Stuart Broad was at his best!
For a major part of the present decade, Stuart Broad and James Anderson have just stood out as the primary English bowlers in the Test arena. While the opening bowling duo around the other Test-playing nations have undergone changes – either due to the lack of form or the inevitable retirement of some stalwarts, Anderson and Broad have been carrying on almost non-stop ever since one can imagine.
While some constants hold their place due to their insane consistencies, many others often go for prolonged periods of poor form only to be aided by the lack of form of the other domestic athletes. Broad, who had a “rubbish” Ashes tour in 2017, in which he claimed 11 wickets at 47.72 in 5 games – including his worst Test figures of 0 for 142 in the game at Perth – falls in the second category and even though his commitment to the game can in no way be questioned, his falling fortunes since the beginning of last year has not escaped many.
In 2017, he picked up 30 wickets at an average of 36.06 – the highest average that has been recorded by the bowler since 2010. In Australia, it was the lack of bounce due to his wrists that hurt him, but the larger issue was his lengths that wavered around the short area, especially with the new ball. Trent Boult and Tim Southee were highly successful in the first innings of the first Test when they had pitched up their lengths, and maybe, it was by mere observation of their devastation that forced Broad to bowl fuller lengths at Christchurch, where he ended with figures of 4 for 38 after Day 2.
The lanky pacer, who was on the verge of having the new ball snatched away from him for the first time since 2013, was accurate and lethal against the Kiwis on the second morning. He drew Tom Latham out on the front foot and pushed Ross Taylor for a flat-footed flash shot with a wider delivery. A full-length ball dismissed Henry Nicholls with the delivery managing an inside edge to take the back pad. Almost 37% of his deliveries in Broad’s first spell fell on the full-length area, which ultimately made the difference.
It is however not the first time that Broad has accentuated his return to form by bowling full. In 2011, when he was facing a similar slump of form, he reverted to bowling up against India, ending the four-match Test series with 25 wickets at an average of 13.84.
Back in Trent Bridge, in between the two Test tours, Broad worked on his bowling action to get more help on the side on. By twisting his shoulders to get his front arm towards the target, thus aligning his feet in a better position, Broad worked on the small nuances to better his records in the recent past. With even Michael Vaughan questioning the 31-year-old’s position in the Test side, the New Zealand series was almost a desperate attempt at gaining back his lost mojo.
However, one spell does not really suggest the return to form of the once menacing bowler, who was at his lethal best till 2016, but what he would have learnt by his fourth wicket – that of Colin de Grandhomme was that fuller deliveries is what makes him most dangerous and instead of tweaking his action in major ways, small steps can just be taken to return to his prime form.