The Sunday after the Lord’s Test in 2005, England’s under-19 team played a one-day game against Sri Lanka at New Road. It was a forgettable business except that Chris Broad’s boy, Stuart, was making his debut and the few spectators there were all chatting about it. He would have stood out anyway, since he was so big and had a shock of blond hair, but they were curious to see the son of someone famous play, someone famous who’d seemed to have stopped playing himself only yesterday. They said the boy had only recently taken up bowling, that he had been a batsman at Oakham school. And you could tell. He had the action of someone who had been taught by good coaches rather than learned for himself.
Broad bowled angry, short and fast and brutish, and he took the first three wickets in a burst. You didn’t need to know a lot about the game to guess that he had what it took to get ahead, especially when so many people who did know were saying it too. Andrew Strauss says that the first time he really noticed Broad was just a year later, when he worked over Ronnie Irani on Twenty20 finals day. Another year after that, he was playing for England. He made his debut on a tour of Sri Lanka in 2007, a late replacement for Matthew Hoggard, though not a like-for-like one.
In those days they used to talk about Broad as an enforcer. You could see why. Broad got his first Test wicket with a short ball when he had Chaminda Vaas caught off a glove. And now, 13 years later, he has got his 500th – Kraigg Brathwaite. The two dismissals couldn’t have been much more different from each other. Brathwaite was done lbw with a wicked little delivery that hardly seemed to bounce at all, and hit him halfway up his front pad, flush in front of middle stump.
Broad had seemed to be reaching for the wicket all morning, when he finally got it he held the ball up to the empty stands, a little self-conscious, perhaps, that there was no one there to applaud him except for a handful of journalists, groundstaff, technicians, and his teammates. Anderson was the last of them to get to him. They hugged, then stood with their arms around each other. Brathwaite had been Jimmy Anderson’s 500th wicket too, so even now, in one of the great solo moments of Broad’s career, they were yoked together again.
Broad has seemed keen to put a little distance between them lately, which is understandable given the selectors had put them in a position where they’re competing with each other for a place in the starting XI. He doesn’t want people forgetting that they’re different ages, or thinking that, when Anderson finally retires, he will necessarily follow right behind him. And it must be a strange feeling, playing second fiddle all these years. He would be the greatest, and most prolific fast bowler England have ever had, if it weren’t for the fact that there’s an even greater, and more prolific one, in the very same team.
So, the last few hours of this match were the first time in history there have been two fast bowlers with 500 wickets each playing in the same game. Well, it’s a small club – Courtney Walsh and Glenn McGrath are the only other people in it. It’s entirely possible Broad will overtake them all, including Anderson, by the time he is finished. Add in the three spinners who have taken more than 500 wickets, too, and only Muttiah Muralitharan was younger than Broad when he took his 500th wicket.
Broad has been bowling better than ever, too. His average length is fuller, a half-metre up on where it was four years ago, and he’s threatening the stumps more often. He puts the change down to the work he did on his run-up with Richard Hadlee in 2018, but it must be true, too, that it helps that he has given up white-ball cricket. He played his last T20 at the start of 2017, and his last one-day game later that same summer. In 38 Tests since, he has taken 133 wickets at 26.91, as he moved away from that parsimonious just-back-of-a-length style he had grown so wedded to when England were obsessed with the idea of “bowling dry”.
Which means that right now Broad’s average is the lowest it’s been, and these last hundred wickets have come a lot quicker, and a lot cheaper, than any of the other four bundles of a hundred that came before them. It’s maybe no coincidence that all this has happened as Anderson’s fitness has become more of an issue for him. He’s missed 11 of their past 17 Tests, and Broad has had to lead the bowling unit in his absence. And it’s been clear from watching him in this series that he wants to do it, too, that he still has every last bit of that angry, competitive energy he showed when he was a 19-year-old kid.