to pummel that armpit to Hades if the batsman doesn’t get bat, gloves or arm consistently in the way.
Wagner gives New Zealand a unique avenue to explore. He is one egg in a very different basket. This load-spreading egg transportation policy is one that England are currently looking to mimic.
Unfortunately, Mark Wood is not Neil Wagner. This is not at all how Mark Wood bowls. While he does have a bouncer, it is not his stock ball and yet the Wagner approach is largely how he has ended up bowling for England upon his return to the side.
Because who else will?
Sometimes this is the price you pay for being the quickest bowler. Remember when Broad was England’s “enforcer” and how woefully ineffective he was when he had the job?
Wood can, in theory, be sawn, sanded and reshaped, but you do end up with a very different thing after doing all of that, even if it’s’ still made out of the same raw material. That’s all well and good, but what Mark Wood started out as – a fast bowler aware of the existence of the stumps – is a very fine and desirable thing indeed.
Without Full-Pitched Broad, Wood might perhaps get to bowl how he normally would. Without New Ball Broad, maybe Chris Woakes would have taken a few more wickets this winter.
Yeah, okay, the exact approach of one of England’s only two effective bowlers and when he gets to bowl are pretty low on the list of England’s concerns at the minute.
However, the very top of that list runs something like this.
Point three is where Broad has an impact because new ball bowlers and quick-bowlers-who-pitch-it-up are two things England really should be able to find even when they’re otherwise shit at cricket. The fact that Broad and Anderson have rendered both of those ‘things the team absolutely does not in the least bit need’ for the last however-many-years means that an obvious route into the side has closed.
Moeen Ali was dropped for this Test. While that doesn’t negate all of his many wonderful performances, it does mean that all of the stalwarts in the team started playing international cricket a really, really long time ago.
It’s the very nature of stalwartcy (not a word) that such a player is of course likely to have been around a fair while, but at some point teams have to find new players who are going to be solid, regular picks and there is no sign that this is happening. Not one sign. Not anywhere in the team. (Even Dawid Malan’s apparent solidity pretty much hinges on other people being slightly worse. He’s currently averaging 29.85 in Test cricket.)
When we wrote on this subject in January, we pointed out that Moeen was the man to have most recently become a mainstay. Moeen made his debut in 2014. Hopefully he gets back into the side, because his batting is slightly magical. His absence also means that the player whose name has most recently made the move from pencil to pen is Ben Stokes who debuted in 2013.
We used to work for a company where we eventually stopped attempting to learn new colleagues’ names because they would quite often not last a week because the company was rubbish and dying.
Stuart Broad’s resurgence is great and fun and pleasing, but you do feel that England could find a replacement new ball bowler more easily than they could find a middle-order batsman and it would be nice to have at least one newish player in the team whose name might be worth committing to memory.
The pitch is flat, say tetchy England fans. This is the short version of the recurring Test match question: the pitch is flat, so what are you going to do about it?
England went with a bit of fast-medium. After that, they tried a bit more fast-medium, then a bit more, then a quick burst of Moeen Ali, then back to fast-medium. Maybe once the ball was old and the bowlers fatigued, the God of Pity might bring them some lateral movement.
The God of Pity was unmoved.
As we observed on the first day, wickets are hard to come by on this Waca pitch. England’s attack, which is spectacularly ill-suited to these conditions, was always going to struggle more than Australia’s did. An even bigger crime was arguably that their batsmen could only muster one proper partnership in the whole first innings. The lower order collapse has been given a lot of attention, but the top order nothingness was worse.
But on today’s performance, it’s hard to see what difference it makes anyway. James Anderson has made the most of favourable conditions and Craig Overton has been game, but none of the other bowlers have had any real impact on this series.
If we had to pinpoint the biggest hole in the England team on this tour, it’s been Stuart Broad. England’s tallest bowler and capable of bowling at a fair lick from time to time, he also has experience of bowling well in Australia in the past – 21 wickets at 27.52 in the 2013/14 series when England got hammered.
Broad really should have presented the greatest threat, yet at the time of writing he has five wickets at 50-odd with every sign that the ratio between those two numbers will further deteriorate.
He hasn’t even looked that pissed off. To see Broad accepting his cap at the end of another fruitless over with an utterly blank face is to be momentarily transported to a parallel dimension.
Broad is a man who smiles when he’s winning and grouches about the place like a sleep-deprived man who’s just trodden on an upturned plug when things aren’t going his way. Bad days have historically led to a snowballing fury that has resulted in either a wicket or some kind of warning from the match referee.
Now there is only a kind of medicated mellowness. It’s a mood that’s shaping the series, but not in the way that England would like.
Stuart Broad’s batting just gets better and better. Maybe not by the traditional metric of batting average, but there are far more sensible ways of assessing a cricketer’s worth.
Once upon a time, Broad was a good batsman: high left elbow, great timing and solid defence. Then he top-edged a Varun Aaron bouncer into his own face and everything changed. (We were there when it happened but apparently didn’t think to write anything about it.)
The after-effects were enormous. Speaking to the BBC seven months later, he said: “If I have two glasses of wine I have black eyes.”
Weird. And it affected his batting too.
