Stuart Broad older, wiser and well worth all the plaudits after a fine Ashes series
Sometimes at the Oscars, the award for the Best Actor, or Actress, the protagonist, is so blindingly obvious, and has so much build-up and fanfare around it, that the crowning moment becomes an anti-climax. The coronation is over before the event itself. And so it was with Steve Smith, succumbing to his lowest score of the series but with a record almost unheralded overall.
Attention, therefore, turned elsewhere, to the Best Supporting Act, where the field was more mixed, the narrative more subtle and any winner more controversial. This is the award for the connoisseur, the viewer that looks more intently into the meaning, the subtlety behind each role, and calls themselves "knowledgeable" as a result. The pretentious pick, but let’s indulge.
Pat Cummins perhaps, with 29 wickets, a menacing presence throughout. But with Ben Stokes at Headingley, a small scuff to this pristine presence. Jofra Archer, surely? That captivating spell at Lord’s and six clinical, ruthless wickets on day two at the Oval. Yet those slumped shoulders on a grey day in Manchester, there were many ups, but a few downs too. And then Stokes, of course, steals moment of the series by a fair margin. Only he too had his lulls, those losses in Birmingham, in Manchester. Marnus Labuschagne? The apprentice; his day will come, later.
However, there is one other. A tireless, persistent campaigner. He’d had to wait. A World Cup first, he watched on. Finally, the Ashes arrived. There were signs, already at Lord’s, of a new Stuart Broad, older, wiser, less hot and cold. But that was a month ago, there was much cricket still to come.
What has unfolded since are plans. There was one for the left-handers; meticulously formed and accurately executed, the numbers speak for themselves. Ninety-five per cent of the balls Broad has sent down to left-handers this series came from around the wicket, the highest he’d done so in any Test. To David Warner, he targeted his stumps, then hung it outside off, interchangeably, relentlessly. What could the poor man do? Warner missed or edged 40 percent of Broad’s deliveries. And when all was said and done, Broad had him seven times, thrice for a duck and the record equal most in a series for one man, to one player.Credit: Action Images
Then there was Steve Smith. There were many plans for Smith, but he is the game’s greatest problem solver, so Broad was sent back to the drawing board more than once. He consulted, he learned and he returned with another. For every plan, and problem posed, it was a case of what happened first, Smith solving, or Smith succumbing. Smith solved them all, but Broad kept coming. It didn’t matter that he’d clipped him for four moments before, that Smith was defying every law, of cricket, physics, and the human form. Because Broad had his plan, and on this rare occasion, Smith slipped. A tickle down leg and there was Stokes, leaping, pouncing and holding on at leg gully. What a plan it was, and a four-for to boot.
At the start of this series those that knew Broad the best whispered sternly, solemnly, that he’d walk off at the Oval. It would happen his way, a rueful nod to the crowd, a red ball held aloft, but Broad would retire, slipping serenely into the Sky Sports commentary gig that awaited him. The timing was right, the Ashes done, change was already in motion, behind the mic and on the pitch.Credit: Getty Images
But Broad has more, and just as the Ashes might provide a grand finale, it is also a stage that can catapult a career back from the brink. The biggest trampoline you could possibly hope for; if you jump hard enough it will do one of two things. Either it will break and that’s it, you’re done. Or it rebounds, forcefully and with more energy than you’ve ever felt, and act two begins. There’s a tough winter to come, and a less glamorous summer of Test cricket thereafter. But this Ashes has reminded Broad, and us, why he loves what he does, and there is room to love it some more.
And so, for his evolution from flashy to unfazed. For his persistence, his use of a well-chalked drawing board. For his effective use of the skills he knows he has, and those which he knows he does not. For enjoying what he can, while he can, and for traumatising Warner. Stuart Broad the award for the Best Supporting Act is yours. See you in Christchurch.