Ben Jones looks at how, despite their good planning, England will still miss their pace greats when they go.
There has been a general undercurrent of worry in discussions around English cricket, in the last two years.
What happens on the inevitable day that their record-breaking fast bowling duo, with 1000+ wickets tucked under their arms, wander off into the sunset? How do they manage the transition from the era of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, into the next? How do they pull of the trick of making the transition seamless?
Well, like any good trick, it’s happened with anyone really spotting it’s happened. In England’s last 21 Tests, Broad and Anderson have only played together six times. There’s no real need for any great imagination of what England without BroadAndAnderson will look like. The transition has already begun.
In those 15 matches without the two of them together, England have gone okay. Won nine, lost four, drawn two. In the five where they’ve both played, they have gone two wins, three losses. The age of them being an essential, unmoveable part of England’s attack, and the success of that attack, is already over. English cricket has already begun to move on from their finest duo.
And yet, today showed exactly what they will be losing.
In that new ball period today, followed up by their expertise with the older ball, the two veterans showed their worth. 47% of England’s deliveries on Day Two were on a good length; since such data has been recorded, 2006, that’s the 10th highest figure they have managed in a home Test. Hitting that zone is key to success in all conditions, but particularly so in England. And these are the masters.
There were moments, the signs of these two playing the hits. Anderson’s dismissal of Shai Hope was vintage, in set-up and in execution. The ball before swung 3.3 degrees, more than any other Hope faced, before the follow up – released from slightly wider on the crease – forced Hope to play right up until the moment where it was obvious he shouldn’t. 1.1 degrees of seam movement was just enough to take the edge. Broad targeted the stumps, with greater vigour and focus than he’s managed in almost every match on home soil. 20% of his deliveries bowled today would have hit or clipped the stumps; only four times in his 151 innings on home soil has he gone at the stumps more. Six of his eight wickets in this series would have smashed the woodwork; never in his Test career has he exceeded that figure. As Brian Lara’s pre-series advice to the young Windies batsmen told – “protect your stumps” – this line of attack can be mightily effective under cloudy British skies.
It’s notable that Lara saw fit to pass on that advice. English conditions can see everyone worried about wafts outside off stump, of bothering the cordon with the outside edge. In reality, stump-to-stump is as effective in Britain as it is anywhere in the world. Broad and Anderson’s commitment to bothering that particular mode of dismissal, tells a pretty clear tale.
This isn’t unusual. Accuracy, and hitting those zones where batsmen quiver with uncertainty, is the speciality of late Branderson. In January, during the third Test against SA, Broad and Anderson pitched 61% of their deliveries on a good line and length, as they took 3-30 between them. It was the highest proportion of balls on a good line and length they’ve ever managed when bowling as much as they did. These are two excellent bowlers who might not be getting quicker, more dangerous, or more dominant, but they are doing what they can to rail against the dying of the light.
The sum of it all is that, looking simply at the balls bowled, in a sort of analytical vacuum immune to even the most casual form of ageism, Broad and Anderson have been the best bowlers in this series.
A running theme of this series has been the tension between England planning to win away, while trying to win at home. The tension between the two. The reason that England haven’t picked their two old guns together in the first two Tests is partly a matter of workload management, but it’s partly a choice to nurture resources, and point them towards overseas tours. Tours where the axis of Anderson and Broad are no longer a part of the plan.
For all the sensible bowling, a little of the madness drips through. As we saw with Stuart Broad’s batting earlier in the day. Two of Stuart Broad’s most attacking Test innings, in terms of attacking shot percentage, have come this year. There are benefits to letting the old guard run with a bit of freedom. Increased freedom with the bat; increased responsibility with the ball.
It’s okay to mourn the loss of these greats, and it’s okay to look forward to the future. Recognising the difference between their methods, their approaches and the effectiveness therein, is okay. There’s future beyond them; but it’s okay to acknowledge the past.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.