Test bowling winner March 14, 2016

Broad's remarkable, absurd day

A scarcely believable performance rolls Australia for 60 in an hour and a half

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"Nine and a half overs of absolute carnage"

Stuart Broad
8 for 15 v Australia, fourth Test, Nottingham

There is a picture of Stuart Broad, much published and much imitated, taken about 30 minutes into play during the first session at Trent Bridge that perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of a remarkable morning. While the specific inspiration for Broad's shocked expression was Ben Stokes' outstanding catch to dismiss Adam Voges, it was a look that neatly captured the mood around the ground as Broad's spell of bowling - and Australia's first innings batting - unfolded dramatically.

For this was a ridiculous passage of cricket. England had been worried that, with James Anderson absent, they might lack the ability to take advantage of the conditions. Yet, within 24 balls, Australia had lost five wickets; within 19 deliveries of his spell, Broad had the equal quickest first-innings five-for the history of Test cricket; within 93 minutes all ten wickets had fallen. Only Jim Laker and Arthur Mailey had taken more wickets in an Ashes innings.

It is worth dwelling on the statistics for a moment longer. No completed first innings of a Test has been shorter; only once since World War II have Australia been bowled out more cheaply, and not since 1936 had all of their top seven failed to pass 10. Extras was the top scorer and accounted for 23% of Australia's total. By the close of day one, England had a match-defining lead of 214 and one hand on the Ashes.

Trent Bridge offered seam and swing, but in another age, top-order batsmen would have left more deliveries

It was, for Broad in particular, a perfect day. On his home ground, with his family in attendance, he became the fifth England bowler to claim 300 Test wickets within three balls of the start, and by stumps knew he had produced the performance that had clinched the series for an England team that had come into the game 2-1 up with two to play. "It's not even a dream come true," he admitted afterwards, "because I'd never have dreamt I could do something like that."

A combination of factors had come together to create such an extraordinary situation. For a start, Broad had learned he was a far more effective bowler if he pitched the ball a little fuller. After two pep talks - first after the Lord's Test against India in 2014 and then midway through the Grenada Test in early 2015 - from first coach and then captain, Broad abandoned the short-pitched barrage that had briefly seen him dubbed England's "enforcer" and found the courage to pitch a little fuller (not half-volley length, by any means, but bouncing to somewhere near the top of off stump or just above) search for swing, demand a stroke, and risk being driven.

Broad had also improved markedly to left-handed batsmen. Bowling from round the wicket, with all his momentum going towards the left-hander's off stump, he reasoned that he could gain more pace and bounce that way and threaten the stumps more. And if the ball should shape away from the bat, all well and good.

The results have been dramatic. A bowling average that hovered around 30 before that Lord's Test of 2014 (30.68 to be specific), has been 22.38 since, while his strike rate since Grenada has been an impressive 46.50. He bowled beautifully throughout the Ashes - in the first four Tests, at least - and would have been a worthy choice as Man of the Series.

Pinch me now © Getty Images

He was helped by some excellent catching. Ahead of the series, the new coach, Trevor Bayliss, had identified England's slip fielding as an area of weakness and, on a brief trip to Spain, had worked the cordon hard on their skills. Broad, with all eight of his wickets taken in the slips or gully, was the beneficiary, and if Stokes' outrageous catch to dismiss Voges - diving to his right, Stokes somehow held on to the ball after it appeared to have passed him - was the best of the lot, smart efforts by Alastair Cook and Joe Root also warranted praise.

"Last year, we'd dropped the most catches in the world," Broad said after the game. "So that was playing on the egos of the players: 'You're dropping the most in the world, you've got to improve.'

"In Spain, I shared a villa with Cooky, Belly and Jimmy [Anderson], and me and Jimmy were lying on the sun loungers while the slippers were off doing their catching. They'd come back saying, 'My hands are killing me, I'm in agony.' We replied, 'It will do you good, lads, don't worry.'"

England had also learned they needed to utilise home advantage. After conceding 566 for 8 in the first innings at Lord's, they concluded - not before time - that their best hope of beating Australia was to exploit their batsmen's uncertainly against the moving ball, and back their own batsmen's ability to play it. So at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, surfaces that might once have been described as "typically English", it was no surprise that they dominated both games. "Home advantage is a big thing," Broad said afterwards. "We've played on these wickets all our lives."

That is not to say Trent Bridge was an unplayable surface. It offered seam and swing movement, certainly, but in another age, before it became fashionable to react to adversity with aggression, top-order batsmen would have left more deliveries, played for lunch and looked to capitalise as conditions eased.

"Sometimes you do it for your school or your club, but to do it against Australia at my home ground just doesn't make any sense to me"
Stuart Broad

It was not as if the ball moved lavishly, either. It moved, as Broad put it "just enough" to catch the edge of the bat, but not too far to result in many play and misses. Indeed, until Australia's No. 10, Josh Hazelwood, attempted a slog against the first ball of Broad's eighth over, there had not been one against him at all.

Michael Clarke, the Australian captain, rated the conditions "as tough as I've faced in my career" but might have reflected that his own dismissal - edging a slash at a wide delivery - was an unworthy reaction to the situation. "I was thinking if he pitches it up, I'm going to hit it as far as I can," he said afterwards. It was a puzzling tactic.

Having said that, Broad, who generally angled the ball in from relatively wide on the crease and then nipped it away - made life desperately tough for the batsmen. Perhaps Chris Rogers, Broad's 300th Test victim, might have managed a larger stride to the ball that pitched on off stump and nipped away; perhaps Steven Smith might have left the one that squared him up; perhaps Voges might have played with softer hands and allowed the ball to come to him more. But these are minor quibbles. This was terrific bowling.

"It is a once-in-a-lifetime spell," Broad said. "Sometimes you do it for your school or your club, but to do it against Australia at my home ground just doesn't make any sense to me."

Debate will continue whether Broad is a great bowler. But given a pitch offering him some assistance, he can undeniably produce great spells.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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