Of course Stuart Broad had the final word. Of course, at the end of a series he has dominated since his spell with the second new ball on the fourth evening of the second Test, it was his wicket that sealed the series.
Some might argue that Broad dominated the series even before he was selected. His omission from the side for the first Test so disappointed him that he made the unusual decision to give an interview midway through a game in which he was not involved to express his frustration. He also suggested he was bowling as well as ever.
It’s one thing to talk a good game; it’s quite another to back it with performances. And, over the last couple of weeks, Broad has proved his point more eloquently than his words ever could. The upshot is, a campaign that started with him struggling to get into the side has finished with him being named player of the series. The third Test produced his best innings analysis since 2016 and both his best match analysis and highest innings since 2013.
Back to his best? Well, maybe. In truth, he is a slightly different bowler to the man who was winning Tests for England a decade ago. Certainly not worse; just different. For while he was once capable of delivering genuinely quick spells and tended to hit just back of a length, he now pitches a yard or so fuller and nags away on off stump like an unpaid bill. He’s not quite as quick but he has just finished his third series out of four (the Ashes and the South Africa tour were the others) as England’s leading wicket-taker.
Where once he was inclined to resort to the bouncer just a bit too quickly, it’s almost as if his slightly diminished pace has forced him to find different ways to defeat batsmen. As a result, he’s become a more sophisticated bowler. It’s hardly surprising he has no intention of calling it a day just yet.
“You always hear ex-sportsmen saying they knew when it was time to go,” Broad said. “They say that lost that feeling.
“Well, I’ve still got it in abundance. A couple of weeks ago I was in a bit of a thinking place. I couldn’t leave a cricket ground where I’d been left out. I thought ‘where am I going here?’
“But I’m glad I stayed strong because I’m very happy two weeks later.
“I feel I’m bowling as well as I ever have. I’ve done some technical work and changed my run-up in the last 18 months. I’m challenging the stumps and trying to make the batsmen play as much as possible. That’s a tactical thing that’s really taken me to a really exciting level.
“I felt like my alignment to the stumps was really good in this game. I had a bit of confidence and match practice from the second Test so my tempo and alignment felt like every time I released the ball I could bring off stump into play.
“That’s my go-to: I want to make the batsman play. I don’t like to get left too often. When you come on a pitch with a little bit of wear that’s keeping low, that’s sort of my dream pitch. Most fast bowlers like it flying through, catching the edge and going to slip at chest height but if I can bring the stumps into play, it really suits my style.”
If Broad required any inspiration for the pursuit of sporting excellence in his mid-30s, he doesn’t have far to look. James Anderson‘s hunger to pick up new skills and his dedication to his fitness have carried him to the brink of 600 Test wickets. Broad doesn’t rule out pushing on to the same milestone.
“Jimmy is my idol on that,” Broad said. “He turns 38 during this break we have now. He’s someone I have watched very closely and has been a great friend of mine for many years.
“Also, the way he has maintained himself and kept upskilling himself to be able to not just compete but get better at this level. You look at both of our records over the last few years, we are actually improving. Compare my last 18 months to my career record, it’s way better. It’s a great sign.
“It is easy to get to 34 and start thinking ‘I’ll do what I have done for the last 13 years and be okay’. But I’m looking for the next step that will improve me as a cricketer. That keeps you moving forward as a cricketer.
“If you’d asked me four years ago, ‘at 34 do you think you could play another three or four years?’ I’d have said absolutely not. Now I’m 34 and I feel fit. Post-lockdown my fitness testing was the best it’s ever been. I feel excited.
“I’m not someone who sets targets. I never said I really want to get to 500 wickets or 600 wickets. But at the moment I feel fresh, I feel fit. I’m bowling how I want to be bowling. If I keep bowling the way I am for the next few years then I wouldn’t rule anything out.”
But his greatest attribute, he says, is not his height, his experience or his seam position.
“My defining quality? I never give up,” he said. “It probably comes from my Mum. I feel like we can win from any situation. The most recent time when that came through was in Cape Town at tea. I can’t remember how many wickets we needed but we were slogging away for a long period of time.
“I knew deep down that if we kept applying pressure, South Africa would crack. That’s the mindset which helped us win that Test match.
“I’ve never shied away from intimidating moments. I really enjoy moments when the game need changing. I want to be the person to do it. I want to be the person to get thrown the ball or go into bat when we need to change the momentum of the game.”
All of which begs the question: why was Broad left out of the side for the first Test?
England’s rotation of their seamers was one of the key differences in the series. With each of them bowling in a maximum of two games, they looked fit and fresh right to the end. West Indies’ trio of fast bowlers, by contrast, played in all three matches and looked close to exhaustion some time ago. It was not especially controversial, really. England’s strength in seam-bowling depth is a huge asset, even if it does make for awkward selection meetings at times.
It’s also highly likely the same policy will be used in the series against Pakistan. Which means there may be days when other high-profile players – the likes of Anderson and Jofra Archer, included – will be rotated. And yes, there will be days, particularly in the conditions anticipated this winter, when Broad is left out once again. Sometimes the word ‘dropped’ can be a bit emotive.
“Let’s be honest, we have so many fast bowlers if you’re not taking wickets you’re probably not going to play,” Broad said. “It keeps the standard high.”
There were echoes of Fred Trueman when Broad was asked whether anyone else could achieve the 500 Test wicket milestone. Trueman, on reaching the 300 landmark, famously quipped that if anyone else achieved it they would be “bloody tired”. Broad’s point was more that modern seam bowlers might not have the opportunity to play enough games.
While Nathan Lyon, who currently has 390 wickets, would appear to have a chance, the next highest wicket-taker among current seamers is Ishant Sharma who, at 31 years of age, has 297. It is entirely possible Broad will be the last seamer to reach the figure.
“You need a lot of Test matches to get 500 wickets,” Broad said. “I think there’ll be people who have the talent to get the numbers, but whether a seamer will be able to play the amount of Test cricket to get that feat remains to be seen. There is a lot of competition out there between different T20 leagues franchises.
“There’s talk of thinning the amount of Tests down. I feel very lucky to have played for England in an era where we’ve played a lot of Test cricket.”
England have been lucky to have him, too. And only a fool would suggest there aren’t a few pages in the story left to be told.