Saturday, 22 August 2009

Broad shoulders the burden

To English fans it felt longer, a lot longer but it was in fact only a six year period that separated Ian Botham’s last Test match appearance in 1992 from Andrew Flintoff’s first. The holy grail for a cricket team is to be able to include an all-rounder capable of deciding a game with either bat or ball. Alongside Jacques Kallis and the unconventionally brilliant Adam Gilchrist it was Flintoff that completed the triumvirate of the next generation to follow Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee. Whilst all England fretted over the end of the talismanic Flintoff’s career they did not expect Friday at the Oval to confirm the growth from fawn to stag of Stuart Broad. Whisper it quietly no longer; he is the complete package.

It’s easy to criticise an English cricketer and many have criticised Broad for his propensity to deliver four-balls and a lack of wickets. However, he is a young intelligent cricketer who works hard at his game. He bats classically, he fields athletically and now he has started to bowl accurately and with cunning. It was a hard apprenticeship served running in on flat pitches in India and the West Indies for little reward. However, when England has needed a hero to produce a career-defining performance at the death it was Broad that stepped up to deliver a spell of bowling of 5-37 that left England shocked and Australia pole-axed.

For almost the first time in his Test career Broad performed the accurate impersonation of Glenn McGrath that supporters have been calling for. It has been ignored that at the age of 23 Broad is playing his 21st Test; at the same age McGrath was yet to make his debut for Australia. Too much too soon is expected of talented young players thrown in to the crucibles of Test cricket and the media spotlight. Give Broad a chance to spread his wings and grow in to his art as a bowler. Then he will feel equipped to shoulder the burden of the attack as McGrath once did for 13 distinguished years.

The Oval pitch has come in for criticism as being a ‘result pitch’. This is no bad thing yet it has not been doctored to favour England. Yes, England won the toss and made first use of the strip – it could have been Australia that won the toss and elected to bat. Yes, England picked a front-line spinner to take advantage of the turn and bounce that the Oval offers – Australia could have done likewise. The 23 wickets that have fallen in two days have owed more to poor umpiring decisions, disciplined bowling and poor batting than demons in the pitch.

A lead of 230 runs with 7 wickets in hand places England firmly in the driving seat at the end of day two but the Ashes aren’t regained yet. As the twists and turns in this series have made many cricket writers sound less knowledgeable than even Kerry Katona on a daytime television show your correspondent will not be making any predictions. Suffice to say that it’s not the first but the twentieth wicket that is the hardest to take and the Australians will fight until the end.

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