It’s a funny old game, as that old soak Jimmy Greaves once said – although he was talking about a game far less funny than cricket. All morning the pundits were urging the English quick bowlers to pitch the ball up in order to encourage the batsman to drive and increase the risk of getting caught behind the wicket. Yet most of the dismissals came from balls short of what is usually defined as a good length. This ‘back of a length’ approach has served them well before – including in Australia – and the Australian batsmen generally didn’t have the dedication or aptitude to leave balls alone that would otherwise have passed them safely by. Admittedly a look at the pitch-map for the innings shows that the lengths were generally fuller than those wicket-taking balls, meaning that the wickets were possibly as a result of slight variations and surprise.
Bowling coach David Saker deserves some credit in this respect, because he is a coach whose influence comes from this tactical analysis of how to get a batsman out, rather than assessing the bio-mechanics, technique or mental capacity of his own tribe. It wasn’t exactly incredible insight and didn’t include new revelations that would have gotten Shane Warne erect, but it was sure effective, especially when combined with field placings that restricted scoring shots down the ground at the times when the ball was pitched fuller.
However Jimmy Anderson (who was as reliable as ever) and Stuart Broad are not inexperienced players. Although they probably benefit from the calm presence of Saker and Andy Flower – indeed they have regularly acknowledged them – they are both at a stage in their careers where they can take responsibility for what happens on the pitch, including using their initiative and devising their own plans. It was around three-four years ago that Anderson started to perform consistently (Pakistan at home in 2010 in particular) and since then he would probably feature in each annual World XI. Broad at 27 is meanwhile is approximately four years younger than his counterpart. With more Test caps (63) than someone such as Steve Harmison gained in his whole career, he is no longer naive or young. During this innings, Broad overtook Harmison’s tally of wickets and drew equal with Darren Gough (from five more games than the dancing Dazzler). There are plainly no clear rules about when a fast bowler truly becomes world-class, but we sense that Broad is now showing not only the class but significantly the consistency to be considered one of the best in the world. At Broad’s age, Anderson had played 44 Tests and taken 148 wickets at 34.85. This was December 2009. What followed was the fulfillment of six years’ worth of potential. It is almost six years now since Broad’s debut and his selection has largely been more regular than Anderson’s. If he can continue the form of 2013 through this series and beyond, it will be very exciting indeed. It could also be piss funny.