What better way to celebrate Stuart Broad’s birthday than by remembering his demolition of Australia in the 2015 Ashes? In the 2016 Wisden, he talked in detail about his perfect day.
The most remarkable figures by an England pace bowler could not have been recorded at a more valuable moment. England were 2-1 up with two to play, but James Anderson had broken down, and Australia would retain the Ashes if the series finished all square. So Stuart Broad did not sleep much the night before the fourth Test at Trent Bridge. “It’s always that feeling of not knowing what the next day holds,” he says. “The toss of a coin decides if I go and make a cup of tea, or have the pressure of leading the attack.”
After the Edgbaston Test, Anderson and Ben Stokes had stayed with Broad, rather than go home. They had eaten in and out, including a barbecue cooked by Broad’s former Nottinghamshire team-mate Charlie Shreck. “He was the most nervous chef you’ve ever seen. All he could think of was poisoning three of England’s Ashes players.” Yet, even after several days of mentally adjusting to his new role, the thought was still making Broad more nervous than usual.
Anderson had always been there – and Broad had not bowled the first over of a Test for four years. “Trevor [Bayliss] and Cooky’s talk was: the first hour is everything, we performed so well at Edgbaston, make sure we stamp our authority on the game. Whether you’ve got the ball or the bat in your hand, it’s up to the opening partnership to set the tone. I took that to heart.”
The pressure increased when Alastair Cook decided England should bowl. “The whole day started with me thinking we should bat,” says Broad. “But when I was marking my run-up, Shane Warne walked past and said: ‘What do you reckon?’ I said: ‘I like batting first at Trent Bridge, but there’s a bit more grass on this pitch than normal.’ And he said: ‘Even I might consider bowling today.’ When he said that, I thought, well, he’s the biggest bat-first man ever, isn’t he? More than Swanny, probably. It made me believe bowling first was the right call.”
A shower delayed the start until 11.05. “It gave me extra time to compose myself, but actually it was the Clive Rice applause that probably settled me the most.” Rice had died during the Edgbaston Test, and Nottinghamshire arranged for the tribute. “He was my dad’s captain at Trent Bridge, and my mum was close to him and his wife. I was sad for a Nottingham legend, but when it got announced you could tell what passion the members had for him. We were standing by the members’ entrance, and it really took my nerves away. My mindset was: it’s a game of cricket at the end of the day – and also just being out there at Trent Bridge and realising I’ve bowled loads of overs at this ground. And there’s nothing to be too scared about.”
Another duty Broad had already inherited from Anderson was to pick a new ball from the two boxes of six brought to the dressing-room by the fourth umpire. Anderson had passed on the job to Broad in the Caribbean in the spring; on the only subsequent occasion Anderson had chosen it, for the second Test at Lord’s, Australia had scored 566-8.
Broad picked the ball which felt smallest and smoothest in his hand. He had to choose two new balls, as customary, but the second would not be needed; and the first, as it turned out, received barely a scratch on the Dukes gold markings. “All I tried to focus on was not being driven first ball, and not wanting to set the tone with a boundary. I didn’t want to float one up there and have Rogers hit me through the covers and we get off to a shocking start. All I was thinking was back of a length. If he wants to pull me out of the ground first ball, then fair play, but he’s not getting an easy drive.”
A few months after his feat, Broad is watching a video of it for the first time. “So you can see, I slammed it into the wicket. I actually slipped a little – that gave me some encouragement, because it showed a bit of moisture in the pitch.” As another first, Broad had started from round the wicket. The second ball went for four leg-byes, but then the plan worked. “Ottis Gibson and I chatted before the game in the nets and said, why don’t we start from round the wicket and try to pitch it on off stump. If it leaves him, he could nick it.”
Third ball, Rogers did precisely that. “As it was in the air, I never considered Cooky dropping it. As soon as he caught it, my first thought was, I hope that’s not a no-ball, because they always check it now, don’t they? It was only when Rooty (Joe Root) came over to shake my hand that I realised it was my 300th in Tests. And Rogers’s first-ever nought, wasn’t it? Now Rogers is gone, all you’re thinking about is the plan to Steve Smith – set the field we’re going to have. You celebrate the wicket for ten seconds, then your mindset completely changes.” Especially after Smith hit his first ball for two, and his second for four.
“He crunched me through cover point, but it gave me a huge amount of encouragement, because it’s a full-blooded drive on a wicket that is just offering a bit. And I could tell his beans were going. He wanted to feel bat on ball. So I knew if I got my length bang on, and it seamed, that’s a very dangerous shot.” Sure enough, Smith stabbed – and was caught at third slip. After one over, Australia were 10-2.
Graciously, Broad says the wicket of David Warner, caught behind off an inside edge in the next over, Mark Wood’s first, was “the biggest of the lot. Jos [Buttler] said: ‘What’s happening here, lads? Feels like we’re going to get a wicket every ball.’ This was the moment we started to believe something could happen for us. The other changing-room’s in turmoil.
