Defence - the best form of attack?

David Saker


Stuart Broad chats with England bowling coach David Saker, Trent Bridge, July 7, 2010
Stuart Broad adjusted his length and went on to have a phenomenal summer against India in 2011 © Getty Images
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I've never been involved with a more talented group of fast bowlers - either as coach or player. My basic philosophy is to encourage the guys to play their natural game and to instil the idea that they are in a battle with the batsman, whether in the nets or out in the middle. The rest is details. And ever since I started working with England's seamers at the start of the 2010 season, they have made my job a whole lot easier.

On the surface, the role of bowling coach can feel contradictory. You need to find a way of getting 20 wickets, but the fundamentals of the game are essentially defensive. So much cricket talk is based around the batsman's defence but - more than anyone else - the two guys I heard chatting about defending with the ball were Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. We all love to attack, but if you can place your field well and create pressure you'll succeed more often than not. The England guys have bought into that superbly.

If I was to choose one session during my time in the job which gave me most satisfaction, it would be during the first Ashes Test in Brisbane in November 2010. On the third morning, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled beautifully, but without any luck, against Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin. They added over 300, but I told the players that if they bowled like that for the rest of the series, they'd be just fine.

Having said that, it's hard to imagine anyone bowling better than Broad did against India last summer. We tell the players that, if they land the majority of their balls between six and eight metres from the stumps, they're going to bowl teams out. In the early part of the season against Sri Lanka, Broad was erring towards the eight-metre end of the range, but against India he moved closer to six. Because he can get bounce off a good length, the Indians were reluctant to come forward. If you can catch good batsmen on the crease like he did, you've got a great chance.

That's the reason I'm such a fan of height in a fast bowler. On some of the flat wickets you get in Test cricket, especially in Asia, it's vital you have the ability to flog some life out of a good length and keep the best batsmen honest about whether to come forward or stay back. In that respect, we've been lucky to have giants like Broad, Chris Tremlett and Steven Finn.

But everyone plays their role. Any batsman who has ever faced Tim Bresnan, for example, says he hits the bat harder than anyone going around. He's also got a great yorker, which probably gets underused at Test level - and not just by Bresnan - because bowlers are concentrating on attrition. As for Anderson, I knew when I first joined that he was an unbelievably skilful operator. Now he's added the ability to keep things tight when the ball isn't swinging, which he's done by dragging his length back a fraction. For me, it's just a case of fine-tuning. Luckily, the guys don't need much.

© John Wisden & Co