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Ashes 2015: England revel in Stuart Broad's finest hour

Stuart Broad's remarkable eight for 15 on the first morning of the fourth Ashes Test put England within touching distance of recapturing the Ashes, and with it, he enjoyed his greatest moment in the spotlight.

Broad earned his career-best figures of 8 for 15

“Pretty unbelievable,” said the cricketer who single-handedly left a nation in awe within the space of two hours. As England rocked up in Nottingham for the fourth Ashes Test, Stuart Broad making headlines was always to be expected – he needed just one wicket to join the 300 club. What was to unfold, however, not even the man himself could have predicted.

This is a series which has delivered one-sided beatings on-demand, but nothing previous was even remotely as jaw-dropping as Broad’s fantastic bowling spell at Trent Bridge on Thursday morning. It was a performance for the ages and one that put England within a whisker of winning back the urn they lost so tamely 18 months ago, helped in part by a magnificent unbeaten Joe Root century. And they were supposed to miss James Anderson.

Broad’s eight wickets for 15 runs sent both records and Australia tumbling – the latter for just 60. It was the quintessentially perfect day for a bowler running in on his home turf. His first five wickets came in 37 balls – the quickest five-for ever recorded – and only Jim Laker has taken more wickets in an innings for England. Australia’s 111-ball shocker was also the quickest complete first innings in Test history while eight for 15 is the third-most economical eight-for ever.

From baby-faced youngster to bullish fighter

Sticking with eights, it is now nearly eight years since a baby-faced Broad had his darkest hour as Yuvraj Singh pummelled the then 21-year-old for six sixes in an over at the 2007 World Twenty20. But less than a decade on, the inexperienced kid who stood in the shadow of his father Chris has matured into one of the world’s most fearsome fast bowlers and now, into the meat of his career, he has the chance to cement his legacy as one of the great England bowlers.

The shock of losing Anderson for this Test match spoke volumes of how the two are thought of. Anderson’s longevity makes him England’s most revered bowler, which is no surprise considering his 413 scalps put him at the top of their wicket-taking tree. But at four years his junior, Broad is accruing similar numbers and, by the time both have hung up their bowling shoes, Anderson’s benchmarks will likely have been surpassed.

Their general bowling statistics are eerily alike. Ahead of this Test both picked up a wicket with every 58th delivery and their averages were in the mid-29s. It suggests that while Broad may be more volatile than Anderson, they are ultimately equally effective. However, it is that volatility which makes Broad extremely dangerous. 

England has never been too keen on mercurial players, but in Broad, they have one who fits that description better than most. He can often be listless in a match and pose no threat, but when inspired he proves to all he is worth his weight in gold. Some of England’s most dramatic triumphs over recent years were the result of one of his white-hot spells.

Broad has nine six-wicket hauls or better in his Test career, putting him above Dale Steyn, Wasim Akram, Courtney Walsh and every other legendary West Indian fast bowler for that matter. When mentioned with such company Broad’s name sounds out of place, but the statistics show he is just as capable of destroying batting lineups.

And his batting and competitiveness shouldn’t be forgotten either

A mention for his batting is appropriate too, although he has significantly slumped since suffering a broken nose at Old Trafford last summer after being hit by a Varun Aaron delivery. Before that, however, he was arguably developing into a proper all-rounder – a more than handy number eight at least. With a highest Test score of 169, ten Test fifties and a share of the highest eighth-wicket partnership in Tests with Jonathan Trott, Broad’s stats with the bat are unbecoming of somebody who may become England’s most decorated Test bowler.

His all-round contributions are no shock when looking at Broad’s persona. His hardened competitiveness and steely resolve was demonstrated no better than by when he didn’t do something, rather than when he did. The issue of walking will eternally be debated, but it tells a lot about character.

Take spirit of the game – it’s a flimsy moral stance anyway – out of the equation, by not walking one exudes a “win at all costs” attitude, an approach which leaves no doubt as to whether one is prepared to eke every single advantage out of a match. Broad did not walk on 38 against Australia at Trent Bridge two years ago; he went on to score 65 and England won the match by 14 runs. There is no such thing in sport as a moral victory, and Broad understands this totally.  

Stuart Broad will never have a better day than he did on Thursday - it will be the crown jewel in his career. However, many more brilliant days are sure to follow. He is England’s most destructive bowler of his generation, despite his fluctuating form. And at the age of 29, he has plenty of opposition to torment yet.

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