England v Australia, 4th Investec Ashes Test, Durham, 2nd day August 10, 2013

Broad shoulders the burden

Weighed down by impossibly high expectations, Stuart Broad again produced a performance to hint at greatness

It is never hard to understand why England persevere with Stuart Broad. Even on days when his body seems fragile, when he looks more of a slogger than the classy batsman he has shown he can be and when he releases the ball with all the force of a shuttlecock, he still looks as if he has all the raw ingredients to develop into a top-class international cricketer.

Perhaps he already has. After all, aged 27, he has passed 200 Test wickets, scored nearly 2000 Test runs and played a part in a World Twenty20 win, three successful Ashes series and the England team achieving the No. 1 Test ranking.

Yet the sense is there is more to come. The sense is that, with all that ability and all the faith the England selectors have invested in Broad, that he should be even better. That good isn't good enough; he has to be great.

That is quite a burden for a young cricketer. But when Broad first appeared in county cricket, he looked a player of such outrageous potential that there were hopes he could develop into something approach Glenn McGrath as a bowler and Andrew Flintoff as a batsman. That is a desperately high bench mark.

That may be part of the reason some have become infuriated with him. He has so much natural talent and so many of the advantages that were denied his predecessors - not least a central contract and the security of continuity of selection - that a Test bowling average of 31 and a batting average of 25 appear a disappointing return six years into a Test career that promised more.

It is true that Broad has, at times, been more decorative than functional. Times when he has been long on potential and short on delivery. When watching him has been like waiting for a Faberge egg to hatch.

But whenever you think you can write off Broad, he produces a performance like this. A performance of such undeniable class and skill that it would seem madness to even contemplate dropping him. When, after all the time invested in him, it still seems he might just fulfil all those lofty ambitions people had for him.

He does not do it often enough, of course, but even this year - a year when he has supposedly struggled - he has taken two five-wicket hauls against New Zealand and is on the brink of another against Australia. His figures in this series did not flatter him, either. He bowled well at Lord's and Old Trafford without a hint of fortune.

Broad was comfortably the best of England's bowlers on the second day in Durham. Partly as a result of his height, but mostly as a result of his skill, he generated more movement than his colleagues and maintained an immaculate line and length just on or outside off stump.

David Warner was undone by a beauty that seamed in, Usman Khawaja by one that had him unsure whether to play or leave and Chris Rogers was beaten more often than a snare drum as Broad, swinging the ball away but seaming it in, plugged away on off stump. Rogers later praised it as "an unbelievable, beautiful" spell of bowling. Broad finished the day with four wickets, but could have had several more.

At present, he requires a bit of assistance from conditions to be truly effective. It is not so much that he does not have the skills to contribute on the flattest of pitches - he did so in the UAE and Sri Lanka, after all - it is more that he does not always seem to have the heart for it.

In India, for example, there was a perception - possibly an incorrect one - that he did not have the stomach for the tough job required of him on flat surfaces and as one of only two seamers. Instead of rolling up his sleeves and embracing the glamour-free task - and the no-excuses culture - Broad spoke of illness and injury and finally went home early. The impression given at the time was that the England management were underwhelemed.

Perhaps that was harsh, though. Perhaps the foot injury and food poisoning that Broad sustained really did contribute to his lacklustre performance and Broad's real problems, once again, were the unrealistic aspirations we have had for him.

He has already had, by most standards, a good career. And, if he can remain fit and perhaps invest in a little more time in the gym to ensure he has the strength required for the rigours of his role, there is no reason the best should not be ahead of him.

Broad's performance came in stark contrast to that of James Anderson. On the sort of pitch that Anderson must dream about, he appeared, for the second Test in succession, jaded and lacklustre. He did not bowl badly - he almost never does - but by the standards he has set, it was an oddly neutral performance.

It may be facile, but it is worth reflecting for a moment on what the reaction might have been had Graham Onions played ahead of Anderson in this Test and produced an identical performance. He may well have been jettisoned forever. Anderson will certainly - and correctly - not suffer such a fate, but all the signs indicate he requires a break. A strong case could be made to suggest he has played his last international cricket of the summer.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shan156 on August 14, 2013, 23:31 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster, please tell us if there is one Indian seamer who is even as good as 'half decent' Broad. Surely, India would kill to have a bowler like him in their test side. Yes, we know he is not Steyn or even Anderson but he is very good and, on his days, he is up there with the best. He had a poor start to his test career but since winter 2009, he has 148 wickets at 28.21 with a SR of 57.3. By no means great, but not half decent either. In fact, it is quiet good. Please look at players with an unbiased view and make your judgement.

