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  • England in India 2012-13

'Promising' Broad at a crossroads

George Dobell
November 21, 2012
Despite his poor run of form, being appointed Twenty20 captain and recently Test vice-captain suggests England believe in Stuart Broad © Getty Images
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Which seam bowler has taken the most Test wickets in world cricket this calendar year? And which seam bowler has the best match figures in a Test this year? Who was England's man of the series the last time they played India and who claimed the best innings and match figures of their Test career only a few months ago?

The answer to all these questions is Stuart Broad. Not only that, but Broad has a Test century and nine Test half-centuries to his name and his batting once moved Geoffrey Boycott to say: "There's a bit of Sobers in him."

So it might be somewhat surprising that some, including former England captain Sir Ian Botham, are calling for Broad to be dropped. But, after a disappointing performance in the first Test at Ahmedabad, there appear to be a growing number feeling that Broad has become just a little complacent in the England team and could do with a wake-up call. Such a reminder was administered by Twitter users, in response to whom Broad launched a rebuttal.

Broad was out-bowled by both Indian seamers, Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadev, in Ahmedabad. He looked to have lost some pace and, as a consequence, lacked the potency to strike on pitches offering little. But most concerning was the impression that Ahmedabad was not a one-off poor game. Broad also struggled against South Africa, finishing the series with a bowling average of 39.72 and, despite showing rich promise with the bat when scoring 169 against Pakistan at Lord's in 2010, he has made only one half-century this year. Since June, his bowling average is 48.54 and his batting average is 14.

But the picture with Broad is far from black and white. While his recent form may be disappointing, his overall record is still good. And, aged 26, he should still have his best years in front of him. It is worth remembering, too, that until the South Africa series, Broad looked to be developing well. A hat-trick against India at Nottingham in 2011 had inspired the best form of his career. He bowled beautifully in the UAE.

Part of Broad's problem is that he promised so much. Fast-tracked into England's limited-overs team after just six List A appearances, Broad has been playing for England since he was 20-years-old. He was elevated to the Twenty20 captaincy in 2011 and, at the start of this tour, was named as vice-captain of the Test squad. There are those who believe promotion came too easy for Broad. There are those who think reward preceded achievement. That he has never known the motivating power of being excluded. That a period out of the team would provide just the impetus he requires.

It is true that such a tactic has worked in the past. Matt Prior and Andrew Strauss were both dropped and used the pain of omission to drive them to make improvements in their game. The same could be said for former greats such as Graham Gooch and David Gower.

But there is equal evidence to suggest that continuity of selection brings rewards. Towards the end of the 2010 England season, Alastair Cook looked out of form and confidence and was struggling to justify his retention. The selectors maintained faith and Cook repaid them with a prolific Ashes series. He has hardly looked back.

Injury to Steven Finn, who is set to continue his rehabilitation by playing for the Performance Programme side next week, may well mean a reprieve for Broad in Mumbai. But, even if Finn had been fit, England would be loathe to drop Broad. It is not just that they have a naturally conservative selection policy and a new captain who, understandably, may be keen to avoid souring the relationship with his right-hand man; it is that England believe in Broad.

He was, after all, the man that produced the key burst at The Oval to clinch the Ashes in 2009 and produced the series-defining spell against India at Trent Bridge in 2011. Nor are there many obviously better cricketers than him in the county game: between 2009 and 2011, Broad played only six Championship matches, but claimed four five-wicket hauls, taking 37 wickets at 21.32. Broad's talent is not questioned, but England are not currently maximising it.

It is possible the pitch in Mumbai may suit him a little more. But, while its reputation suggests it will offer a little more bounce, it has been used previously, at the start of November, for a Ranji Trophy match in which Sachin Tendulkar scored a century. All the signs suggest the spinners will be to the forefront once again.

In time, we may come to see Broad as a victim of England's schedule. It may be that he and his fellow seamers are simply weary. Broad, in particular, plays all three formats of the game and, though he has been rested and missed games through injury, has appeared jaded in recent times. All the games and, just as importantly, all the training, may be taking their toll. International cricket is becoming a squad game and fast bowlers, especially, may require rotation.

Either way, Broad is now at a crossroads. He still has time to fulfil his potential but should be aware of other prodigiously talented allrounders - the likes of Chris Lewis - who remained promising for their entire careers. It is hard to escape the conclusion that time is running out.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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