England clinch series but West Indies win hearts in trying circumstances

England clinch series but West Indies win hearts in trying circumstances

In the end it was England all the way as the home team won the third Test against West Indies by 269 runs, wrapping up an unlikely come from behind series win. After losing the first Test England bounced back strongly, winning the second Test convincingly and clinching the third to take the series 2-1.

Equally unreal was the performance of the architect of the win, the Man of the Series, Stuart Broad. The fast bowler was dropped from the playing eleven for the first Test, something that enraged him so much he launched a broadside against England in an interview during the first Test.

But, Broad, who become only the seventh bowler to take 500 Test wickets, had put the disappointment of the omission behind him and was hoping to use this milestone as a springboard to bigger things.

Broad ready for long haul

At 34, Broad is much closer to the end than the beginning, as a fast bowler, but he feels strong and is ready to keep going for the foreseeable future. “You always hear ex-sportsmen saying they knew when it was time to go. They say that lost that feeling,” said Broad. “Well, I’ve still got it in abundance. A couple of weeks ago I was in a bit of a thinking place. I couldn’t leave a cricket ground where I’d been left out. I thought ‘where am I going here?’ But I’m glad I stayed strong because I’m very happy two weeks later.”

Broad insisted that he was bowling as well as he ever had. “I feel I’m bowling as well as I ever have. I’ve done some technical work and changed my run-up in the last 18 months. I’m challenging the stumps and trying to make the batsmen play as much as possible. That’s a tactical thing that’s really taken me to a really exciting level,” explained Broad. “I felt like my alignment to the stumps was really good in this game. I had a bit of confidence and match practice from the second Test so my tempo and alignment felt like every time I released the ball I could bring off stump into play.

“That’s my go-to: I want to make the batsman play. I don’t like to get left too often. When you come on a pitch with a little bit of wear that’s keeping low, that’s sort of my dream pitch. Most fast bowlers like it flying through, catching the edge and going to slip at chest height but if I can bring the stumps into play, it really suits my style.”

Anderson sets the standards for Broad

While Broad’s arrival in the 500-wicket club was great news for the tall England bowler, it meant that one of the most successful pairs in history just stretched their dominance. James Anderson, who is 38 but still in excellent fitness and physical condition, was the last fast bowler to get to 500 Test scalps.

Broad was quick to lavish praise on the senior pro, his hunting partner. “Jimmy is my idol on that,” Broad said. “He turns 38 during this break we have now. He’s someone I have watched very closely and has been a great friend of mine for many years. Also, the way he has maintained himself and kept upskilling himself to be able to not just compete but get better at this level. You look at both of our records over the last few years, we are actually improving. Compare my last 18 months to my career record, it’s way better. It’s a great sign.

“It is easy to get to 34 and start thinking ‘I’ll do what I have done for the last 13 years and be okay’. But I’m looking for the next step that will improve me as a cricketer. That keeps you moving forward as a cricketer.

“If you’d asked me four years ago, ‘at 34 do you think you could play another three or four years?’ I’d have said absolutely not. Now I’m 34 and I feel fit. Post-lockdown my fitness testing was the best it’s ever been. I feel excited.

No numbers in mind, but long way to go for Broad

Broad is not resting on the high of reaching 500 wickets, looking to extend his successful run as an England bowler as much as possible, contributing to future team victories.

“I’m not someone who sets targets. I never said I really want to get to 500 wickets or 600 wickets. But at the moment I feel fresh, I feel fit. I’m bowling how I want to be bowling. If I keep bowling the way I am for the next few years then I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

Broad did not put down his height, pace or the bouncy he elicited as the reasons for his success.

“My defining quality? I never give up,” said Broad. “It probably comes from my Mum. I feel like we can win from any situation. The most recent time when that came through was in Cape Town at tea. I can’t remember how many wickets we needed but we were slogging away for a long period of time.

I knew deep down that if we kept applying pressure, South Africa would crack. That’s the mindset which helped us win that Test match.

“I’ve never shied away from intimidating moments. I really enjoy moments when the game need changing. I want to be the person to do it. I want to be the person to get thrown the ball or go into bat when we need to change the momentum of the game.”

At the same time, Broad conceded that there may not be too many players in future who can pick up 500 Test wickets, simply because of a reducing volume of Test cricket being played. Australia’s Nathan Lyon, with 390 wickers, is next likely candidate, but the closest seamer is Ishant Sharma, who is still short on 300 wickets.

“You need a lot of Test matches to get 500 wickets,” Broad said. “I think there’ll be people who have the talent to get the numbers, but whether a seamer will be able to play the amount of Test cricket to get that feat remains to be seen. There is a lot of competition out there between different T20 leagues franchises. There’s talk of thinning the amount of Tests down. I feel very lucky to have played for England in an era where we’ve played a lot of Test cricket.”

Holder calls for return England series

Jason Holder, the West Indies captain who has come in for so much praise for the leadership he was shown in these times of the global pandemic, has called for England to return the favour by touring the Caribbean soon.

Holder has warned that cricket needed to take a close look at its affairs in order for the game to thrive around the world.

“If something doesn’t happen soon, we’ll see less international cricket being played by smaller countries because we simply can’t afford it,” Holder said after the England series. “We’ve gone from having four, five-match series, down to two and three. And it’s very difficult to host any more than that for us, particularly the Caribbean. So yeah, it is a serious dilemma that we’re faced with. I think the relevant personnel really need to sit down and have a look at it.”

“We only really make money from England, and I think India,” Holder said, relating conversations with Johnny Grave, the CWI chief executive. “We break even with Pakistan and Australia, and all the rest of the series we play are losses. But in these trying times only England, Australia and India can probably host cricket. Outside of that, the smaller territories are struggling financially to get cricket on.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen after this series in terms of the international calendar, but if there’s an opportunity for England to come over to the Caribbean before the end of the year, I’m sure that would help significantly for Cricket West Indies’ financial records.

“It’s been a tough couple of years in West Indies cricket financially,” Holder added. “We’ve pretty much had to take a pay cut, so if it’s possible to host a tour before the end of 2020, it would probably keep us afloat as an organisation.”

Changed conditions force players to bond

With the West Indies team being bunkered down for a month ahead of the first Test, having to go through a quarantine phase before they could play, there was a chance for some of the players to get to know each other better. This was something that Holder relished.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience,” said Holder. “It’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to mingle with, more or less, the A-team players, because I haven’t played much first-class cricket in the last couple of years. It just shows you that we need more of these environments in West Indies cricket. I’m not sure right now if Cricket West Indies could afford to have an academy, or something similar to Loughborough here in England, but that is definitely something that would help Cricket West Indies.

“But the beauty of having 25 players on tour is that we had pretty intense sessions,” Holder said. “Intensity was definitely at a height in practice, and the guys had the opportunity come over here and learn.

“We need more of these programmes in the Caribbean, but again, it all boils down to finance. We are having a massive difficulty in trying to fund our cricket, from every single age group level to Under-18 programmes and development programmes and we pretty much only gain from hosting England.”

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