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Broad: the heir to Flintoff's throne?

Posted in npower Ashes Series 2009

Stuart Broad

Stuart Broad, armed with the match ball, leaves the field to a deserved standing ovation

The king is gone! Long live the king!

A tad premature, I admit, but Stuart Broad could not have chosen a better time to show us he possesses the credentials to replace Andrew Flintoff as England’s premier all-rounder.

With Flintoff retiring from Test cricket at the end of this, the final Ashes Test, the search is on to find someone who can step into his mighty size 12s.

While that may be an unenviable task, Broad’s sensational performance on the second day at the Brit Oval served as a salient reminder that the gap left by Flintoff might not prove as difficult to fill as many envisaged.

His five-wicket haul - the second in as many Tests - was the pivotal contribution on a day which saw the Ashes swing firmly in England’s favour, regardless of the fact that Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood perished in the evening session.

In the space of 21 balls shortly after lunch, Broad removed Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey and Michael Clarke, ripping the heart out of a much-vaunted Australia top order.

Broad’s 6-91 return in the previous match at Headingley may have flattered him somewhat, and ended up getting buried amid a barrage of criticism of the England team in the wake of their innings defeat.

There can be little doubt over the authenticity of his figures today, though, which were fully deserved and should dominate this evening’s TV bulletins and tomorrow’s newspapers.

After Graeme Swann completed the over which was interrupted by rain before lunch, Broad bowled unchanged for the reminder of the afternoon session, demonstrating immense skill, intelligence and the sort of stamina which marked Flintoff’s finest spells.

Stuart Broad

Broad removes Shane Watson to spark Australia's precipitous slide from 73 without loss to 160 all out

Adrenalin fuelled much of his 12-over burst, which must finally banish the doubts over whether he is capable of match-turning performances. And to do it the deciding Test of an Ashes series...

Broad’s haul took his tally for the series to 17, while Flintoff - admittedly playing on one leg and having missed a game - has managed just eight.

I use that statistic not as criticism of all-rounder number one (that would be tantamount to treason in the current feverish climate); rather to stress that England are more than the one-man side that the tabloids would lead us to believe.

Broad began the day bearing the burden of responsibility for extending England’s first innings, and, though he added just nine to his overnight 27, his contribution helped them to a far from embarrassing 332.

That total appeared positively mammoth as soon as Broad got to work with the ball.

He ended an opening stand of 73 between Simon Katich and Shane Watson when he trapped the latter leg before for 34, and proceeded to tear out the heart of the Australia middle order.

Ponting played on, undone by significant movement back in off the seam. Hussey discovered that Broad can also shape the ball into the left-handers. And Clarke found only a cleverly-positioned short cover as he was lured into a drive.

Stuart Broad

Broad the batsman oversees the addition of 25 runs on the second morning of the decisive final Test

Broad reserved his best for Brad Haddin, angling a delivery in sufficiently to encourage the batsman to play across the line. Late swing left the middle and off stumps pegged back, Haddin looking rather foolish and England fans on their feet in appreciation.

True, the pitch showed signs of wear - numerous deliveries were accompanied by a puff of dust and the bounce was occasionally unpredictable - but Broad’s wickets owed much to a nagging line on or outside off stump, what Geoffrey Boycott would refer to as the ‘corridor of uncertainty’.

Broad, who currently occupies the number eight spot in the order, has made no secret of his desire to move up a place, while admitting that the lack of a Test hundred dilutes his claims.

However, it could be argued that he possesses a greater range of strokes and more reliable technique than Flintoff, even at this early stage in his career.

He demonstrated during the second innings at Headingley that he has the capacity to frighten opposition bowling attacks - a valuable asset for any batsman, but particularly one in the middle order.

It is often said that Flintoff’s statistics do not reflect his value to the side, and the same principle could reasonably be applied to Broad, who averaged 30 with the bat and 37 with the ball before this game.

His performance here will ensure those figures continue to converge, and it is surely a matter of when rather than if he will become the best all-rounder in England.

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