For a while, Broad became a bad batsman; a (justifiably) cowardly tail-ender who backed away from even the full balls. But then gradually he started piecing his game back together and rebuilt it so that it was even better than before.
The sweetly-timed drives remain, but the defence is gone. There is now a glorious fragility to every innings, a feeling of impermanence that makes you savour every boundary.
He’s also introduced some new shots. Rather than dodge the short ones, he’s instead resolved to flail at them like a cornered madman. Woeful shot selection, panic and unusually good hand-eye coordination don’t half make for an exciting stroke.
As Broad contorts himself, unreeling those long arms in a hard-to-predict parabola, no-one can truly know what will happen next. Even if he middles it, you can’t say for certain at what height the ball will be travelling – although you can be sure that it will be airborne.
So anything can happen, but no innings is likely to last too long. As such, Broad is rapidly becoming our favourite batsman. This new improved version might even rank right up there with Steve Harmison and Murali.
With their feisty batting in the morning and a pair of wickets each, Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad truly delivered non-captains’ performances.
This is what good team members do. They set an example for the captain to follow. It’s like they always say: he who leads the leader slightly reduces the duration of the group’s journey by arriving early.
Yes, they do always say that.
Broad’s batting is now a perfect combination of timing and terror, with exquisite back foot drives bubbling atop a constant undercurrent of jeopardy. His innings are so much more enjoyable for being so fragile.
Moeen Ali’s batting is not dissimilar, although the general experience is dreamier and the end more sudden. Where Broad is keen that you never forget his dismissal is an everpresent danger, Moeen only intermittently reminds you that his is a possibility.
Other events of the day were South Africa going after Liam Dawson a bit (because why wouldn’t you?) and an ICC announcement that Kagiso Rabada would serve a one-match suspension after becoming the first person in the history of the world to instruct Ben Stokes to fuck off.
Ahead of the first Test against Pakistan, Stuart Broad said one thing that made sense.
“The biggest test for the bowling unit will be trying to do what no other team has done this year, which is to win a game and take 20 wickets at Lord’s.”
Lord’s: Home of Rain-Affected Draws as well as Home of Corks. Engineering a result will indeed be a challenge.
But after that, Broad said the following about communicating with the other bowlers: “We always talk, not as an ego thing, but to try to get one over the opening batsman.”
“Not as an ego thing”? What in blazes does that mean? Why would verbal communication – the basic keystone supporting the whole of humankind’s development – ever be considered merely ‘an ego thing’?
Not a year goes by – not one single year – when we do not see two or more human beings engaged in conversation with one another. Not once have we ever thought to ourself: “Look at those raging egotists.”
Stuart Broad wants to state his case for inclusion in England’s one-day side. Unfortunately for him, this is difficult as he doesn’t actually play one-day cricket. According to Ali Martin, Broad’s played one 50-over game for Nottinghamshire in the last 18 months.
The opposite applies to Jos Buttler, who is keen to return to the Test side. He somehow needs to make red ball runs to get back in, but the only way we can see that happening is if he paints one ahead of a limited overs game.
Then there’s Eoin Morgan, who’s basically just given up – he says he’s averaged three or four first-class games a year for the past six years and can’t see that changing. That’s not actually a huge amount more than we play and it’s a problem that’s doubtless compounded by being dismissed for single figure scores in the first couple of matches while he tries to remember what’s what.
Other than pigeons, few voluntarily enter pigeonholes. We’ve long had players retiring from one format to prolong their lifespan in another, but the specialist threshold seems to have shifted in recent times. If players in their prime are not exactly being forced to choose, then they are at least allowing themselves to be funnelled down a particular path because it’s so much bloody effort to do anything other than that.
The impact of this on fans is significant and appalling: it means we have to try and remember more cricketers. If we were interested in paying attention and remembering lots of things, we’d have gone and got a law qualification or something.
Touring England’s never been easy. The conditions, for most overseas batsmen, are as weird and difficult as one of those early-Nineties computer games made by one slightly unhinged bloke in his bedroom. Nothing works how they expect it to and they search for a solution with no real certainty that such a thing even exists. The challenge is even greater nowadays when few players benefit from long stints in county cricket.
When Kumar Sangakkara first toured in 2002, he played three Tests, didn’t pass 40 and averaged 21. On his second tour, in 2006, he averaged 38.50 with a top score of 66. On his third tour, in 2011, he finally made a hundred, but pretty much no other runs and averaged 30.66. It wasn’t until 2014 that he finally cracked it, making a hundred and three fifties and averaging 85.50.
It takes a while.
Sangakkara was a half-decent batsman and he had it relatively easy as well. He didn’t have to face this current England attack. Snooty comments about the quality of this Sri Lanka team – and there have been many – show a real lack of comprehension of just what the tourists are up against.
Bowling well in England requires two main qualities. You need to find some movement – either swing, seam or both – and you need to bowl with enough control to exploit that. At this point in their careers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad do both of those things just about as well as anyone ever has.
There may have been better England bowlers, but in Tests taking place in England there have rarely been more consistent performers.
Touring England’s never been easy. In 2016, with these two at their peak, it’s rarely ever been much harder.