Loss of new ball could have unsettled veteran, instead it was catalyst for another key display
Stuart Broad steals back the limelight, just when it seems he’s being shunted out of it
James Anderson stands at the top of his mark, new Dukes in his hand, braced to deliver the first ball of a Test match at the James Anderson End. And those of us foolish enough to think India’s no-show at Emirates Old Trafford last year had scuppered one last appearance for England’s greatest quick at his home venue gladly chomped down on those sentiments.
He is as ready and able as he ever has been, 18 dismissals at 20 in the summer so far, enough to not dare predict an end for the 40-year-old. His first ball is so comically down the leg side, even he sees the funny side. With that out of his system, Anderson goes on to bowl three for 32 from 15 overs, as South Africa are skittled for 151 on day one of this second Test.
As much as this was business as usual in his 100th Test appearance at home, Anderson’s performance began with the kind of jolt that had not been felt for generations. As he was going through his warm-ups on a practice strip after Dean Elgar decided to bat first, Stuart Broad sidled up to do the same, just as they had done for their previous 130 matches together over the last 14 years. And ahead of what was to be the 200th time the pair had opened the bowling together, the usual conversation ensued.
“Are you happy at that end?” Anderson enquired, gesturing towards the Brian Statham End. “I’m not taking the new ball,” Broad replied.
“It was the first I knew about it,” Anderson said in his press conference at stumps. The laughs accompanying the anecdote said it all: a disbelief that had still not dissipated, seven hours and 81.2 overs of play later.
For the first time since January 2010 at Cape Town, the Branderson collective were not opening up a first innings despite both being in the XI. And while it was tactical back then, with Graham Onions getting the chance ahead of Broad, Thursday felt more of a seminal moment with Ollie Robinson the one to knock Broad back to first change.
This was a reluctant but necessary step towards the future. Robinson, aged 28, is a man returning for a spot that, even only 10 Tests in, is rightly his. Fitness issues overcome, he showcased all the skills that had garnered 39 dismissals at 21 so far, and immediately set about putting to shame Broad’s work in the first five Tests in the Stokes-McCullum era (18 wickets at 35.61). In his first seven-over spell, Robinson’s average seam movement of 0.93 degrees was higher than any of Broad’s previous nine this summer. That he finished with just one for 48 was a reminder of the game’s inherent unfairness. He deserved much more.
Broad bided his time at mid on, offering wisdom or scampering around at midwicket, seemingly hell-bent on providing visual proof there is plenty of road to come. Unfortunately for him, the continued pontification about Anderson’s retirement has resulted in Broad being dragged into the same conversation. Is he closer to retirement than Jimmy? Yeah, probably. And it was hard not to feel that way with the new ball out of his possession. A player irked at constantly being lumped in with Anderson – four years his junior – has finally been unseated from his status in the team. It all had a Touching The Void feel to it, with Broad the one dangling over the edge. Then, 10 overs into the match, he replaced Anderson. And, just like that, he was back on top of the mountain.
It took just 11 balls to get into the game: Elgar, on the verge of nuggeting his way into a set position, was set up for an uncharacteristically flustered dismissal. A couple of rejected lbw appeals had the opposition skipper wanting to press forward, and some familiar nip away drew an edge that nestled into Jonny Bairstow’s hands low at third slip. Midway through Broad’s next over, Joe Root’s hands were pounded at first as extra lift and more accompanying nip left Keegan Petersen short of options but to defend in vain.
Both of Broad’s celebrations were dripping in emotion. Not the kind suggesting disappointment being exorcised, but almost as if he was reaffirming something to himself. When informed by Stokes that he would be giving up his new-ball privileges, he responded positively, which perhaps reflects an environment in which the team comes first, but the person is just as important. And beyond picking off Kyle Verreynne for overall figures of three for 37, Broad’s influence when the ball was in other people’s hands was every bit as noteworthy.
If he was not sacrificing his body, he was offering chunks of his grey matter, too. Anderson’s lbw dismissal of Simon Harmer was celebrated immediately with a point to Broad at mid-off.
“The ball before, he [Harmer] actually lunged at me and got a good stride in,” Anderson explained. “Broady said, ‘put your square leg back, but bowl the same ball’. So I put square leg back thinking he might think I’m going to bounce him. Then his stride was much shorter and he was sort of stuck on the crease.
“I didn’t think about it, so it was good that he was thinking about the game and thinking about field positioning. It’s nice when something like that comes off.”
There was more to come when Keshav Maharaj was sent back to the dressing room with the very next ball. At the top of his mark to Kagiso Rabada, Anderson admitted to excitement at the prospect of a first Test hat-trick. Again, Broad offered a word of advice and the mother of all humblebrags: “He came over and said, ‘when I took my two international Test hat-tricks… I just went full and straight’. Anderson tried but sent his effort down the leg side.
By the close, the cameras were transfixed on Broad padded up in the dressing-room: ready, shadow-swishing in preparation for the much-vaunted Nighthawk cameo. The prospect of quick late runs was enticing given how quickly he might have hacked into the 40-run deficit that Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow will be eyeing up on Friday morning. But there was something amusing, poetic and intriguing about the fact that a day that began without Broad was ending with all eyes on him.
The new England dressing-room has reignited his sense of self, partly because it is more closely aligned to the character of a man who believes he is capable of anything. And while we may never actually see the Nighthawk in action, the faith being put in his batting at present is a new crutch. All of 157 Tests into his career and he has emerged – heck, reimagined – as something of a playable wildcard.
In many ways, it perpetuates his standing as a cult figure within the game. He may have to get used to life without the new ball, but this new role – indeed this new way of being – may just stave off the impending sadness of an England cricket team without Stuart Broad.