News Analysis

'If I'm saving all my wickets for Australia, I don't mind' - Broad

It wasn't the most memorable haul Stuart Broad will ever take, but he called the three wickets he bagged to pass Ian Botham's tally as "really special"

George Dobell
George Dobell
In the grand scheme of an excellent career, Stuart Broad's figures of 3 for 32 at Edgbaston might look pretty unremarkable. He has played against much tougher opposition in much higher-profile games and taken 15 five-wicket hauls.
But this spell was, in his own words, "really special." For it's not every day you surpass the record of your childhood hero.
For those under 40, it may be hard to understand just how great a cricketer Ian Botham was. Those of a certain age may think of him, first and foremost, as a commentator, a charity walker (and if that was all he had ever done, it would still be a life well-lived) and an increasingly unconvincing frontman in adverts.
But, for a few years in the late 70s and early 80s, he was as good a bowler as England have ever had.
Yes, those are strong words. But he swung the ball sharply both ways. He generated decent pace - as late as 1985 he could bowl genuinely fast spells - he never knew he was beaten and he raised his game on the biggest stage. Only six men have taken 100 wickets in fewer Tests; only one of them - Ravi Ashwin - has done it quicker since World War 2. Only five men have taken 200 wickets in fewer Tests; none of them played for England. He still has more five-wicket hauls (27) than James Anderson. And, for a while in the 1980s, his haul of Test wickets was a world record.
Add in his ability with the bat - he hit 14 Test centuries including one, at Manchester in 1981, that was just about as good as it gets - and you clearly have one of the greatest players in England's history.
Maybe he played too long. And maybe he diminished his legacy a bit in those last few years. But even towards the end - such as the 1992 World Cup when he took a career-best ODI haul to help defeat Australia in Sydney - he retained a great sense of occasion.
Broad grew-up steeped in the history of Botham's heroics. He was only a few months old when his dad, Chris, helped Botham and the rest of the England side win the Ashes in Australia in 1986-87. But he feasted on video footage of the series, graduated onto highlights of the 1981 Ashes and recalls watching the 1992 World Cup live. Now, with the wicket of Shane Dowrich in West Indies' second innings, he surpassed Botham's tally of 383 Test wickets.
"My first cricketing memory watching live cricket was the '92 World Cup," Broad recalled. "I remember watching an England team do well and get to the final.
"My dad made me watch that 'On Top Down Under' video - the highlight of the 1986-87 Ashes - relentlessly. I watched that throughout the early 90s. And because Beefy [Botham] was such a legend you see images and footage of him performing throughout his career. I saw his Headingley game and stuff and then saw him in 1986-87 both with bat and ball and the slightly dodgy sweatbands. He'd obviously get fined by the ICC with them now.
"He has been a big influence on me. Of course, he played with my dad and he is a huge legend of English cricket.
"But he's also given a lot more to this team. In the past couple of years he has spent more and more time in the changing room and the guys really listen to him. He is passionate about English cricket and you can tell he wants us to do well. And he obviously has an influence on us because of the way he performed against Australia. The players thrive off that.
"I was very fortunate to get my Test cap off him back in 2007. I saw him downstairs and I could tell he was genuinely proud and delighted that I'd managed to go past him and that's testament to him. And he said that we'll share a nice bottle of wine later in the week. If he's buying, that's quite exciting! It's special. A really special day."
Perhaps the spell was significant beyond surpassing Botham's record. While Broad has bowled better than his figures suggest all year, this was his best analysis in a Test innings since the Visakhapatnam Test in November (he hasn't taken a five-wicket haul since Johannesburg in January 2016) and briefly evoked memories of those match-defining spells for which he will be remembered.
"I felt really good in that spell of bowling," he said. "It was probably the best 40 minutes of bowling I've had this summer.
"I sort of can tell when I'm going to get wickets. I do feel light in my run-up, I think the most important thing is that I make the batsmen play pretty much every ball. When I don't get it quite right, I get pushed into sort of fifth stump and get left a few times.
"For that seven-over period it was probably the most I made batsmen play a forward defensive at me all summer. And that's a good learner for me. I know I'm a better bowler and I create more chances if a get a batsman indecisive in his defence.
"I feel like I've been threatening and creating chances this summer. I have a checklist at the end of each day and wickets doesn't even come into it because you can bowl really well and not get wickets. But part of my checklist is: did I create chances? I feel like throughout each day that I've been creating chances. And, look, if I'm saving all my wickets for Australia, I don't mind."
Broad seems to have matured over the last couple of years. It's not just that he has abandoned the displays of frustration with umpires or a tendency to over-do the short-ball, but he has played through pain in his feet and developed a desire to make every ball count that is a characteristic of the best bowlers.
"I really don't like being left," he said. "It feels like the waste of a run-up. I love batsmen playing forward defensives at me because it means that if I get any nibble either way, I bring both sides in."
How long can he continue? He answered instinctively when asked if he intends to play in the 2019 Ashes - "Oh God, yes" - and feels that the example of Anderson and the enthusiasm of playing under a young captain in Joe Root and as part of a hungry team has, to some extent, rejuvenated him.
"I'm 31 now and still feel like I have quite a bit of cricket left in me," he said. "I'm loving the energy around this team, I'm loving be part of it. It's one of those teams at that moment that feels like someone different is stepping up each day, which is really exciting.
"We've spoken as a senior group of players about making sure our practice is intense all the time. Our training has become more intense, which has led our performances being more ruthless. As a senior leg of the team, you can influence other people in the group. I think it is important for our practice to be hard and tough and intense because actually it helps you improve as a performer and it drags team-mates with you. It was something Joe asked for.
"Jimmy is bowling as well as I've seen him bowl. He's turned 35 but I don't think I've ever seen him challenge both sides of the bat as consistently as he has done this summer. Fielding at mid-on and mid-off to him, I feel like he is in the game all the time. He's not bowling bad balls and he looks in a rhythm that's awesome. He is picking up wickets at a huge speed at the moment and, not only will he be looking at 500, he'll be looking way past that."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo