Morning all. This morning I took part in a meditation labyrinth. The idea is that you walk, eyes closed, around a maze using your feet for direction by detecting changes in the surface. A shaman, dressed in Aztec feathers and war paint, guides you with wooden whistles, incense and tantric chants. Just as in life, you overcome obstacles in your path but, if you stay true to your mission, you will reach your destination eventually. That is what he told us.
My experience, however, was slightly different. I spent most of the hour wandering around in circles stubbing my toes, crashing into other members of the group and getting nowhere near the end of the maze. I gradually became more and more frustrated as the fruitless exercise wore on. My search for inner peace, it would seem, is not yet over.
One thing that did give me a sense of calm this week, however, was England’s victory over the West Indies in the second test at Old Trafford. In a match heavily affected by rain – the entire third day was wiped out – Joe Root’s men secured a hard-fought 113-run win in the final hour of play. While Ben Stokes did his usual superman impersonation and Dom Sibley contributed with a vital century in the first innings, it was the contribution of Stuart Broad that most caught my eye. After being inexplicably and incorrectly dropped for the first test last week, the Nottinghamhamian (yes, I checked, that’s a word) showed the selectors just how destructive and influential he can be.
In the first innings, after piling on a mighty but slow 469-9 with the bat, England were struggling to put the West Indies under pressure. With the score poised at a very nonthreatening 242-4, Broad came on and ripped through the West Indies middle order by taking three wickets for one run. The tourists eventually fell to 287 all-out and faced a tough task from there on out to save the game. After toiling for most of the day on a flat pitch, England’s 34 year-old talisman once again came up with the goods and completely changed the game in the space of about 10 minutes.
It was a similar story in the second innings. On the final morning, the West Indies walked out to bat with 10 wickets in hand. The pitch was still fairly dormant and there was less than a full day left in the match. Without the pace and bounce of Jofra Archer, nor the unerring accuracy of Jimmy Anderson, the West Indies batsmen must have been fairly confident about being able to force the draw that would have ensured they retain the Wisden Trophy.
Up steps Broad again. Entrusted with the new ball, he knew his first spell would be vital. He duly removed Campbell, Hope and Chase which, with the help of Woakes’ dismissal of Brathwaite, left the West Indies reeling at 37-4 after less than 15 overs. From there, the tourists fought admirably and did brilliantly to last as long as they did. But the damage had been done. Broad, who spoke publicly of his anger and frustration after being left out of the first game, proved that his competitive spirit and technical skill remains in tact after 13 years and 139 test matches at the top of the game.
Of course, the selectors know all about Broad’s unique ability to produce match-winning spells. He has twice taken seven wickets in a test match innings, at Lord’s against the West Indies and New Zealand in 2012 and 2013 respectively. And then of course there was the incredible 8-15 against Australia at Trent Bridge, which basically regained the Ashes by lunch on the first day of the crucial fourth match. He may not have the same metronomic precision as his partner in crime and BFF Anderson, but his ability to produce unplayable spells is invaluable to this England team.
So who should England pick in their pace attack for the final test, which starts on Friday? It has to be Archer, Broad and Anderson. That will offer Root a balance of pace, bounce, accuracy, consistency and – in Broad – a healthy dose of magic. It could be argued that it is a weak tail from a batting perspective, but if England want to win the match – and they must to regain the trophy – then they need to take 20 wickets. They need their best bowlers on the field to give them as many chances to do that. And age should not come into the selection process. The Broad-Anderson pivot might have a combined age of 71, but the veteran pair also has a combined wicket count of 1,078 and probably represent the most devastating pace bowling combination in world cricket today. Woakes and Curran might feel a little unlucky to be left out after both contributing to the second test win, but I’m just not convinced either of them fit into England’s best XI right now.
Right, I’m going to leave it there for today. Its extremely hot here and there is a crisp fresh-water pool staring at me. So I’m going to jump in. See you all on Friday.