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Stuart Broad chose to play at the MCG with the Ashes already lost, despite a badly bruised right foot, and he is still carrying England's fight
December 27, 2013
#politeenquiries: Did England actually win a day?
A couple of days before this Test at the MCG, a photo emerged of Stuart Broad's right foot.
It was not a pretty picture: having been struck by a Mitchell Johnson delivery during the defeat in Perth, the foot had swollen and blackened to an extent that it seemed improbable that he would even be able to fit it into his bowling boots, let alone play a Test match.
It would have been easy for Broad not to play here. The series has gone, there was little point exacerbating the injury and he could have been forgiven for saving himself for campaigns to come.
But Broad chose to play. Not just play, but prove himself fit in several demanding sessions ahead of the game and lead the attack to such an extent that his pace, on the second day at least, lost very little in comparison to Johnson's. It was a performance that spoke volumes not just about Broad's skill - and he is enjoying a quietly excellent series with the ball - but his commitment to the team cause.
It has not always been this way. Only a year or so ago, Broad slipped out of the team in India with some in the team management hinting at doubts about his dedication and appetite for the fight in the toughest conditions. The subsequent revelation that he had been suffering from a foot injury did little to dispel the suggestion.
This performance should have done. It does not get tougher than this: a Boxing Day Test in front of a vast, hostile crowd with the Ashes already gone. Broad's every move is greeted with howls of derision by those who will never forgive him for not walking at Trent Bridge - it seems to matter little that almost no-one walks in international cricket - and the team's batsmen have forced their bowlers into some demanding situations.
But Broad, bowling with pace and control and persistence, gave England the upper-hand in a game they entered with few offering them more than a slim chance. He was hit for only four boundaries - two of them edges - in 16-and-a-half overs and conceded under two-an-over throughout. It was the performance of a senior player who had chosen to take responsibility and lead from the front.
Anderson "felt terrible" despite wickets
"The foot does look uncomfortable," James Anderson agreed after play. "But he is coping very well with it. He's a brave little soldier and is taking painkillers. He did a great job for us today and thankfully he's fit enough to play for us."
It was not just Broad who impressed, though. Anderson, after a dispiriting experience in Perth, looked more dangerous and bowled Michael Clarke with one that reversed into the top of off stump, Tim Bresnan hardly bowled a poor ball in a series of mean spells and Ben Stokes, improving by the match, maintained the pressure and eased the burden on the other seamers with another mature performance.
It was not that they bowled any unplayable deliveries. It was more that they bowled few poor balls and built up pressure on naturally impatient batsmen by limiting their scoring opportunities. Loose strokes followed.
In truth, England have bowled pretty well - in the first innings, at least - throughout the series. Apart from in Adelaide, Australia have been five down for fewer than 150 in every Test only for their lower-middle order to lead a recovery. And, for a time, it seemed that may happen again: Brad Haddin, who has thwarted England all series, counter-attacked effectively and Steve Smith was badly dropped by Anderson at mid-wicket off Bresnan on seven.
This time, though, Australia were unable to take advantage. With England's four seamers sustaining the pressure, the chances kept coming and a sizeable first innings lead should be secured early on the third day.
The conditions helped. If England go toe-to-toe with Australia on quick pitches they will struggle, but on these slower surfaces their skills - skills such as discipline, patience and persistence - will prove more beneficial. After the quick pitches seen at the Gabba and the WACA, in particular, this was a surface much more familiar to England players. It was sluggish, it offered a hint of seam assistance and it rewarded attritional rather than explosive cricket.
"We just tried to be as boring and patient as possible throughout the whole day," Anderson said. "We just tried to bowl dots and maidens. It sounds boring but it works.
"Maybe in previous games we've got a little bit excited and carried away and gone away from our plan. That is something that we concentrated on in this game.
Ben Stokes' emergence as an allrounder to bat at No 6 has enabled England to return to a five-strong attack which has reduced the demands on the rest of the attack as a result.
"Having someone like Stokes in the team is fantastic," Anderson said. "It is great for the balance. It does take a lot of pressure off, or certainly limits the number of overs we bowl. We don't have to bowl 20-plus in a day and it keeps us a lot fresher."
It was a pleasing end to a day that started amid disappointment. England's lower-order folded with alarming speed - a characteristic that is becoming rather too familiar - with Kevin Pietersen sure to attract more hysterical opprobrium after falling to an ugly heave across the line.
It was a shot almost as grim as the photo of Broad's foot. But for all that, after the top orders of both sides have batted, Pietersen remains the top-scorer on either team. He might also be forgiven for a lack of faith in his lower-order colleagues. They have hardly looked likely to resist Johnson and co in this series and were blown away once again here. England will still have to bat far better in their second innings if they are to win the game.
Whatever happens over the remaining days of this series, it will not change the fact that England have been thrashed in this series. But this was a performance that suggested that the spirit in the England camp is not so defeated and broken as has sometimes seemed the case in recent weeks.
As the likes of Andy Flower weigh-up their futures and decide whether they can still raise this team, such days could prove more influential than might immediately be presumed.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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