England ignore Stuart Broad, yet again……
“The new overthrows the old,” said Michael Carleone played by Al Pacino in The Godfather III, “it’s natural.” An up and coming gangster had made an audacious play in an effort to garner recognition and stature, and Michael, preeminent but ageing, saw the challenge as the inexorable order of renewal, even though the younger man was trying to move in on his territory.
England pacer Stuart Broad’s omission from the first Test of their West Indies tour is not a good sign for the lanky pacer. This is the third test in four that he has had to sit out, and so it is natural that he is concerned for his future in his country’s colours.
He, along with the esteemed Jimmy Anderson, has long been the indispensable duo of England’s bowling division. Yet now that he is so often seen as surplus to requirements the question that arises is this: Will Broad return to his familiar position as a mainstay of England’s bowling unit?
Broad’s spot has been placed under scrutiny before. Some less than stellar performances in recent years have urged a number of pundits, Michael Vaughan most notably, to question his place in the side. Broad has often answered the critics with improved performances on the field. But with the coming generation snapping at his heels he may find that his margin for error has been vastly reduced. What might have been overlooked in the past while he clearly remained amongst the best fast bowlers in England will now be detrimental to his future in the side.
Still, the lanky pacer is only 32. Mitchell Johnson was 32 when he totally dismantled England’s batting in the 2013-2014 Ashes series. When Courtney Walsh was 32 he was embarking on the most productive period of a career which saw him capture 519 wickets. Jimmy Anderson, as skillful as ever, is even older than Broad at 36.
Different person age at different rates, however. Broad is likely to still have some miles left in his long legs but there have emerged, for England, a number of challengers eager to compete for his long unchallenged spot. Newcomer Sam Curran is playing in the Barbados Test ahead of Broad, though that might be partly due to his impressive batting, while sitting on the fringes are players like Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and Olly Stone, all bowlers of some quality keen to step in whenever summoned.
Broad has given particularly effective service to English cricket. At his best, he collects wickets in bundles, and is capable of sudden and total dismemberment of the opposition’s batting. The hot-hand phenomenon has been disputed by a number of researchers. Others have deemed it real. The Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson’s three-point shooting streaks are evidence in favour of the phenomenon. Stuart Broad’s devastating multiple-wicket spells is as well.
He has snatched five wickets in a single spell on seven occasions, with his most famous outing being his 8/15 demolition of Australia at Tent Bridge during the 2015 Ashes series. England’s archrival fell in a heap for 60 in just over 18 overs before lunch on the first morning of the Test. The game was effectively over as a contest.
Broad has captured a remarkable 433 Test wickets so far. Only his comrade-in-arms Jimmy Anderson has more for England. They have been their country’s spearheads for a long time. Anderson’s technical brilliance thrusts him into a class all by himself, and so Broad was always the more vulnerable of the two whenever changes were seen as necessary.
The fast bowler himself thinks the selectors made the correct decision when he was omitted in Sri Lanka on spin-friendly surfaces. Does he think the same now that he has been left out in Barbados, a venue with a history of facilitating pace. “It’s never easy not playing but it is easier when you can honestly think it’s probably the right decision and if you were at the top of the tree it’s the decision you’d make,” Broad told Sky Sports during the Sri Lanka tour. Does he still feel the same way?
So, will he ever regain his place in the team? We will have to await the selectors’ decision, of course, but with plausible options available it is surely not a certainty. He will be keen to play in the Ashes series later this year. In English conditions and with the Dukes ball he could sizzle once again, but so could Curran and Woakes.
With Broad entering the tail end of his career it is reasonable for the selectors to begin looking elsewhere for fast bowlers to fill his giant shoes. Sport is a hard business, frequently requiring tough decisions. Broad understands this I’m sure but that does not make his omission any easier to take.
Michael Corleone accepted the eventual inevitability of succession. Nobody lasts forever in any position. The time comes when even the most accomplished performer is replaced. That time may have come for Stuart Broad.