There’s a Test match going on. West Indies are going to win that Test match, and with it the series having thoroughly outplayed England pretty much throughout both matches thus far.
But none of that matters. Today was all about one man. This wasn’t about West Indies or England or such trifling matters as results.
Today was about Stuart Broad. All of it. All of him. At some point we’re going to have to write about him in our Cricketers We Like series and we’re terrified, because there is just no way we’ll be able to do the great man justice. He is a comedy cricket force of nature.
His first spell returned figures of 5-2-12-0, which tells you quite literally nothing about what happened. Boffins could spend from now until the end of the world trying to work out how John Campbell survived that spell and get nowhere near solving the mystery. And not just because the end of the world feels like it’s only about six weeks away.
Broad was simply magnificent, each over better and angrier than the last as Campbell somehow resisted. He was given out caught off his forearm, overturned on review, he was dropped at slip by Jos Buttler, a chance that, like all the other great many dropped Buttler catches was followed by the commentators telling us how Buttler is normally a good catcher. In a perverse way, his constant drops have only reinforced the myth that he is a good catcher, so often are we told how he is normally such a good catcher.
Buttler is often described as having a safe pair of hands but since the start of last year he has the worst catch success percentage of any England fielder with 10+ catches. #WIvENG pic.twitter.com/ytAlcmYP1K
— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) February 1, 2019
The ball after that drop roared past the outside edge. Broad, red-faced with the injustice of it all, simply howled “F*CK OFF!” into the void. It was not the first or last f-bomb dropped by England’s seamers as chances went down and edges went for four with such frequency you would have sworn blind that Brad Haddin himself was playing.
A top-edged pull landed precisely in the space between Jonny Bairstow running from behind the stumps and Moeen Ali running in from the boundary. Broad had his head in his hands in a variation on his classic Broadface from Trent Bridge what seems a lifetime ago.
Broad’s old partner-in-grump James Anderson briefly got in on the act, raging at the injustice when Shimron Hetmyer was dropped at cover before hoofing the ball high into the Antigua sky when expertly catching the left-hander himself moments later.
But it was Broad’s day. He even managed to provoke one of Jimmy’s sweary tirades himself. Having fielded the ball during Anderson’s angriest spell of the day, Broad then faked to throw at the stumps before actually throwing the ball past them and away for four overthrows.
Anderson, of course, saw the funny side and took it for the light-hearted bit of whimsy that it was. Ahem. Had it been one of the batsmen, Anderson may well have actually exploded. Instead he returned to his mark chuntering darkly while Broad was left to consider that he had scored more Test runs with that throw than in eight of his last 12 innings.
But silliness in the field was really only a small part of this Broad masterclass. He spent the whole day looking like one of those spells was permanently just around the corner on a pitch every bit as mischievous as it had been on day one.
Having sent ball after ball after ball past assorted outside edges, Broad finally managed to both find the edge and a willing accomplice in the field as Bairstow – still filling in for the injured Ben Foakes – took a low catch to dismiss Shai Hope.
The next ball found the edge again, but flew into a gap where third slip would’ve been were four runs through the gap not an intrinsically funnier outcome. More swears.
Then the coup de grace. The very next ball, on a pitch where Joe Root almost had his face ripped clean off when playing forward, saw Roston Chase play back. The ball hit his off stump less than halfway up. Chase got right into the spirit, ultimately attempting to play the ball while on his knees.
Was this the start? Was this to be a Broad special? Sadly, not quite.
While you’d be hard pushed to say he bowled any better in taking his 8/15 against Australia, this time the due rewards were not to be his.
Not until the second new ball was taken would he claim a third wicket. And even then not before Buttler – normally such a good catcher – had shelled another straightforward chance.
Barbados centurion Shane Dowrich was the latest player to get one with his name on it, the ball rising sharply from a length to strike the shoulder of the bat and loop gently to Buttler. He couldn’t drop this one, although it would have been good fun to see what would have happened if he had.
West Indies’ batting was enormously brave, both physically and tactically on a pitch so difficult. Campbell, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Darren Bravo, Dowrich and Jason Holder all got stuck right in. All rode their luck at times – this pitch offers little choice on that score – but all were resolute in their determination not to throw it away. Chase could hardly be blamed for his failure to join them.
Only Shimron Hetmyer could be said to have given it away, but even then his approach represented a reasonable gamble given his own ability and the match situation. With everyone else prepared to dig in, West Indies could afford one player to go for broke.
Slowly but surely, West Indies have manoeuvred themselves into a position from which series-clinching victory looks inevitable. It was a stoic effort, and a true team effort. While no one player reached 50, five made it to 30. In normal conditions this would be a criticism; here, the highest praise. They eked out 242 runs and somehow lost only six wickets. At 272/6 they lead by 85. That advantage is probably worth double its normal value.
But this was a day about Broad. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. He took three wickets, could have taken eight, and spent at least 75% of the day steaming at the sheer injustice of it all.
England will lose this game and with it the series, and they will deserve to. But, we must hope, they will also have learned never to leave Broad out ever again.
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