For fast bowlers life is never free of pain. It is the nature of the job. The body protests at the ridiculous exertions and expectations being placed on it. Stuart Broad’s has objected stridently for long enough.
It has been a grim few months. He has been out of touch, out of luck, out of the team. Always, but always, it seemed he was carrying an injury. When he came on this tour, one of England's golden boys was under severe scrutiny. Nothing was guaranteed any longer.
But in the Second Test at the Basin Reserve it has all come back, as if the body was happy with itself again – it doth protest too much – and was allowing Broad to put into operation those elements crucial to all speed merchants: pace, swing, length, bounce. He took 6 for 51 in New Zealand's first innings and in every spell on the third day he was irresistible.
Form is a capricious beast, but it seems that Broad's loss of it was also caused by an inadvertent change in the way he bowled. It took months to spot.
"A lot of it is to do with coming a bit wider at the crease," he said. "I got into a bad habit of getting too tight to the stumps, which meant my feet were crossed and I pushed the ball straight. It can lead to a lack of pace and being left more easily.Just coming a bit wider, it means I can get my body through my action and fire it in at off stump.
"It took a while to pick up on that. I got Gemma to [look at] all my Test wickets from 2010 and there was quite a big difference."
Gemma is his sister, the team's video analyst. She might mention her part in his return at future family gatherings. But there was also the matter of Broad's left heel, which dogged him in India last year and was causing him excruciating pain on landing in his delivery stride. That problem, too, has disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared.
There had been times lately when it seemed that Broad might never be this incisive again. At the start of this tour he was on trial. If Graham Onions's bowling remotely resembled that which encouraged the selectors to pick him, Broad may have been further back in the queue.
There was discernible improvement in the First Test and it elicited an encomium from the team's coach, Andy Flower, that brooked no dissent. "Stuart Broad is a world-class performer," he said. "He has altered the complexion of a number of international matches for us in his short career so far. Having him fit and firing is a huge factor in our game. If he runs in with that sort of rhythm and power then I think we're going to see good things from him." At the time it seemed slightly optimistic. Saying what had been was all well and good, but what might be was another matter.
Flower, it was starkly apparent yesterday, knew whereof he spoke. As soon as he took the ball here, Broad was firing. In his first spell he took two wickets in two balls, both ripsnorters, the first of which left Hamish Rutherford in no man's land, the second searing through Ross Taylor's tentative defensive shot.
There was plenty more where that came from on the third day as New Zealand strove and failed to save the follow-on. Broad's pace was restored, he extracted bounce from the pitch but he was not afraid to pitch the ball up. In the same over that the dazzling Brendon McCullum, leading a Kiwi revival, hit him for four and six, he beat him twice all ends up.
Broad has always seemed more potent with the fuller-length ball, but perhaps his height persuades him still that there is reason to bang it in short. He made the first breakthrough on the third morning by removing Kane Williamson with a smart return catch and then came back in the afternoon to polish off the tail. It was that little burst of activity which showed that what had been missing had returned.
It allowed England to enforce the follow-on, which the Kiwis were 12 runs shy of avoiding. Time was when captains with a huge lead imposed it more or less automatically, but this was the first time England had asked a team to bat again for 13 years. New Zealand finished the day on 77 for 1 in the second innings, 134 behind.
By lunch yesterday James Anderson had had Peter Fulton caught at first slip to leave the hosts on 153 for 2, Williamson having reached a stubborn half-century.
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