We had no plan to go round the wicket at all to Shaun Marsh. But I just said to Cooky, if I bowl the ball I bowled to Rogers, any left-hander’s going to nick that. And it was very tough for Marsh: he’d not played for, what, probably eight weeks? He’s going to want to feel bat on ball too, and fortunately he edged one.”
Australia, after 2.4 overs of a Test match, not a Twenty20, were 15-4. Watching his first ball to Adam Voges, Broad says, “It was very greedy. I’m trying to do a big in-swinging half-volley.” It went for four leg-byes. “That made me think, I don’t need to get too fancy here, I don’t need to try in-swing, out-swing. If I hold the seam straight and hit off stump, and if it does anything either way, I’m in the game.”
“That sounds so simple, but sometimes in conditions that really suit fast bowlers we overcomplicate, and think we have to make a batsman try a new thing every ball. It was that poor ball that went for four leg-byes that made me think: ‘Let’s make the batsmen play as many balls as possible, whether it goes in or out from fourth stump.’”
Broad runs in, Voges thrusts hard, and there is a blur as Stokes leaps to his right at fifth slip. “That was the moment of the series for me. It was like the Strauss moment in ‘05 [when, at the same ground, he leapt to catch Adam Gilchrist off Andrew Flintoff]. I never thought he was going to catch it. It shocked everyone. Look at his face – he looks like a three-year-old, doesn’t he?”
“I thought it was four. As a bowler, you have an instinct straightaway from what shot the batsman lines up or where the ball’s gone. I had that sinking feeling that it had beaten him. Lythy (Adam Lyth) had turned and was running down to third man. And then he dived that far and caught it behind him. It’s certainly the best catch I’ve seen live. To witness it from 12 yards away was very special: he just had no right to catch it. He does that sort of thing in training, but in an Ashes-deciding Test match?”
“Did you see him take down Jonny Bairstow at short-leg? Look at Stokesy. You know his mum and dad play rugby league? Watch him. He absolutely bulldozes Jonny.” Trying to celebrate with Stokes, Bairstow is sent flying like an Australian batsman. After 4.1 overs, it is 21-5. “The economy-rate is far too high,” adds Broad with a smile. “Jimmy would be very grumpy about that.”
He is far from finished. “That Clarke dismissal is interesting. We had plans to try to make him think we would bounce him, but we actually bounced him quite rarely. So I just moved fine-leg ten yards to the right. Trevor is into his cricket theatre, as he calls it. Put a fielder somewhere so the batsman thinks: ‘Why is he there? What plan have they got?’ So we created this theatre – that I was going to bowl a bouncer, but my plan was to try to swing it away outside off stump to bring a straight-bat edge.
And this is the worst ball I bowled: it’s so far away from where I wanted it to be. It’s a wide, but Clarke was probably thinking: ‘I need to get runs as quickly as possible while I’m out here.’ Cooky took a brilliant catch. I didn’t realise I’d got a five-for until they’d chucked me the ball, because everything happened so fast.”
Two days before the match, the bowling unit had dinner with Bob Willis, at the instigation of Andrew Strauss. All his career, Broad had been told to aim for the top of off stump, but Willis told them to aim – on grounds like Trent Bridge and Headingley, where the ball tends to move more – an inch or two lower: in other words, to bowl a touch fuller and get the batsman driving.
Steven Finn produced a beauty that castled Peter Nevill (33-7). “That’s the length Bob had been talking about,” says Broad. Only Australia’s tail were left. But the lower order had helped shape the Ashes of 2013-14. “We had a mindset that you should bowl a lot shorter at the tail, but in Spain [during England’s pre-Ashes camp] we sat down as a group and said: ‘Why don’t we pitch it up?’ Because if David Warner’s nicking balls from the top of off stump, then tailenders will.”
Duly the tailenders were wrapped up in the shortest of all opening innings in Tests, in just 18.3 overs. The ball beat the bat only a couple of times; otherwise it took the edge, normally a thick one, as is the case when the ball is seaming (swing tends to take thinner edges). Broad had dismissed four right-handers and four left-handers – and only Devon Malcolm, with 9-57 against South Africa at The Oval in 1994, had produced a better analysis among England’s pace bowlers than his 9.3-5-15-8.
“It was probably only now that I could enjoy the moment, job done – let’s get batting. But I was saying to myself, look for my mum in the crowd. This is one of those moments I should soak in, look round the ground, take in my team-mates’ congratulations. It’s the most fun I’ve had in an hour on a cricket field, that’s for sure – an absolute dream on my own ground to walk off after bowling Australia out before lunch. I’ve never bowled better.
“It’s amazing how sport moves on, though. We got in the changing-rooms and had handshakes, well done, and then we had 15 minutes to bat before lunch. And all of our talk was that it’s a very important 15 minutes, lads. Don’t let them back in the game.”
“What made it special after bowling Australia out for 60 was to make 274-4 by the close. If we had only got 120, people would have said it was just a green seamer. But Rooty got a hundred, and Jonny got a great 70. It was one of those days that just couldn’t have been more perfect.”
This interview first appeared in the 2016 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack