Mark Nicholas, courtesy of ESPNcricinfo, where the title is “Beautiful Broad swings it for England”
Cricket is a beautiful game. The beauty comes in many forms, though usually it is associated with elegant batsmanship, masterful bowling and athletic fielding. In Ashes contests alone, David Gower and Mark Waugh were beautiful batsmen; John Snow and Shane Warne, in their very different ways, turned bowling into an art form; Derek Randall and Ricky Ponting gave us a tour de force each time they set foot on the field.
Broad’s control of pace and movement, his accuracy, persistence and extra bounce created a threat that was a thing of beauty. The balance and ease of his strides to the crease, the strong and consistent position at the release of the ball, the subtle positioning of his wrist and his long and full follow-through were all things of beauty. This was a sportsman at the very peak of performance; a man who has seen life unravel before his eyes and made the choices that determine the part he plays in its future. There was beauty in his perfection and severe pain in its effect.
But beauty wins you nothing. Beauty is effect, not cause. The beauty is in the performance not in its making. So what the hell did Broad do that so crucified Australia? He moved the ball off the seam. He pitched around off stump, on a good length and said to the batsmen this will zip one way or the other. Then he might as well have said: given I’m not sure which way it will go, bloody good luck working it out yourself.
Glenn McGrath used to do this for fun. He bowled seam up beautifully. He once took 8 for 38 against England at Lord’s on a damp morning. Broad went 23 better with his 8 for 15. He took five in his first 19 balls and bowled out the old foe in 18.3 overs, total. In the blink of an eye, the Ashes were won. Probably.
Swing bowlers pitch up and invite the drive. Seam bowlers pitch on a length, or back of it, and indicate disgust at being driven. You need both. The greatest skill is to be both. At his best Broad is both
James Anderson, the swing bowler, was not missed one jot. Swing and seam; seam and swing. The mystery. To play swing, the batsman must see the ball early and play it late. Categorically, he must not be drawn to the ball though if his body shape is correct he may be able to go with the swing and use its angles. Swing at pace is difficult to bat against but possible. Late swing at pace is near impossible. The ball homes in, like a guided missile from which there is no escape. There was no escape from Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis when the force was with them. Swing bowlers don’t need the pitch. They need the air and/or a responsive ball.
Seam bowlers need grass on the pitch. This allows the seam to grip and react. Seam bowlers profit more from the Dukes ball used in England than from the Kookaburra used in Australia because the seam is more proud and stays in condition for longer. Seam bowling has long been the preserve of bowlers brought up on pitches that have grass or moisture, or of patient, resilient men.
To play seam, the batsman must get close to the ball. Footwork matters more against seam than against anything else. He must be forward and back, nimble and dancing like a boxer. He must smother the movement of the ball when forward and stun it when back. His head must remain in line with the ball and his hands must remain tight to his body.
To complicate matters, when the ball seams it frequently continues upon its path with swing. And vice versa. Seamers are a type. They give nothing away, indeed they begrudge batsmen. Think Mike Hendrick, Paul Reiffel and McGrath of course. Swing bowlers are more adventurous, for theirs is a game of risk and reward. Often they are flamboyant – think Ian Botham. Other times are quirky – think Damien Fleming. Swing bowlers pitch up and invite the drive. Seam bowlers pitch on a length, or back of it, and indicate disgust at being driven. You need both. The greatest skill is to be both.
Stuart Broad is mobbed by his team-mates after reaching 300 Test wickets © Getty Images
At his best, Broad is both. The signs are clear enough when the Broad mojo is at work. Batsmen play with their feet stuck in the proverbial piss-pot. From the crease, they push hard at the ball, a method which encourages edges to fly to slip. Yes, the bounce created by Broad is a challenge but it is not insurmountable.
The key is to wait for the ball. To wait so long that you can leave alone at the last minute. You must know your off stump as if it were your best friend. You must judge line and bounce and leave well alone at every opportunity. You must not push hard at the ball, you must play with soft, or gentle, hands. Those hands must not get away from your body. Either be behind the ball or alongside it. Never be away from it.
When playing forward, your head must be over your front knee which must bend and stay soft and flexible. When back, that head must be behind the line of the ball. Ideally, you should play that ball from under your eyes.
The Australians managed few of these critical demands. Their techniques were exposed by beautiful and fast seam bowling, just as those techniques had been exposed by the brilliance of Anderson’s swing bowling at Edgbaston. English pitch conditions have confounded the Australians, who have been unable to adapt.
It is about discipline, or pragmatism if you like. In an age of strokeplay and abandon, a batsman must limit his ambition. This needs a certain type of mind, one that is missing from many a modern cricketer whose life is lived on the treadmill of a faster, less rooted game. Once upon a time, you could specialise in this sort of batting – think Geoff Boycott and John Edrich; Bill Lawry and Bob Simpson. Chris Rogers and Alastair Cook are the best moderns but they are lone beacons of defensive batting beauty.
So good was Broad that he might have been McGrath. The Australian brought agony to many a fine batsman of every type – think Brian Lara and Michael Atherton. Broad brought agony to all of Australia. It is an agony that will live forever in the history books for it has almost certainly changed the course of their writing.
Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK
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Aussies are not bad overnight. They do not have technique problem either even though it seems like the way all of them got out. Except shaun marsh ( who pokes often) , no one have technique problem. Period. All these writers looking at symptoms not the cause. Aussies played for themself not for the team. They lost confidence in clarke mainly because his contribution is next to nothing. Why anyone listen if your captain can’t follow his own advise?. its simple as that. Point your arrow at michael clarke. Clarke still have lot to give but do aussie wants him loiter around create politics with smith as captain?. Get few young blood. If you have team full of tall bowlers michael clarke won’t find weakness to exploit. He really got exposed. he will make double triple against other teams easily. Smith play differently when he is captain. Can aussie selectors get bold and cut their lossed with clarke out. i do not think so. He will play next test also. They will replace marsh and hazlewood.