  • landl47 on August 12, 2013, 3:57 GMT

    There are a couple of idiotic comments that Broad's test average is very similar to his FC average. First, it isn't: his test average is 31.56 and his FC average 28.77. 3 runs per wicket is a lot. Second, over half the FC games he has played have been tests. Therefore, his average in games other than tests must be something like 25 to bring his overall average down to 28.

    Having been drafted into the England side at age 21, and given the heavy test/international schedule now being played, Broad has had to learn to bowl as an international rather than as a county cricketer. Since test cricket is much harder than ordinary FC cricket, his average started very high and is only now getting down to near where it should be.

    In fact, if you look at his figures for the last 3 years, from the English Summer of 2010 until now, when he has been aged 24 to 27, you'll find that his test average has been 25.9. That's a pretty useful test average. It was age 21-24 that his average was high.

  • Cpt.Meanster on August 11, 2013, 19:07 GMT

    I look at Broad as a utility cricketer. A half decent bowler and a half decent batsman. He will have days of his own from time to time but lacks in raw consistency. Still, it was nice to see him back at his best. England have relied a lot on Anderson lately and they need the other quicks to pitch in regularly. Broad can be quite frustrating to English supporters because he has horrible days most of the time. Consistency is key to success; an area Anderson has been so good at the last year or so. For England's sake, Broad has to put in similar performances to be truly reckoned a good bowler.

  • voma on August 11, 2013, 12:40 GMT

    Stuart Broad , always seems to take plenty of Indian and Australian wickets in home conditions .I think hes been pretty unlucky in this series so far , bowling wise . I guess when he reaches 300 wickets/ 3000 runs , we will continue to read what a average player he is .

  • Mervo on August 11, 2013, 12:30 GMT

    Interestingly he is still behind Mitchell Johnson in both runs and wickets....

  • dummy4fb on August 11, 2013, 12:25 GMT

    As a NZ fan I would like to compare him to Chris Cairns, Cairns had injury problems and a falling out with Glen Turner. He took over 200 wickets at 29 (about the same as Anderson) and scored over 3500 runs at an average of 34. To be great Broad needs better figures, I certainly believe he is capably and as long as his body holds out, he certainly has the temperament and is just coming into his prime to achieve it. Of the top of my head Richard Hadlee averaged 22 with the ball and 28 with the bat for a bowling all rounder and there are plenty of other examples but Broad and another New Zealander Southee are works in progress and will be interesting to watch.

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on August 11, 2013, 11:31 GMT

    I disagree with the opening sentence: it was VERY hard to understand why England persisted with Broad in many previous series, when he was extremely out of form and insisted on only bowling short; meanwhile the likes of Onions were in prime form. This Ashes series has been close to the best from Broad, however. The scorecards from the early games make ugly reading for Broad, but the reality is he has bowled very well every game and just been unlucky (until now) to not be amongst the wickets.

  • dummy4fb on August 11, 2013, 8:34 GMT

    Fitness permitting, or attitude, permitting? When its Broad I think it is the latter of the two. No-one doubts he has an abundance of natural talent, he just doesn't always seem capable of harnessing it and when it goes wrong for him his head goes down and he is completely ineffective, one good performance in the series so far and no doubt English fans have fallen in love all over again but for mine he is another Mitch Johnson.

  • Mitty2 on August 11, 2013, 6:49 GMT

    @maximum6, great observation on the reasonings for Cook's captaincy, it certainly doesn't help when your predecessor is Andrew Strauss. Just for a matter of interest, Clarke says that his captaincy style is almost purely derived from the lessons he learnt by none other than Shane Warne.

    Dobell, we all know of your biased view (evidenced by saying that two of England's innings failures had nothing to do with the Aus bowlers and were instead due to complacency (lol), and of course, when Aus are dominating, no comment, but when we played like we did at Lord's, there's a ridiculing unfounded article solely focused on them and not England, but that doesn't change how ridiculous this article is. The ball was swinging unbelievably and the pitch, as it wasnt yesterday, was seaming much more and had more pace in it. Eng have had the best of both conditions and failed. Broad simply did what any half average bowler would do. He averages above 30 for a reason - just look at him in India/Aus.

  • gsingh7 on August 11, 2013, 6:22 GMT

    His test average is very similar to his first class averages. It clearly shows he has lived upto his potential. he cant do much more , can he?? also the word greatness is thrown about after every little fruitful spell. greatness is not bestowed its achieved by hard work and consistency . likes of sachin dravid lara , wasim, prasanna achieved greatness not only by their hard works and talents but also qualities like sportsmanship. broad's non walking incident put a spanner in the works.still he has not even crossed jimmy in bowling heights ,he have to improve drastically.