When England won the first Test match a month ago, the perceived weakness in their bowling was its over-dependence on James Anderson. Since then, Anderson has taken just seven wickets at 52 apiece, but England have won the series comfortably. Their bowling strength has been deep and, well, broad.
Stuart Broad is no doubt looking forward to coming to Australia this year, and we can only wish him a safe tour. Australian crowds will enjoy having him.
Ashes Fourth Test - Day 4
The fourth day of the fourth Ashes series cricket match at the Riverside cricket ground, Chester-le-Street, England. Follow us at twitter.com/photosSMH Photo: Getty
Antagonistic he may be, obnoxious even, stretching the laws to their limits, but the last thing the nation will unanimously vote for is to have Broad banned.
Whatever else can, will and must be said about Broad and his demeanour, he is an impact bowler of the highest calibre. Like others of that kind, he can spend long periods bowling dreck, as a Test career average of 32 and strike rate of 62 suggest. This summer, he has mostly caused more threat to resolutions about fair play than to the Australian batsman. He has spent more time than the third umpire slowing the game down. But when thrown the ball and asked to win a Test match, he has the knack. Is there anything a captain values more?
The climactic sequence of the fourth Test match came in the 44th over on Monday. Australia were two wickets down for 167: eight wickets in hand, 132 to win. David Warner and Michael Clarke looked capable of seizing a victory.
Anderson was being hit around, and Graeme Swann had lost consistency with his length. The ball was old, on what everyone agreed was a new-ball wicket. At that point, Alastair Cook made a double bowling change, bringing on Tim Bresnan for Swann and Broad for Anderson. The leaders were cooked. It was a call for the second line to step up.
Four balls later, Bresnan bowled a beauty to Warner, full and bouncy.
Warner edged. That was the crack. Then Broad bounded in at Clarke.
Broad has been used, all summer, specifically on Clarke. Recognising the Australian captain's skill against Swann early in his innings, Cook has repeatedly asked Broad to target Clarke. Often it has been a matter of roughing him up with short stuff. Sometimes it has been other modes of confrontation. Here, Broad started with a fast yorker, which Clarke managed to dig out. Then, Broad decided to stand in the Australian's immediate purview and carry on a loud conversation with his wicketkeeper and captain. The game stopped. Broad carried on a bit, and then he carried on. Clarke pushed one down the wicket and stole a cheeky single.
For three overs, such tactical toing and froing went on. Broad thought he had Steve Smith, the new batsman, caught behind, but lost the argument and England's last referral. Drinks were taken. Australia needed a neat 125. A week ago, in a different universe, Clarke and Smith had combined to put on 214, and Broad took a wicket every 20 overs.
Whatever England have been putting in their bowlers' drinks, it has tended to work. Broad emerged from the huddle to bowl the fastest over of the series by some magnitude. His first ball was a 145kmh example of fast bowling perfection: good length, angled in, holding its line, clipping the outside half of the off stump. Twice in the series, here and in Nottingham, such balls have removed Clarke. 'The great batsmen find a way of keeping these balls out,' Clarke said later. And sometimes they don't.
This is what it means to be an impact bowler. Broad has done it before to Australia, with his second-day spell at the Oval in 2009. It won them the Ashes in a session. Here this week, all at once, he received the wickets that cruel fate had denied him through the series. He is a simple kind of bowler, in the modern McGrath template of tall men who home in on that off bail. But the trick is to be able to lift, physically and psychologically, when it is most needed, to go full-tilt when tired, squeeze something out of a soft old ball and a dead old pitch, give absolutely everything to the effort, while maintaining pinpoint accuracy. Only the best have had it, and Broad has proved himself the consummate big-moment bowler.
Much will be said about the psychological and technical failings of the Australian batsmen under pressure, but this was a day to admire their conqueror. Dumb Broad, Lord Broad, Broad the Fraud…the banners are being painted, and this young man with incongruously narrow shoulders will have to take a lot. But he seems the type who enjoys a stoush. He will arrive in Australia as a credible and, when needed, formidable force.