Mercurial Broad proves class again
He may be inconsistent and he may be infuriating but there is no doubt that, when the mood takes him, Stuart Broad is a terrific bowler. In front of a large crowd at Lord's, with a Test in the balance, he produced a devastating display of fast bowling that sealed his side's first victory of the year. He later agreed it was the best spell of his career to date.
Perhaps there is something of the far-from-flat-track bully about Broad. Certainly there were times in India and against South Africa last year when he seemed to go missing in action, when, with the pitch looking flat and the batsmen on top, he appeared to wither in the heat of battle. Times when James Anderson carried too heavy a burden of leading the attack. Great bowlers deliver in those circumstances. As yet, Broad does not belong in that category.
But when Broad bowls like this - and here he displayed pace, persistence, control and swing - he is an irrepressible force. Maintaining an immaculate length, he looked unrecognisable from the lacklustre first-innings Broad impersonator, relishing the helpful conditions and vulnerable prey. It was a great spell.
Broad's partnership with Anderson was devastating. So tight was their control, so adept were they at moving the ball in either direction and so helpful were the conditions that it revived memories of some of England's better fast bowling partnerships of the recent past: Botham and Willis; Caddick and Gough; Harmison, Hoggard, Flintoff and Jones.
Some of New Zealand's batting was tentative and flimsy, certainly, but a couple of players - notably Dean Brownlie and Hamish Rutherford - can console themselves with the knowledge that they received deliveries that were close to unplayable. Alastair Cook rated Anderson and Broad's bowling in the first hour of the New Zealand second inning s "as good as I've seen in an opening spell".
Brendon McCullum agreed. "Broad's spell of bowling was high class," he said. "He swung the ball beautifully, he was able to get the odd ball to hold its line up the slope and his lengths were impeccable. He bowled at a reasonable pace as well. We weren't quite able to work out a way to get through him. So there is partial blame from our point of view but also credit to Stuart for his performance."
Broad has now claimed two five-wicket hauls in his last three Tests but the search for consistency goes on. Circumstances will not often align so nicely for him as they did here and questions remain about his potency on the flattest wickets. But if that sounds a harsh analysis it is only because, with such spells, Broad shows he has all the attributes to be a special bowler. He to whom much is given much is expected. And Broad has been given plenty.
Unlocking the full potential of Broad must be a key objective for England's management team. But perhaps there was a clue to the secret in his comments following the game that he had taken confidence from his batting earlier in the day. Broad has reached 30 only once in his last 20 Test innings but, coming to the crease with England's lead still appearing fragile, he thumped four boundaries in a run-a-ball 26 that constituted the highest individual score of the day.
"Once I got to 20 I got a bit of nosebleed," he said. "I think that gave me a bit of confidence with the ball. That can happen with guys who do both things. Hopefully I can do it a bit more consistently this summer."
What conclusions can we draw from such a statement? Perhaps that, while there is a perception from some that Broad is sometimes a little self-satisfied and lazy - a perception that owes more to the presumption of observers than any factual evidence - it may well be that he is actually lacking the reserves of self-confidence that have proved so valuable to players as varied as Shane Warne, Viv Richards and Kevin Pietersen. Perhaps Broad needs to believe how good he can be to deliver more consistently on his substantial promise.
It is encouraging that, aged 26, he continues to look to improve. His delivery to bowl Rutherford, the ball moving up the Lord's slope to take the left-hander's off stump, was a beauty and the product of recent hard work. "It's something I worked on in New Zealand and since coming back," he said. "With Hamish you can't give any width. He thrives on that. So I wanted to pitch it on the stumps and run it across him; it was quite hard to run it up the hill but it nipped up there.
"It's about rhythm as a bowler. I felt my stride pattern has been pretty good through the start of the summer. I didn't get enough balls in the right area in the first innings, but I felt in decent rhythm. So I had confidence going into the day knowing, if I got the ball up there, there was enough in the wicket to help the bowlers out. I just hit my straps right away and felt in a nice rhythm. As a partnership we built pressure, we didn't give them anything and we were rewarded with the wickets."
While it is the bowlers who will gain the plaudits, it is also worth reflecting on the contribution of a couple of England batsmen. Many players can plunder runs when the sun shines and the pitch is flat, but it is in low-scoring encounters that true class shines through. Here, Joe Root (with 111 runs in the match) and Jonathan Trott (with 95) contributed 206 runs between them and, from the moment they were parted in the second innings, 18 wickets fell for the addition of just 122 runs. Their calmness under pressure, their technique and their patience played a huge role in this success. Both can take huge pride in this result.
"I don't think I've experienced a game that ebbed and flowed as much," Cook said. "There were times when we got ourselves in a strong position but New Zealand came fighting back."
While New Zealand possessed fine bowlers - Tim Southee certainly did not deserve to finish on the losing side - they lacked players such as Trott or Root. Ross Taylor thumped a pleasing, counterattacking half-century during a period on Friday when England's bowlers dropped too short but as soon as they reverted to a fuller length New Zealand struggled. They lost their last 17 wickets in the match for only 128 runs.
Certainly the result - and the fact that it was achieved with a day-and-a-half of the game unused - vindicated England's careful approach on the first day. Such cricket may not always be to the taste of a generation familiar with T20 run rates but it bodes well for England that they have batsmen prepared to display the old-fashioned virtues of graft and determination. They are dying attributes and, in an era where drawn Tests are rare - certainly in England if rain does not intervene - there is plenty of time to display them.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo