Broad running out of time to prove that he can be a true strike bowler
Tuesday 07 June 2011
Five wickets in one golden spell of bowling at the Oval and Stuart Broad's future was assured. The Ashes were coming home, headlines could be written and English cricket had a new superstar. Somehow, though, the story has refused to develop as quickly – or as spectacularly – as most people thought it would.
Broad's brilliant contribution to the 2009 beating of Australia could not have been better timed. For a start, it had a huge bearing on the outcome of that summer's deciding Test. And it softened the blow that most felt in knowing Andrew Flintoff had reached the end of the road as an international cricketer.
But, nearly two years on, we are still waiting for Broad to become the unstoppable force promised by his five-star performance of August 2009. Not only waiting, but wondering – after watching him bowl in the first three Sri Lankan innings of this series – whether he should be an absolute shoo-in for Thursday week's third Test at the Rose Bowl.
Still not quite 25, Broad has already played 36 Tests. His record includes three hauls of five wickets or more and a stupendous innings of 169 against Pakistan at Lord's last August which was cruelly relegated to the "also happened" list by the spot-fixing allegations levelled at three members of the touring team.
Broad's averages (28 batting and 36 bowling) can do with some improving. But it is the figure in the wickets column – 104 – which raises eyebrows and leaves critics wondering whether three victims per match is quite what England are looking for from a strike bowler.
It is worth noting that Flintoff had only 73 wickets at the same stage of his career. But he was in denial about his bowling for a long time, believing himself to be a batsman first until the 2005 Ashes series convinced even "Super Fred" that his right-arm thunderbolts and limitless stamina were of huge importance to England.
Broad, though, is a bowler whose correct batting place is No 8 (at least for the moment). And, taking the 36-Test mark as a point of comparison, he is a fair way behind the wicket tallies of pacemen like James Anderson (119), Matthew Hoggard (129) and Steve Harmison (142).
England make the point that figures do not always tell the whole truth; that Broad, through his aggression, often gets wickets for the man at the other end. A bit like Flintoff used to, in fact. But unless the Notts man rips through Sri Lanka's second innings today then captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower could have an interesting choice to make next week.
Anderson expects to have fully recovered from his side strain in time to play in the third Test. Chris Tremlett looks set for a decent run in the team. And that leaves Steve Finn as the favourite to miss out – especially after blowing cold more often than hot over the past few days.
The great bonus with Finn, however, is that he takes wickets. He has 50 already, in 12 Tests – having picked up three more yesterday (to Broad's one) while Sri Lanka's hopes of establishing a first-innings lead were swept away.
Curiously, the last time Broad found his bowling under the microscope was just before the final match of the 2009 Ashes. Indeed, more than a few people would have left him out of the Oval line-up – what a mistake that might have been.
It will be a surprise, then, if Broad does not figure at the Rose Bowl next week. But things could be different come the second half of the summer when India are the visitors and, all being well, Tim Bresnan is firing again after completing his recovery from a torn calf muscle.
Bresnan took six wickets in the last two Ashes Tests of the winter, while Broad was absent injured, and is a genuine rival for that No 8 spot.
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