It is the primary job of a bowler, in most circumstances, to take wickets. This is a statement of the bloomin' obvious unless in the company of Americans, but is deserving of reiteration because of the increasingly strange case of Stuart Broad.
Broad is the fast bowler who has forgotten how to take wickets. The harder he tries the fewer wickets that seem to be coming his way. The fewer wickets that come his way the more irritated he becomes, the more irritated he becomes, the less likely he is to be well disposed to those whom he thinks are depriving him of them. The less well disposed he is, the greater censure he faces. For want of a wicket, cricketing kingdoms can be lost.
In each of the four limited-overs matches of the summer so far, Broad has been wicketless. In the earlier Test series he took eight wickets at a rate of one every 15 overs, and never more than two in an innings. Of course, there are other important attributes: the ability to prevent a batsman from scoring, the intelligence to feed his strengths occasionally, the stamina to keep going, the patience to wait for him to make a mistake, the pace to rough him up.
Broad possesses many of these and his bouncer – fast, accurate, spiteful and supported by a malevolent stare peering from hollow cheeks – is perhaps the most potent around, and not simply because that is what the coaches and the colleagues say. But a fast bowler cannot live by bouncers alone as Broad, it sometimes seems, is attempting to do.
He is clearly feeling the heat. Towards the end of Sri Lanka's innings in the second one-day international last Friday he harangued the umpire, Billy Bowden, after an lbw appeal was turned down. So unpleasant were the remarks, both at the time and as the players left the field, that Broad was fined half his match fee for a breach of the ICC code of conduct and issued with a strong verbal rebuke by the match referee, Alan Hurst.
Time then to circle the wagons. His colleague, Graeme Swann, sprang to Broad's defence yesterday. "We need to lay off Broady a bit," he said. "He seems to be the scapegoat at the minute – if it is not KP, it's Broady.
"But he is still one of the best bowlers in England, still certainly in my top two, and I love his aggression and the streak of nastiness he has got about him because you definitely need that as a bowler. I don't want to see our fast bowlers opening a kitten sanctuary, I want to see them bowling bouncers and breaking fingers. If you have got seam bowlers who are doing that for you it makes it a lot easier for the spinners."
And he might have added a miaow at those who have been so horrible. It is understandable that Swann and any other member of the England team would want to support his pal, but he should also recognise that there is a case to debate. Plenty of people are suggesting that Broad's place is hanging by a thread and plenty of those think it should be cut. It is the same when a batsman does not score runs.
"Cricket is funny," said Swann. "You can feel you are bowling really well for weeks on end and hardly get a wicket and then they come in floods. But for a guy of his age he is very pragmatic and very level-headed and he will realise that he'll bowl like a drain one of these days and get a five-for. And then people will be applauding him again and saying he's back.
"He is happy with the way it is coming out of his hand, the rest of us are happy with the way it is coming out of his hand. That spell at Lord's the other day – and let's face it, on a featherbed – when he peppered their guys with short-pitched bowling was as impressive as you can get, and with the old ball as well." But, still, no wickets in the series.
Broad has been virtually an automatic selection in the England side since 2008. Two incisive spells of bowling will stand out for ever. The first was at The Oval in 2009 when he broke the back of Australia's batting with four wickets in five overs, the other at Kingsmead, Durban, later the same year when he had three of South Africa's finest in 15 balls.
Although there have been no other significant hauls, it is only this summer, since returning from the two injuries that marred his winter – a torn abdomen in the Ashes, a broken rib in the World Cup – that his place has been called into question. Whatever the public voice, other bowlers may well be starting to question Broad's apparently inherent right to a place. There is certainly a feeling beyond the dressing room. The indications are that he is bowling to team orders and if so the orders need to change.
"I don't think it has affected his confidence too much," said Swann. "Undoubtedly, if people keep having a go at him it is going to wear him down. I don't know if that is the idea a few people have [in having a go] but if that is the case so be it, everyone's got their agenda.
"But Broady is a very strong and very pragmatic character and he knows he can still bowl 90mph and he is still being charged with being an aggressive bowler at times, when the wicket is doing nothing, and bowling fast and short. He is doing that exceptionally well, I believe.
"He is at his best when he bowls as fast as he can. I've seen it for Notts and I've seen it for England, when he bowls fast and he's hostile I think he is one of the best bowlers in the world at bowling in that way. You can ask him to bowl 80mph, pitch it up and bowl little dibbly-dobblers but that's not who he is."
Broad will certainly have to watch it. Swann said that he was repentant about his behaviour and he needs to be. Hurst said: "Stuart's behaviour was not acceptable in any form of cricket." He should dwell on that, not least because the umpire was right.Reuse content