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Stuart Broad's impressive spell in Wellington capped off a comeback from his heel injury and indifferent form
March 16, 2013
Before the opening Test of this series it was widely accepted that Stuart Broad was bowling for his Test place. His cause was helped by Graham Onions' wayward show in Queenstown, which made it inevitable that Broad would return to the side. However, after a difficult six months, where form subsided and injury struck, he still had much to prove.
So far, it could not have gone much better in New Zealand. After encouraging Twenty20 and one-day displays, he showed glimpses in Dunedin that the tough times were behind him, bowling better than his figures suggested. In Wellington, his figures of 6 for 51 did not flatter him. This was the Broad who tore through India during 2011; brisk, accurate, full but with the clever use of a dangerous short ball. It was his most significant performance since taking 11 in the match against West Indies, at Lord's, last May - his five-wicket haul at Headingley, against South Africa, came too late to influence the direction of the match.
Some will cheapen the wickets with comments about the opposition, but this is not the same callow New Zealand order that was dismantled by South Africa and conditions, both the pitch and the weather, remained largely benign. Consistency is the challenge for him - it was of little surprise that he found reward with full deliveries - and this success does not mean it will be plain sailing, but every revival needs a starting point.
It could well be that the Basin Reserve has played a key part in Broad's career for the second time. It was here, in 2008, that he has handed his second Test cap and, for the first time, played alongside James Anderson in a Test after the established duo of Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison were dropped. Broad did not take the new ball on that occasion - Ryan Sidebottom was the senior quick - and neither did he start with it this time. However, by the time the second new ball was taken it was back in the hands of Broad. Promotion inside two Tests is a decent comeback.
"I was chatting to Jimmy," Broad said, "and this was where we made his breakthrough when he was my age so hopefully this is my time to go like he has."
His performances in India, where he ended wicketless in the two Tests he played, capped a slide during the latter half of 2012 but he should never have been playing that series. From the moment he went lame in the warm-up matches his trip never recovered. "I probably should have gone home then," he admitted. When England bowled out India in the second innings in Mumbai, Broad did not send down a delivery.
His heel problem emerged as a long-term concern and a trip to Germany followed to have custom-made boots fitted. Broad has acknowledged the problem will need managing; it is unlikely he will be able to front up for every one of England's Tests in 2013, although the same can be said for all the quicks in a demanding schedule. By the end of the third day in Wellington the boot was on the other foot with James Anderson battling a back problem, while Broad was savouring a largely pain-free experience.
"I've managed to get my heel right and it's nice to attack the crease with confidence knowing that ten times your body weight is going through your heel and it's able to withstand it. It's got better and better throughout the tour, I don't how or why, but it's getting used to the impact and touch wood I haven't felt it for about two and a half weeks. I feel I can tear in."
He revealed, too, that he has made some technical changes after noticing that he was delivering from very close to the stumps, which meant he crossed his feet in the action and lost impetus. Before this tour Gemma Broad, his sister who works on England's backroom staff, compiled clips of Broad's wickets from when he was previously in form and he immediately noticed the difference. "I got into a bad habit and was pushing the ball. My feet are now straight which means I can get my body through the action," he explained.
In the last few weeks it has become clear how important an in-form Broad is to England's Test hopes. The reserve options, so long lauded as the best in the world, no longer appear so deep when compared to Australia and South Africa. Onions has struggled through lack of cricket, Tim Bresnan is still recovering from elbow surgery, Chris Woakes does not yet appear a Test-class third seamer and Chris Tremlett needs to prove his body has one more sustained period cricket in it. England, therefore, cannot afford a player who now has 181 Test wickets to be a peripheral figure.
As is so often the case the success of one bowler, in this case Broad, relied on the work of others. "It was just my day to get the nicks," he said. England's attack hunted as a pack, putting the sort of daylight between them and New Zealand that had been predicted before the contests began. On another day it would have been Anderson with the five-wicket haul. His display with the old ball, against two set batsmen in Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling, was high-class swing bowling.
A mention, too, for Monty Panesar's role. He was not expected to play in this series, but Graeme Swann's injury has thrust him into the main spinners' position. No, he does not have a great variance in his pace but, regardless of what Shane Warne might think of it, trying to change the bowler he is will not serve England well.
Swann leaves a vast hole in the team - he may well have been a greater wicket-taking threat - but Panesar knew his role and performed it admirably. His long spell, split either side of lunch, of 17-8-28-0 ensured that the fast bowlers would have a crack at New Zealand's lower order with the a hard ball a few runs to play with. Broad, for one, was hugely grateful for that.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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