Andrew Strauss: Stuart Broad is still at the top of his game
Former England captain believes senior seamer is bowling better than ever at age of 34
Stuart Broad is currently bowling as well as at any time in his career, according to former England captain, Andrew Strauss.
Broad will go into the final day of the Test series against West Indies requiring one more wicket to become just the seventh man - and fourth seamer - in history to claim 500 Test wickets.
But while Broad is now aged 34 and has been omitted from the team several times in recent months, Strauss believes his competitive spirit has pushed him to new heights over the last year or two. Determined to prove he is still worth his place in England's first-choice team, Broad has produced several incisive spells, including a burst of 3 for 1 in the second Test that revived a game that appeared to be heading towards a draw, then eight wickets so far in the third - featuring a run of six in seven overs across two innings - which has given England an opportunity to win the series.
"I honestly don't believe Stuart Broad has bowled much better than this," Strauss said from Emirates Old Trafford on Monday, where rain washed out the fourth day's play. "There were a couple of years where perhaps he lost his wrist a bit and it was hard work for him bowling to right-handers. But in this series he seems to be equally potent against left- and right-handers.
"But when we look at all of his attributes. you can talk about his height and pace; it's actually his competitiveness and we have seen this year. He is at his best when he has something to prove. He's had the bit between his teeth in these last two Test matches and that has served him particularly well over the course of his career."
Strauss's words are largely supported by the statistics. Not only is Broad England's leading wicket-taker in this series - he's taken his 14 wickets at a cost of just 10.50 apiece - but he was also his side's leading wicket-taker in the Ashes and the series against South Africa. Over the last 12 months, his 62 Test wickets have cost 20.58 each.
While Strauss, who is currently chair of the ECB's cricket committee, admits he didn't predict quite such success when he first saw Broad, he was confident he had the qualities to enjoy a "long-term England career."
"I remember the first time I played with him was in an England Lions game," Strauss said. "He was very young at the time. Probably 20 years of age and fast making a reputation for himself in the county game.
"And I remember a T20 finals day where he bowled brilliantly at Ronnie Irani. There was obvious talent and he was comfortable on the big stage and delivering under pressure.
"When I saw him it was clear he had most of the assets you needed as a fast bowler: quick enough at 80-85 mph, obviously a lot of height and an ability to swing ball away from right-hander. He also had real knack of getting wickets with not great balls which was a good knack to have.
"But there have been so many bowlers whose star has shone for a year or two then either they have been worked out or their confidence has deserted them and they've been cast aside.
"I don't think anyone could have predicted he would take 500 Test wickets, but I do think people thought he had the potential to have a long-term England career."
Although Strauss welcomes the emergence of other viable bowling options for England, he suggested it would be an error to move on from either Broad or James Anderson prematurely.
"We write them off at our peril," Strauss said. "So let's not be in a hurry to pension them off, because they have both got a lot more to offer England. We need to savour and appreciate and enjoy every time that those two bowl together in an England shirt.
"At the same time, it's really healthy there's competition for places and some of these young guys are putting their hands up and showing they are ready to play international cricket. From a selector's points of view, it is a great position to be in."
Meanwhile, the Ruth Strauss Foundation announced that donations during the game had surpassed £650,000. The foundation was set up by Strauss in memory of his wife who died from a rare form of cancer. Strauss thanked the "entire cricket family" for its support and said he was "blown away" by the amount of money raised in such a challenging economic environment.
Anyone wanting to donate should visit: www.ruthstraussfoundation.com
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo