Matches (10)
AFG v IRE (1)
BPL 2024 (1)
WCL 2 (1)
PSL 2024 (1)
WPL (1)
Durham in ZIM (1)
Nepal Tri-Nation (1)
CWC Play-off (3)
Match Analysis

England coax the chaos out of Broad

He has always been able to bowl these unreal spells, but this one was doubly special

Stuart Broad castles Tom Blundell - like three other New Zealand batters on the night before him  •  AFP/Getty Images

Stuart Broad castles Tom Blundell - like three other New Zealand batters on the night before him  •  AFP/Getty Images

We were all thinking it.
The Barmy Army had awoken from their early evening slumber on the third day of this Test, pushing right up to the picket fences at the City end in Mount Maunganui, a thousand corner men hyping their prize fighter. The hums were deafening, yet no words among them. You could swear you heard the knowing looks cast into every set of eyes that looked back.
But no one dared to say it. Not out loud. Not even when Devon Conway (2) and Kane Williamson (0) had their stumps rearranged in the two overs from that end. The knees were pumping, the tail was up. And as Stuart Broad set off for his third over of demonic hour, even though you knew he was in the midst of it, you wouldn't want to be the one who jinxed it. Form the words "one of those Broad spells" in your mind, sure. But don't risk speaking it.
With the second ball, a drop. Zak Crawley, for the second time in the match, shells a regulation slip chance. Someone's said it, haven't they? Tom Latham scampers away for two. Couldn't help themselves, could they? It's hard to begrudge, to be fair.
Australia at The Oval in 2009. India at Trent Bridge in 2011, South Africa at Headingley in 2012, New Zealand at Lord's in 2013. Australia at Chester-le-Street in 2013. Australia at Trent Bridge in 2015. South Africa in Johannesburg in 2016. Why not New Zealand at Bay Oval in 2023? Why wouldn't you want to turn to the person next to you and tell them you were living the next one?
No doubt that chatter has happened more times than during the seven above, all of which saw Broad take five or more wickets unchanged. You here reading this might have been one of those jinxes. Baseball has its "perfect game", where pitchers go for no base hits and those two words must never be uttered until it is done. Maybe it's the same deal with "one of those Broad spells", or words to that effect. Don't utter it to yourselves, each other and certainly not to the player at the centre of it all. They, of course, wouldn't dream of it.
Except that Broad did. As Crawley cursed under his breath and Latham breathed a sigh of relief, Broad stomped back to his mark. James Anderson joined him for part of the stomp, the pair now out in front as the most prolific bowling duo in Test history thanks to Broad's early inroads. "Pfff, you know - what if that had been taken?" Broad said he told Anderson. "I feel it could've been my day."
Four deliveries later, Latham's off stump was knocked back.
Of course, Broad is immune to universal whims. How could he not be? Three overs later, first-innings centurion Tom Blundell had his middle stump knocked back. New Zealand were reeling on 28 for 5 in pursuit of what now looks an unlikely fourth-innings chase of 394 - Broad clean bowling four of them for just 15 inside 6.2 overs. "I can't think I've done that before," he said cycling through spells in his head like Springsteen being asked for his favourite lyric. As it happens, he became the first Englishman to bowl the top three since Fred Trueman against West Indies in Kingston in 1960.
There was no over-complication in Broad's mind, because there has never been when he is in this groove, and he knew he was. No thoughts on swinging one way or the other, mixing up lengths, or lining up a batter's movements. There was no one else there. It didn't matter if he spoke of what was to come - all there was to him were three sticks in the ground.
There would be no fifth. Broad reluctantly went as far as a tenth over, eventually closing out on 4 for 21 with five maidens. "I was buggered," he admitted, explaining he had lost the snap and energy in his delivery that made the most of the movement on the pitch accentuated by nightfall. "I didn't want a tenth but Stokesy wouldn't have it."
It seems like the captain himself was saying it aloud, too. Which matters far more than what the rest of us were or weren't.
