Wickets put Broad back on straight and narrow
Enforcer has a nice, macho ring to it, for sure. But wicket-taker means a whole lot more when it comes to winning Test matches and keeping your place in a team determined to become the world's best. If Stuart Broad did not realise that before, he must do so now after striking four times against India yesterday.
Plenty would have dropped England's Twenty20 captain for the start of this series, and with the extremely capable Tim Bresnan in the squad the idea presumably crossed the minds of captain Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower.
But by the time Strauss and Co assembled at Lord's last Tuesday all the signals from the home camp suggested their patience with Broad was not yet exhausted. Instead, Flower spelled out, in public, what he wanted from his young fast bowler and, perhaps even more important, what he no longer wished to see and hear.
"Broad has pace and bounce and he is a great competitor but he can be more accurate," said the coach. "I have heard some crazy stuff about him being – and I hate the word – an enforcer. His job is to create pressure and to take wickets, and to do that you generally bowl at off stump. So his jobis not to rough up theopposition. It is not to bethis ridiculous enforcer."
It was the wicket-taking bit that Broad was falling down on. Since playing a huge part in the 2009 Ashes-clinching triumph at The Oval he had struck more than twice in a Test innings just three times out of 28. And, just to emphasise the loss of his golden touch, he went wicketless in three of four one-day internationals against Sri Lanka before losing his place forthe Old Trafford decider afortnight ago.
Whether or not Broad was dropped or rested in Manchester because of a sore heel is neither here nor there. The only thing the 25-year-old needed to know was that if he had not entered the last chance saloon so far as facing India was concerned, then he had at least reached the front door.
Stop, Stuart! Yes, David Saker, England's respected bowling coach, did indeed use that "enforcer" word during the Sri Lanka Test series when talking about Broad's role. But with conditions at Lord's yesterday crying out for the ball to be pitched up most of the time, Strauss's first-change bowler went back to the method that brought him so much success against Australia two years ago.
"Yes, that's probably the best I've bowled (since The Oval in 2009)," agreed Broad when asked to rate his day's work. "Finding that fuller length, and showing that nicks and bowleds can come from that length, will give me confidence leading into the rest of this series. I'll certainly be searching forthat fuller length, with the odd quick bouncer."
Brought into the attack with India's opening pair of Gautam Gambhir and Abhinav Mukund having made a solid start, Broad's confidence cannot have been high, and when he quickly followed Friday's golden-duck dismissal with a no ball and then a leg-side wide, it may not have been only Yorkshire supporters who were muttering: "Send for Bresnan."
From then on, however, Broad scarcely put a foot, or a delivery, wrong and might have claimed Mukund lbw almost instantly had anyone bothered to appeal. Still, the wait was not a long one. Another swinging delivery, full and straight, soon ripped between Gambhir's bat and pad to rattle the stumps and put a beaming smile back on Broad's face.
That success was just what he needed. And when Mukund deflected a near-yorker into his stumps it looked as though Broad had reacquainted himself with Lady Luck as well as a much more timber-threatening line and length. Fortune is a fickle old thing, though. Yes, Broad did benefit from an excellent low catch at second slip by Graeme Swann after finding the edge of Sachin Tendulkar's bat and, in the process, breaking a good many million Indian hearts. But by the end of a second spell even more impressive than his first he could and should have secured his first five-wicket haul since August 2009.
The chance which Strauss put down at first slip before VVS Laxman had scored a run could not have been much simpler. And while Swann's drop during the same over – a more expensive lapse because it gave Rahul Dravid a life on 42 – was easier to explain, it was a catch that ought to have stuck.
Broad deserved better. But crucially, he is back in the wicket-taking business, with yesterday's late dismissal of Praveen Kumar a nice bonus.
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