Stuart Broad rises to occasion again to give England a timely Ashes lift | Barney Ronay

The rather underrated modern English sporting great makes a valuable contribution to tilt the balance in England’s favour

The crowd sang Jerusalem. This doesn’t really narrow the third day of this Ashes Test to any particular time slot. It is probably safe to assume the crowd is always singing Jerusalem, unless specifically stated otherwise. Or if not that then “Campeones” or “You’re the convicts” or “We saw you cry on the telly”. This was the mid-afternoon version of Jerusalem, the one where the tempo stutters but the volume is beyond reproach.

As David Warner and Cameron Bancroft walked out to open Australia’s second innings a heavy August sun drenched the Hollies stand. Here, safari-suited soldiers mixed with Dalai Lamas. A nappy-clad Donald Trump was pursued down the aisles by poncho-clad Mexicans. Now and then the England 1966 World Cup team rose from its bank of seats and performed a brisk, knees-high circuit of the stand to respectful applause.

There were boos and further boos – deeper, richer shades of boo – as Warner and Bancroft prepared to set about England’s 90-run first-innings lead. In any Saturday afternoon TV planning module of likely game scenarios, this was probably quite close to the ideal. Plus, Stuart Broad was opening the bowing, and taking the first over in the absence of the injured Jimmy Anderson.

Broad against Australia: this has been a dominant note of every series he has played, from that coltish six-wicket haul at Headingley 10 years ago, through the triumphs and disasters of Brisbane and the edge-clipping, gully-snaffling, face-clutching madness of Trent Bridge.

Broad has loved these contests. Unlike Anderson, whose numbers take a dive against the Aussies, Broad’s game rises to meet England’s most consistently cussed opponents, particularly in the English summer.

He took the new ball having taken 100 Ashes wickets at 29. He had also spent the previous hour and half playing his most valuable innings since he was clanged, horribly, through the grill by Varun Aaron in 2015 – the ball that transformed a useful batting career into a sustained five-year act of flaky, chancy courage.

There are certain things it is necessary to say about Broad when he looks to crank up through the gears. At times you wonder why he does not always run in with “his knees pumping high” and doesn’t always seek the full length that coincides with his God Mode days where wickets tumble and the whole sky seems to turn a rich shade of Broad.

The knees pumped here. The run-up was even. Broad’s first ball was full and blocked with a jerk by Bancroft. His second hit the front pad, drawing a huge, reflexive appeal. The third was nicked just short of the cordon.

Stuart Broad ducks a Pat Cummings bouncer on a day when the England man was influential with bat and ball.
Stuart Broad ducks a Pat Cummings bouncer on a day when the England man was influential with bat and ball. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

From the other end Chris Woakes was a little wild, straining a bit against the occasion. Then came Broad’s montage moment. It is an oddity of his career that so little has changed. This is basically the same slim, blond, loping figure of 12 years ago. The run hasn’t slowed. The action remains at a distance the same.

But then Broad is astonishingly durable, a gangling, looming oddly indestructible rake of a 6ft 6in fast bowler. What has changed are shades of nuance, the relentless analysis of his own line and angles and mode of attack. This is an all-time career that has essentially been built out of being tall and being smart. There are no other extreme qualities beyond resilience and an ever-whirring brain, plus the commitment to working his way through the fallow patches.

Part of that is his recent attacking line around the wicket to left-handers. This was what did for Warner here, not fate or righteous anger, or some dark cloud of karma-laden guilt.

Warner hopped and blocked his first ball, then drove for four past mid-off, a lovely controlled clip, waiting a beat for the ball to come. The next one was also full and edged through fourth slip. The line was dragged back, Broad applying the brakes, mid-over.

Then it happened. Broad’s fifth ball was quicker and closer to Warner’s body, borrowing that angle of approach. Warner went to leave, the ball flew through, and then something strange happened as Jonny Bairstow caught the ball and hurled it in the air, shouting and jumping and looking desperate.

Umpire Joel Wilson drew a blank. England reviewed. Replays showed the ball grazing Warner’s glove, that first slow-motion wobble of the foam baffle at his wrist drawing huge cheers; plus the feeling of something authentically Ashes and authentically Broad imprinting itself in real time.

A moment, then, to dwell on Broad, who remains for all his celebrity and success, a rather underrated modern English sporting great. This was his 450th Test wicket. Six men have gone past this mark ahead of him. Three – Anderson, Glenn McGrath and Courtney Walsh, were quick bowlers. None of those have anything close to his accompanying 3,000 Test runs (more than Cyril Washbrook) at a strike rate of 65.

Broad has been doing this for 12 years, without tailing off or preying on easy targets. His most dismissed batsmen, 70 of his total scalps, have been Michael Clarke, AB de Villiers, Ross Taylor, Hashim Amla, Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Steve Smith and Warner. Had he managed to sneak in another Aussie here Edgbaston would probably have started to melt in the late afternoon sun.

Instead, Smith began to find an ominous rhythm as Australia moved into the lead. This Ashes Test could still turn either way. Broad, as ever, will be key.


Barney Ronay at Edgbaston

The GuardianTramp

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