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Anderson, Broad, Southee, Boult: The last hurrah of seam-bowling's Fab Four

The senior quartet at Trent Bridge boast 1842 Test wickets between them, but how many more?

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
Anderson, Broad, Southee and Boult may be playing their final series together  •  Getty Images

Anderson, Broad, Southee and Boult may be playing their final series together  •  Getty Images

James Anderson began the second day at Trent Bridge feeling his left hamstring. He'd slipped through 18 overs on the first day, and 6121 in his Test career alone to this point, so maybe hold the old man jokes.
Like a needle into a groove, he dropped into bowling as he has bowled for what now, nearly 20 years on, can seem like forever. The narrow corridor that is closer outside off stump than it looks and a length that is not as driveable as it appears. To a ball, each one shaped out, either a little in the air, or straightening off the pitch. Anderson, in other words, in excelsis.
This isn't how he's always been. Early Anderson fades a little every time he bowls a ball in the present, but those magic balls live on in the digital scroll-scape. They used to be ridiculous and showy, like they were on a Jean-Paul Gautlier catwalk. Big swing, big pace and an action that was careless and colourful, like the hair.
Old Anderson is refined and unwasteful, his deliveries at home on a Tom Ford catwalk. Is it blasphemy to suggest that, in the repetitiveness of its method, Anderson's bowling can be seen as boring? Probably, although boring like Glenn McGrath, or Shaun Pollock. Boring that takes 1633 Test wickets.
But, because each ball bears the load of his legend, every spell, every individual delivery is now also an exercise in anticipation. He is plotting. He must be plotting. All of this is a prologue to the imperceptible twitch of the wrist, a sly tilt of the seam, a slight widening of the fingers on the seam, a half-step wider at the crease and another one done in.
The entire spell to Daryl Mitchell on Saturday morning played out like a set-up. Mitchell, a model of restraint otherwise, knew this and finally dabbed instinctively at one that went away but missed. Now. Now would come the one, straighter, maybe swinging in, maybe straightening up, nobody can say with the wobble. It was going to be grand.
Except it never came. The second-last ball of his spell was just short enough for Mitchell to pull to the boundary. Four overs and he was done. The hamstring was fine.


This has not been a happy Test for Stuart Broad. On Friday, the first day, he began bowling as if keen to make sure that, if this is his last home ground Test, it had better be a good one. Trent Bridge is not scheduled to host a Test next summer and the summer after that Broad will be 38. His eagerness got the better of him, allowing him to be cut, driven and clipped through midwicket in his first spell.
For all the reinvention of Broad over the years, his core has always been that of the vibes-man in the attack, a bowler best appreciated by moods and the moments they produce. Otherwise, it's difficult to pin him down because he's been most kinds of fast bowler. McGrath-esque at the start, bowl-dry poster-boy under Andy Flower, the enforcer-who-never-really-was, a misplacer of outswing, bowling too short, bowling too full, David Warner-dismisser. All of it is secondary to the vibe, as it was most recently at Lord's, in that one over where he took two wickets. A vibe so strong that even his failed celebrappeal caused a run-out in a team hat-trick.
When he returned later on the first day at Trent Bridge, Broad tried to find that vibe, urging the crowd to urge him on and do better. He did but a catch was dropped and, so too, the vibe. Broad after a catch is dropped is also a total Broad vibe.
On Friday night, the pub Broad co-owns in Nottingham was gutted by a fire. Nobody was hurt thankfully but, on Saturday, his bowling continued to be very much not on fire. He was bowling with a strong wind blowing across him diagonally as he ran in from the Pavilion end, which can't have helped.
He was getting the ball to swing into Mitchell, and it made for a nice contrast to Anderson at the other end if not, at that moment, an especially productive one. One blond, one brunette, one could lead a boy band, the other Britpop; one hustling you out, the other working you out, one bristling outwards, the other brooding inwards; this is the equilibrium which has kept England going.
Broad was not happy with the ball. England has not been happy with the ball. Within the day's first six overs, he took it to umpire Michael Gough twice to have it checked. The ball - the second new ball - was 14 overs old. Gough passed it through the calipers at least eight times and, in one swift motion, straight back to Broad. Nothing doing.
Four overs and Broad was done.


In his very first over on the second afternoon, the first over of England's reply, Tim Southee got more degrees of swing than England's bowlers generated in total across 145 overs. At least it felt that way, it swung so much. It was classic Southee swing, the kind found mostly in YouTube videos of Mike Procter, really hooping in, really late.
Southee was coming in round the wicket to Alex Lees, because New Zealand trapped him in front twice from that angle at Lord's. The genius of Southee is that though he looked dangerous from the angle, historically he's been better to the left-hander from over the wicket. It's only recently that he's gone round more (from 25% overall to 60% in the last three years). Data says he's as good either side. Data says he is very good wherever, whenever.
Shane Bond was still bowling when Southee made his debut. For normal people, over 14 years, their faces loosen and start drooping. Southee's has chiselled itself. The hair is smarter, the stubble gets an airing every now and then, not concessions to age as much as allusions to it.
This is his 87th Test but his longevity is not to be measured against Anderson or Broad but, rather underwhelmingly, Jonny Bairstow who, despite never feeling permanent in an England XI, despite debuting four years later than Southee, is currently playing his 85th. It is a modern inequity.
It's enough of a span for him to have become a master. He's been bowling that three-quarter seam ball, for instance, for at least four years. It has the same intent as the wobble ball and is often called as such, but the execution is different. Last year he developed a variation of that variation, a proper bluff of an in-ducker that, most deliciously, dismissed Rohit Sharma shouldering arms in the World Test Championship final.
Anyway, he worked away at Lees from that angle and drew him into edging one. Mitchell dropped a sitter at first slip.


Zak Crawley would have known exactly what to expect. Trent Boult, new ball, scurrying in, a whip of that left arm, some shaping in, some going across, waspish pace and absolutely all of it to be watched with utmost care. "Trying to bring batsmen across the stumps and then swing it in and try to hit them on the pads," Boult's simple philosophy, he explained once.
Boult had already had a good time with the bat. An all-boundary 16 had drawn him level with Muthiah Muralidaran as Test cricket's most prolific No.11. The record outright would have been great, but Boult was buzzing at the top of his mark.
The first ball went across Crawley. No alarm. The next two came back in. Standard. Crawley stepped out and crunched the fourth through covers. Crawley killed the length. The fifth was across again and left alone. All fairly wide so far. Suddenly the sixth was straighter. Problems. Where's this going?
Boult delivered it cross-seam - three-quarter seam? - with either a more vigorous flick of the wrist than usual or as a cutter. Replays still haven't made it clear. Crawley had to play the line but could do nothing about the slight movement away. Except to edge it behind. As at Lord's in dismissing Ollie Pope, Boult has the ball of the Test.
The thing about great bowling partnerships is that the individual tends to get subsumed within the whole. No doubt it's handy for that truism of it all being about the team. But we tend to think of them as pairs, or if not, then in comparison and contrast to the other. If it were possible, every pair would have a portmanteau such as Broaderson. With Boult and Southee (Southoult sounds like a village in England, and Boulthee a European chocolate brand) it's even more difficult to peel one away from the other.
They've been mates since their early teens and teammates from U-17 days. Southee was a groomsman at Boult's wedding. Boult debuted three years later and has partnered with Southee in 65 of his 78 Tests. They can't even be separated on the field: Southee has taken 17 catches off Boult's bowling, behind only Ross Taylor in the outfield. In the last over before lunch on the third day he even dropped a chance, a tough one, off Boult bowling's.
It was Southee who taught Boult the three-quarters ball, the most memorable deployment of which was the dismissal of Ben Stokes in that 58 all out at Auckland in 2018. He'd been showing Stokes big outswingers and suddenly this, coming in. Stokes thought to leave, tried to play, got castled. A rare occasion, Boult thought, of when he got a wicket exactly as he had planned it.
There's an eternal youthfulness to Boult - five days before his Test debut he hurriedly had his braces removed so he wouldn't get sledged by the Australians. But it filters through in his bowling, the energy and hurry the same in his first over - when he dismissed Crawley - as it was in the 19th and 20th when he dismissed Pope and Bairstow.
Bairstow was the philosophic ideal: bring the batter across, then do him with the inswing. Everyone knows it coming. It never stops.


This has not been a great surface for this quartet. After their first bursts on the second day, Anderson and Broad didn't bowl again for four hours or so. Neither seemed to mind especially. There were plenty of think-tank chats with Stokes, who bowled an 11-over spell either side of lunch. Matthew Potts bowled a lot, as did Jack Leach.
Anderson let a ball through at short midwicket, diving a little gingerly over it. Hold the old man jokes though, because he sprinted round and flew to stop a drive at mid-off a little later. Broad went off the field before lunch, replaced his now-trademark floppy for a cap, and returned to try and have the ball changed. Many times. He failed until, at 550 for 9, he won. The ball was changed, he raised his arms in mock celebration. It worked: New Zealand were all out for 553.
New Zealand, on the other hand, had the first new ball changed twice on the third morning. Southee and Boult bowled in tandem for the first 40 minutes of the third morning, as Anderson and Broad did on the second day. They returned for spells an hour later though and then multiple ones thereafter. None of it made a difference on this pitch. There have been moments, little spells and ploys, but only eight wickets between them. Two of them have gone at over four an over, Boult just under 3.5. Had some catches been held, maybe this would feel different.
Next week at Headingley is very likely the last time they all appear together again. Nearly 1900 wickets between them. And, hopefully, counting.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo