When Stuart Broad was left out of the first Test of the summer against the West Indies, he wasted no time in venting his frustration. “I've been frustrated, angry, gutted because it is a hard decision to understand. I've probably bowled the best I've ever bowled in the last couple of years. I felt like it was my shirt, particularly the Ashes and going to South Africa and winning there.”
There is an argument to suggest that Broad was wrong to say what he did during that interview with Sky Sports, but, at the same time, his words were understandable. This is a man who has been an extremely reliable performer for England for well over a decade through his relentless accuracy and skill with ball in hand, not to mention his famous, game-changing spells that have often blown opposition sides away.
In addition, as he referred to in the interview, Broad’s performances over the past year have not only shown no signs of waning but have been improving. In the Ashes last summer, he was the second-highest wicket-taker with 23 at 26.65 apiece, before taking 14 wickets at 19.42 during England’s impressive 3-1 series win in South Africa. The likes of James Anderson, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood may have occasionally sparkled with game-changing displays, but it has been Broad who has proven to be England’s go-to man in recent times.
It was inevitable then that Broad would have extra fire in his belly when he returned to the side for the second and third Tests of this summer. He has backed his words up with action and then some, bowling a challenging wicket-to-wicket line and pushing the ball fuller. The latter has been as a result of improved work on his action two years ago - According to Cricviz, the length of Broad’s deliveries since the start of 2018 has been 41cm fuller than any previous stage of his career.
West Indies’ batsmen, not exactly best prepared due to the Covid-19 pandemic, had no answer. Despite missing that first Test at the AGEAS Bowl, Broad finished the series as the top wicket-taker with 16 wickets at a sensational 10.93. At one point in the series he had figures of 0-64 from 19 overs. From then on, he took 16 for 111 from 41.1 overs. Once Broad finds momentum, he is a very difficult man to stop.
As Broad reached the rare achievement of 500 Test wickets, you would have been forgiven for wondering how many more he is going to take before his time is up. He is only 34 and with his white-ball career for England now over, he has been able to stay fit and produce longevity that has become a rare asset of seam bowlers in the modern game.
If that wasn’t enough, Broad only has to look at his legendary opening partner, James Anderson, as an example of what can be achieved with smart management of workload. Anderson has now played over 150 Test matches and sits on 589 wickets – the most of any seamer in Test history.
What has perhaps changed has been the depth in competition in the seam bowling department. England are increasingly favouring pace in their attack in order to improve their chances of success away as well as at home and Broad’s place has come under fire in recent times because of it – Southampton was the third time in the past two years that the Nottinghamshire seamer has been dropped or ‘rested’. England have found out the hard way that you need more than just accuracy and experience to bowl sides out away from home.
One thing that is still apparent, however, is that Broad is still a mighty fine bowler who has more tricks up his sleeve now than during his early days in the Test arena - he averaged just 40.2 with the ball in his first 20 Tests, compared to 26.5 in his next 120. While England may well need to have variety in their attack to succeed away from home, there will be times, certainly, if there is assistance in conditions and in the wicket, when Broad’s skill set proves invaluable. And with Anderson being rotated more often these days, the onus could be on Broad to lead England’s attack into the 2021/22 Ashes series down under.
Broad seems hungrier than ever before and he is backing it up with some stellar performances. There’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.