Over the last couple of years, it has been hard not to talk of Broad's powers dwindling. It was at its loudest in 2021 when he returned just 12 wickets from 13 innings - comfortably his worst from a calendar year in which he has played more than one Test. The emergence of Ollie Robinson and the prolonged brilliance of Anderson made it a little easier to fathom. Even when both he and Anderson were dropped for the West Indies series last March, it looked terminal for one, and it wasn't the bloke about to turn 40, even if both had thoughts about retiring altogether. The natural consequence of being a great in a greater great's shadow. The breakdown of their combined dismissals has Anderson over a 100 in front, despite Broad's effort to even the scales here.
But since Ben Stokes became captain, Broad has bowled the third-most overs after Jack Leach and Anderson, while taking 34 wickets. His time is clearly not up, his purpose not served. The one new factor to consider is that a starting berth is no longer guaranteed, which he acknowledges: "I can't control whether I play or not, but I can control whether I'm fit, fresh, in rhythm and hungry. And my competitive spirit is high."
Of course, without the requisite stage, there would not have been an opportunity for Broad to own it. England's Super Smash Bros blitzed 158 for 4 in the first session before a more subdued 112 for 2 from 27.5 overs in the second. A brief flurry after the second interval allowed them to reach 374 in their second innings to lead by 393 and, importantly, give them what turned out to be 23 overs against an accomplished top order.
"The way we set the whole game up throughout the day, we were sort of building towards wanting to bowl as much as possible under the lights, with the harder pink ball," Broad said. "It's drier than it is in the first innings but we found it nips pretty quickly under lights."
As it happens, Broad thought he could be in play in a big way long before he took the field on day three. Tim Southee had just nipped a few through Joe Root in the morning session, and it was at that point, he says, the bowlers looked at each other. Each of them knew they had a part to play. And for all the talents of the other two, only one could have played it like this.
There's something to be said for regarding this spell as something of a throwback. Yes, it has all the trappings of the modern era: fast-paced, mind-melting exhilarating, hitting fast-forward on the match itself. But that it has transferred into one of the most Bazball fixtures of the 11 so far, not just given the scoring but the fact Ben Foakes batted above Stokes because the skipper was sat on the toilet, speaks to something greater. Aspects of what made the old era great are being allowed to flourish in the new.
Which brings us neatly to the Nighthawk. Coined by Stokes last summer as a byproduct of an environment cultivated by the coach Brendon McCullum where no idea is too ridiculous, and given to Broad, the role and its purpose are relatively straightforward: go out and swing in the moments when a traditional nightwatcher may block.
The original Hawk swooped into our lives on Friday night (Sorry Rehan, but you were an understudy) after McCullum tipped Broad off the physio table and into his pads at 8.45pm on day two. It didn't work, of course. Six off 13 overnight, then 7 off 17 three overs into the day was neither the 30 off 10 nor the 0 off 1 regarded as success for the role. But that's not the point. Maybe it never was.
The Nighthawk could just be a way to coax the chaos out of Broad which, truth be told, has been missing. Perhaps since the last of "one those Broad spells" in 2016. And lo and behold, this Frankenstein's monster made up of one-part tactic and two-parts banter has given Broad a new lease of life.
As he strode out to assume the role for the first time, the 13-hour time difference was such that those at home had roused themselves enough to get #NightHawk trending in the UK. A day later, his real name was top of the viral pops. The man himself proving once more that no alias, mask or cape is required for him to arrive in the nick of time.
Time moves faster when you're 36, and each day brings us closer to when his powers will truly dissipate. It was hard not to wonder if it was approaching sooner rather than later after 1 for 72 in 17 overs of the first innings.
Does Mount Maunganui 2023 ranks alongside the Oval 2009, Trent Bridge 2011, Headingley 2012, Lord's 2013, Chester-le-Street 2013, Trent Bridge in 2015 and Johannesburg in 2016? Broad replied, "If I would have got five tonight then maybe."
Suddenly panic. Could we say the next one was coming on Sunday to bump it up, as England close in on victory? "Not yet," he added. "Always room for improvement."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo