When Jofra Archer was picked ahead of one of England’s most consistent performers in Tests in the first match against West Indies, the English management was trying to make a statement. They were choosing youthful exuberance over tested quality in a nod to the future. Stuart Broad, however, voiced his displeasure in no uncertain terms after the unceremonious axing.
Broad was to make his own statement with the ball in dramatic fashion come the second instalment of a fantastic series. The setting was Manchester, the hosts, pushed to a corner by the resurgent visitors, needed to turn things around quickly. Their pace bowling attack wore a completely new look due to certain unforeseen circumstances.
While Broad’s fellow stalwart pacer James Anderson was rested as part of England’s rotation policy with a surfeit of fixtures in the coming months, Archer’s axing was necessitated by the young tearaway breaking team rules in these extraordinary times and driving home after the first match.
Stuart Broad shows his worth
Stuart Broad was back and how. While he might have only picked up six scalps over a period of five days in another enthralling Test, his contribution to England’s 113-run win was more intangible, more difficult to quantify in numbers.
At 242/4 in the their first innings, the Windies were trudging along gamely in pursuit of England’s mammoth first innings total of 469 when the 34-year-old was handed the second new ball. This is when he produced a trademark spell, the kind which has made the Nottingham-born fast bowler one of the most celebrated pacers in the modern era.
With three scalps in 14 deliveries, Broad broke the back of the Windies lower middle-order and opened the path for an England win that was looking unlikely with each passing over that the Caribbeans negotiated. They had time on their side, Broad ensured England had a fighting chance with a sporting declaration on the final day.
Job not finished yet
The Windies, for their part, battled gamely throughout and had a great chance of saving the match come the final day. Broad, who wants to emulate senior partner Anderson in terms of longevity, led the attack with aplomb once again. His accuracy, movement off the pitch and constant attack on the stumps made the difference in this innings as well.
The centre-piece was definitely the venomous ball that bowled, arguably the visitors’ best batsman Shai Hope, but Broad also pitched it up and induced the edge off John Campbell and stuck Roston Chase plumb in front to make crucial inroads into a determined batting line-up.
While he has picked up more than 800 wickets in a virtuoso partnership with Anderson lasting 12 years, Broad had new partners in this crucial Test. And all of them stood up to the task. Man-of-the-match Ben Stokes is already one of the premier all-rounders of the game and he was at his magnificent best at Old Trafford as well, hitting a strokeful century in the first and a half-century in the second, he also got three critical scalps in the match.
But the revelation of the match was Chris Woakes, another fast-bowling all-rounder who has often been in the shadow of Stokes but is an extremely talented cricketer himself. Woakes picked up six wickets himself and bowled with zip and guile throughout, while also entering the elite club of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in the process.
There was strength in numbers here as none of the English pace quartet or the sole spinner Dom Bess picked up a five-for in this match, but all of them, including Sam Curran, were among the wickets and did their job more than adequately.
While Archer is definitely the future of English pace bowling, Broad and Co. showed that the present is still in their capable hands and the addition of Anderson (and Archer himself) makes the English pace battery one of the most comprehensive in the world as of now.
With no saliva on offer, Stuart Broad still managed to make the ball talk and demonstrate fearsome accuracy on a consistent basis in this match. Those 491 wickets in 139 matches have come through a studied honing of his craft and experience trumps everything else in the Test arena.
As all eyes focus on the final Test of this nail-biting series, it remains to be seen if the Anderson-Broad duo is given a go once again, or whether England sticks to the winning formula in the decider. Archer…what of the enigma then? Certainly, one will think twice before dropping Broad again.