Column | Broad – an intense fast bowler

Terrific achievement
Stuart Broad exults after picking up his 500th Test wicket. Reuters
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Stuart Christopher Jason Broad walked into record books during the last match of the three-Test series between England and the West Indies at Old Trafford, Manchester, last week when he claimed his 500th victim in Test cricket. Of more immediate significance to this game was his contribution both with the bat and ball.

In the England first innings he walked in when the side had lost eight wickets for 280 runs and was instrumental in pushing the total up to 369 with a knock of 62 that came off only 45 balls. It included nine fours and a six. He then claimed 6/31 to dismiss the visitors for a mere 197 runs in their first innings. In the last innings of the match, when rain threatened to play spoil sport, he again got into action to pick up four wickets to ensure that England won the game by a thumping margin of 269 runs. Thus, with a half-century and a haul of 10/67, this was “Broad’s Test” in every which manner one looked at it. One cannot think of a more perfect script for entering the hallowed “500 wickets club” in Test cricket.

Broad was born with cricket in his blood as his father Chris was a former England opener who played in 40 Tests and 34 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) during the 1980s. Like his father, Broad also started out as an opening batsman till he was into his late teens when he suddenly shot up in inches and considered the possibility of turning into a fast bowler. This transformation was quickly executed and saw him play first-class cricket by the time he was 18. He became a member of England 'A' side in 2005 and made his international debut when turned out for the national side in T20 Internationals as well as ODIs in August, 2006, two months after he turned 20. His entry into Test matches followed one year later, when he played against Sri Lanka in Colombo in December, 2007.

In between, Broad also found his way to lasting “infamy” as a bowler when he was struck by Yuvraj Singh for six sixes in an over during the Super Eight match between England and India in the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007. Bowling the 19th over of the innings, Broad ran into Yuvraj who was on fire having been needled by the verbal missiles of Andrew Flintoff. Yuvraj took out his anger on Broad by carting him all over the park in Durban, thus racing to the fastest half-century in T20 cricket, which came off a mere 12 balls! After the first three hits, Broad looked clueless and appeared to have sunk into a trance, placing the balls in areas where Yuvraj found it most convenient to launch into his big hits.

Bouncing back

This assault could have finished the career of a lesser bowler but Broad survived this setback and emerged stronger from it. He cemented his place in the England side in all formats of the game and his useful contributions with the bat indicated that he possessed the potential for developing into an all-rounder. He made his mark in the Ashes series of 2009 that England won 2-1. He scored 234 runs and was the leading wicket-taker for his side with 18 scalps. During the home series against Pakistan in 2010, he scored his maiden Test century. Coming to bat with England precariously placed at 102/7, Broad and Jonathan Trott added a world record stand of 332 runs for the eighth wicket. Broad went on to remain unbeaten on 169, which incidentally, was higher than his father’s top score of 162 in Test cricket!

Stellar show
Stuart Broad leads England players off the the field after the win over West Indies in the third Test. AFP

After a rather colourless Ashes series in Australia in 2010-11, Broad hit full stride against India in the summer of 2011. Subsequent to taking seven wickets in the first Test, Broad hit top form with both the bat and ball in the next game. He scored a quick-fire 64 to pull his side from 124/8 to a more respectable total of 221 when England batted first in the match. In the Indian first innings, he bowled with pace and venom to end up with 6/46 - the last five wickets coming off a mere 16 balls, without conceding a run. This also included a hat-trick when he removed Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh and raveen Kumar off consecutive balls. This all-round performance won him the man-of-the-match award.

Turning point

This series against India could well be termed as the turning point in Broad’s career as he has not looked back since. He is blessed with a capacity for bowling unplayable spells as the West Indians found out in the last Test at Manchester. Such occasions have seen him run through opposing sides like a knife through butter, irrespective of the names of the batsmen in the line-up. On such occasions he invariably picks up five wickets or more in a single spell, which would serve to understand the menace and destructive potential of his bowling when he is on song. This was most evident on the first day of the Ashes Test at Trent Bridge in 2015 when destroyed the Aussies with a devastating burst of bowling that saw him take 8/15 as the visitors crumbled to a total of 60 in just 18.3 overs. He has an intensely competitive streak within him, which does not endear him to supporters of opposing sides but makes him a star attraction on cricket grounds the world over.

It was Fred Trueman, the first bowler to reach the mark of 300 wickets in Test cricket, who famously said that any other bowler reaching this landmark would be a very tired person. Trueman played only 67 Tests, sending down 15,178 balls in a 13-year career. Broad, on the other hand has played 140 Tests and bowled 28,079 deliveries till date while playing Test cricket for an equal number of years. His strike rate of one wicket off every 57.8 balls is certainly far behind that of South African great Dale Steyn who took the shortest number of balls per wicket (43.2) among all bowlers who have taken more than 300 wickets in Test cricket.

Broad has been fortunate that he could strike a great partnership with James Anderson, the only other bowler from England with more than 500 wickets in Tests. Anderson is definitely the senior partner with 589 scalps from 152 Tests at a strike rate of 56.1 and is on track to become the first fast bowler to reach the 600-wicket mark. These two bowlers have complimented each other very well with the duo picking 895 wickets in the Tests they have played together so far. This combination of two fast bowlers, whose skills go up a couple of notches when bowling in tandem, has helped England no end.

Deadly duo
Stuart Broad, left, and James Anderson have formed a hugely successful new-ball pair. File photo: AFP

Another factor that helped Broad greatly in prolonging his career was the decision by England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to preserve him for the longer duration version by limiting his appearances in other formats of the game. Thus he has played only Test cricket at the international level since 2016. He led England in the T20I format in 27 matches, from 2011 to 2014 but has not played that version since. Similarly, he played his last ODI in February, 2016. He is one of the few top international bowlers not to have played in the Indian Premier League (IPL). He turned down an opportunity in 2009 citing fears that too much of this form of cricket was not good for his body and when he was bought by Kings XI Punjab in 2011 for Rs 1.8 crores, he was forced to stay away due to an injury.

Plenty to offer

At 34 and after 13 years of cricket at the international level, Broad has not shown any signs of fatigue or weariness and appears fit enough to continue playing Test cricket for another two-three years. Broad possesses the potential to not only only overtake Anderson but also end up as the fast bowler with the highest number of Test wickets. It is the fond hope of legions of cricket fans that this intelligent cricketer with school-boyish looks and handsome features continues to play the game for many more years and contributes to enriching it.

(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)

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