England ponders after West Indies snub: What now for Stuart Broad?

Stuart Broad claimed a hat-trick Getty Images

Where now for Stuart Broad?

He had hoped, after a quiet time of things in Sri Lanka, that this tour would present an opportunity to resume normal service. The Kensington Oval has one end named after Malcolm Marshall and another named after Joel Garner, after all. It has a history - albeit a distant one - of encouraging fast bowlers. Any fast bowler would be excited by the opportunity to play here.

But, for the third time in four Tests, England have been unable to find room for Broad. After a decade taking the new ball with James Anderson, they have now not played together for four Tests with every chance that they won't in Antigua, where the pitch is expected to be slow and low, either. On this occasion Broad's place has been taken by a man 12 years his junior. It wouldn't be unreasonable to conclude that England are in transition and moving on from him.

The truth may not be quite so simple. England's last four Tests - including this game on an oddly sedate Barbados surface - have been played in what, for them, are slightly unusual conditions. In Sri Lanka, for example, they made room for three spinners in their side and, finding they could win with such a balance, have become more open-minded about altering the make-up of their side. Conditions will be different when England return to England. So will their team.

Things have changed, though. For a long time, leaving Broad out was hardly considered. Until the first Test in Sri Lanka, he had played every time he had been fit since the end of 2012 when he was left out in India. Before that, he was previously left out in 2008. That his place is now negotiable does not bode especially well for him.

The balance of England's side is not helping him, either. With Ben Foakes making such a strong start to his Test career, England are no longer playing a wicketkeeper who is batting in the top six as Jonny Bairstow had at times. As a consequence they are having to take tricky decisions with every selection. Broad is currently the unlucky man based on the surfaces the team is encountering but, in other circumstances, it is not impossible that Bairstow - who has also been left out in recent times - Jos Buttler or even Foakes could be fighting for their places.

Anderson's enduring excellence may also count against Broad. The England management insist they try to select the strongest possible team for each game without too much planning for the long-term future. But they must know that both fast bowlers are closer to the end than the start of their careers. They know they have to plan for a future without him and don't want to be left in a situation where they have to blood an entirely new opening pair. It does make some sense to explore their other options.

"If England were picking a side for the first Ashes Test right now, there is a very strong chance Broad would be in it"

Broad had, for a while, appeared to be in gradual but inexorable decline. His top pace was reduced and the away swing he once generated seemed to disappear. At times, when he talked of 'never having been a swing or outright pace bowler' it appeared he was in denial about both factors for, at his very best, he had both pace and swing. His Test bowling average in the 12-months up to the end of the 2017-18 Ashes was 38.80 and he has claimed only one five-wicket haul in the last three years.

To his immense credit, however, he acknowledged the issue and resolved to improve. At an age where other fast bowlers might start looking at the commentary box and wondering if talking about the game might not be somewhat easier than playing it, Broad went back to basics in a bid to carve out another two or three years at the top level. He talked to various coaches and former players - including his father's former Nottinghamshire teammate, Sir Richard Hadlee - and worked to improve his wrist position and shorten his run-up. This, he argues, helps him remain high at the crease - he has always had a propensity to fall away a little - and bowl with better rhythm and control. The figures - he has averaged 25.55 in the 12-months since that Ashes series - suggest he may be right.

He has looked good in limited opportunities of late. He finished wicketless in Colombo, for example, but saw two chances put down off him in the slips and bowled with impressive pace in trying conditions. He claimed a hat-trick - and four wickets in five balls - in one of the warm-up games here and generated more swing than has been the case for some time. If England were picking a side for the first Ashes Test right now, there is a very strong chance Broad would be in it.

His absence was felt here, too. For all the skill and promise of Anderson and Sam Curran respectively, it is hard to think of a contemporary new-ball Test attack that is so lacking in pace. Curran's average speed in his first spell was under 80 mph, with Anderson's just under 82 mph. Perhaps Broad, hitting the pitch a bit harder and offering something just a little different to the two swing bowlers, might have found a little more life in the surface? Those who know him best still believe that Curran will end up as a batting allrounder.

Broad can't taking anything for granted, though. Chris Woakes can also consider himself unfortunate to be left out and there are other seamers - the likes of Jamie Porter, Olly Stone and Jamie Overton - who will be pushing by the time the Ashes starts. Fast bowling doesn't get any easier at his age, though, however the freak that is Anderson makes it seem, and there are many miles on the clock.

The smart money still suggests that Broad will play a part in the Ashes, though. Such is his enthusiasm for the game and his hunger to remain at the top, it can be taken for granted that he will continue to work on his form in fitness in a bid to win a recall. England have only produced one bowler in their history with more Test wickets than Broad; they won't discard him casually. It's a different phase of his career, for sure. But it's not quite the end.