Even in their 500th wicket, Stuart Broad and James Anderson, fast-bowling double acts of the deadliest nature, seem to share a sleight of destiny. Their 500th victim was the same batsman: Kraigg Brathwaite, the West Indies opener, whose middle-stump Anderson knocked over three years ago, and whose half-forward pad Broad struck plumb in front of the stumps on Tuesday.
Broad ended the day on 501, which wrapped up the match and Wisden Trophy for England. Between his two wickets of the day, Chris Woakes collected five for himself as the tourists surrendered without a whiff of a fight, resisting England bowlers’ onslaught for barely 31 overs. When their innings ended at 129, it seemed their ordeal was finally over, and the 269-run victory margin was an apt reflection of the superiority England had enjoyed over West Indies in the Manchester leg of the series.
Broad’s 500th, only the fourth fast bowler in this list, had a very familiar feel to it, the method of dismissal bearing all his hallmarks. A quick, low straight ball that scurried onto his Brathwaite’s pads. The build-up, though, has laziness about it, as Broad was struggling with his lengths, often pitching fuller than usual and it seemed he had to wait beyond his first spell. Given the rush that accompanies his wickets, the 21-ball wait seemed an eternity. But Broad has the knack of striking when he’s least expected to. As Brathwaite retreated to the pavilion, Broad held the ball and waved. Just the England balcony and empty stands greeted him back. But he was at least fortunate that his father, Chris, the match referee, was in attendance.
It could not have been more different from his first wicket, taken 13 years ago with a short ball that took Chaminda Vaas’s wrist-band to Ian Bell at slips in Colombo. If the setting and the dismissal looked dissimilar, the teams have changed out of all recognition. No one who played on either side in that match still play Test cricket today. Even Broad has changed almost beyond recognition. From a bang-it-in enforcer, he has matured into a know-it-all veteran, a bowler of the highest echelons, fit to rank with any who has played for England.
Broad himself admits of change. But age has its compensations. He has an expert understanding of his game and the batsmen’s mind, which he blends with a scholarly eye for unseen details that determine a cricket match. At 35, he is playing as well as ever, so relentless in his aggression and so clear in his intentions that he seems to get younger with every spell.
Significantly, he has retained the old drive to take wickets, as well as the energy and stamina, a reason he felt hurt after being left out for the first Test. Whatever the rationale behind that was. He was then on 484 wickets, the sight of the 500th distant and dreamy, like England reclaiming the trophy. But his journey to the 501st could be well the compelling story of the series too. How Broad bounced back from the snub and how England rallied to overcome the setback in Southampton. Both scripts intertwine and overlap. Both are incomplete without each other too.
In the lustre of Broad’s milestone, the sheen of Woakes’s effort should not be lost. Woakes is an understated bowler. Maybe, it’s his lack of frightening pace or artistry of swing. But he reinforced that he’s as smart an exponent of seam bowling as any in the world around. All his wickets, fashioned by impeccable lengths and subtlety of seam-movement, came either side of the lunch interval. He winkled out Shai Hope and Shamarh Brooks before the interval, the latter inside-edged to the keeper while Hope perished to an ungainly heave.
His bizarre stroke symbolised the muddled approach of West Indies, whose response mechanism to this situation was devoid of logic and resolve. With spells of rain often interrupting the match—the match was stopped thrice in the day— and more predicted in the day, it was a matter of hanging around and taking the match as deep as possible. But they self-destructed to their end.
Upon resumption, Woakes picked up three more wickets, all leg-before to deliveries that fractionally seamed in. In between, his unfortunate colleague Dom Bess, who bowled not a single delivery in the match, affected the run out of Roston Chase to leave the tourists in utter shambles. The signs of the resurgence they showed in Southampton seemed a mirage in hindsight. At the same time, the graph of Broad keeps surging.
So what next for Broad? Matching his friend Anderson? Going past Glenn McGrath? Entering the 600 club? So much for the speculation. What we know is that we have some more years to admire a masterful seamer at work, provided his body does not rebel.