A tour to New Zealand kick-started Stuart Broad’s career. Now another one may see its reinvention.
It was in Wellington on the 2008 visit that he and James Anderson were brought in as a pair for the first time when Michael Vaughan made the call to drop Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard. It was the start of an alliance that, barring a few glitches along the way, has carried England through the next decade with plenty of success collectively and individually.
Now Broad will enter the first Test against New Zealand at Eden Park on 399 Test wickets but on the back of a disappointing 2017 in which he averaged over 36 and faces losing the new-ball role he has held for much of the last seven years. If he does claim No. 400 this week, it will be 32 Tests since he reached 300 (on that heady day at Trent Bridge in 2015), his slowest century of wickets since the first 100 which took 35 matches.
Known as a bowler capable of destructive spells that can win a Test match, he has not taken a five-wicket haul since the last of those busts – 6 for 17 against South Africa in Johannesburg – 24 Tests ago. His 4 for 51 in Melbourne three months ago was also the first time he had taken more than three in an innings in 13 outings, although he did note the recent statistic put out by CricViz that he’s had more dropped catches off him than any other bowler since 2015.
Although he accepts that things have not been quite right for a while, Broad believes has regained the “buzz” for bowling after hours on his own in the Trent Bridge indoor school and feels his spells in the warm-up matches in Hamilton last week were the best he has bowled for a year.
He puts his struggles down, largely, to the impact upon his action of bowling round the wicket so often to left-handers, which has than caused him to be too open-chest to right-handers and unable to find away movement. Over 10 lonely days in the indoor nets he has worked on putting that right.
“It’s something I’ve been aware of for some time and it’s been frustrating that I haven’t been able to sort it but when you’re in competitive mode you don’t really get that opportunity,” Broad said. “So I had a nice little period when I had a break and I just walked through for 10 days non-stop completely on my own. I didn’t want input. Cricket’s a feel sport and I just wanted that feeling myself. I didn’t want someone going ‘your front arm’s doing that, or that’. So I just put some music on in the Notts indoor school and away I went.
“I’m someone who can change games and that’s how I view myself as a cricketer. I want to be the person who you turn to when you need something exciting to happen – let’s try and break this Test open. That’s how I’ve played my cricket and actually influenced some of the changes I made in February. I felt I got too technical, constantly every day looking at videos and what’s going on with my action. I’ve got that buzz back because I feel like training now is fun. Yes, I haven’t had that streak for a bit of time but I do feel like my time is coming.”
Broad was talking a good game when it came to the potential loss of the new ball and there is some logic to the theory that England could be better placed to extend pressure on opposition batsmen if they split him and Anderson. He also suggested that spells for the new-ball quicks could be shorter and that England were looking more carefully at which bowlers have success against which batsmen, citing his good record against Ross Taylor, who he has removed nine times.
It would effectively, though, remain a demotion. He has taken the new ball in 169 off the 208 Test innings he has bowled and only once since 2013 – when two spinners opened in Chittagong – has he not been one of the first two.
“I think we’re just going to be a bit more flexible,” Broad said. “The same people don’t have to take the new ball as the second new ball. We’re just trying to find ways to improve us really because there’s no hiding place from the fact, away from home, we haven’t got it right.
“At Hamilton regardless of whether I bowled with the new ball or first change, it was probably the best I’ve bowled for a year, just in terms of the way I was shaping up, the feeling of the action. There’s not been a decision made on who takes it on Thursday, but either way I think the first-change bowler will be on within eight overs anyway.”
There was, though, a hint of regret that his partnership with Anderson could be about to come to an end – at least for now – as he reflected on how their chances came about 10 years ago.
“You do look at fast bowlers who’ve had a period of success and it’s generally in a partnership,” he said. “Pollock and Donald, Waqar and Wasim, Walsh and Ambrose, Botham and Willis, there’s something in a partnership that makes you thrive off each other, you’re pushing off each other, you’re always demanding deliverance of pressure together. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to play in the same era as him, if Moorsey [Peter Moores, the coach] and Vaughany hadn’t given us our chance together to grow, then we certainly wouldn’t have experienced all the things we have.”
Broad had one Test wicket when he played in Wellington. Now he stands one away from following Anderson into the 400-club (his mate has now passed 500 as well) although the 399th – Cameron Bancroft, bowled in Broad’s first over of the Sydney Test in January – feels a while ago now.
“I’m desperate to get 400 but, regardless of the individual wickets, I think over a long period of time it’s proof that I’ve put a lot of dedication into it,” he said. “When you look at some of the fast-bowling names that have got 400, it proves you’ve got to have a lot of longevity, dedication and all that sort of thing to reach that landmark. Of course, it would be a very nice club to join but it’s been a long time coming over the last six months.”
For Broad, this series is about ticking off the landmark then proving he is still the bowler that got most of the way towards such exclusive company.