Stuart Broad has two Test match hat-tricks.
The first of them came against India in 2011 and, barring an obvious edge from Harbhajan Singh for the second wicket in the sequence, it was as legitimate as they come. Proper full-head-of-steam stuff, legs pumping like pistons on a locomotive powering this slender blonde through the station, never mind to it. An unstoppable force.
The second, in 2014, was almost comedic. On paper, it was actually quite a start to a Sri Lankan trio: Kumar Sangakkara – the King – and Dinesh Chandimal – the Prince – picked up in successive balls at the end of the over. However, by the time Broad’s next over had come around he, and to be fair a few others, had forgotten that he was on a hat-trick. Fittingly, the jester – Shaminda Eranga – was the third. On Sunday, there was a chance to become the first man to do it thrice.
It felt quite fitting Broad was on the cusp of it, marching on the spot while Ravichandran Ashwin prepared to face up. To set it up, first, Virat Kohli, his lower back in bits presumably from carrying this India side, offered Ollie Pope a tough catch at short leg off the glove. Next up, a full ball arching into the right-handed Dinesh Karthik trapped him in front and highlighted the folly of taking a big stride when you’re not a big bloke. Now, Broad scraped the ground beneath his feet at the unfamiliar Pavilion End.
Even before going two in two it felt we were in the midst of one of *those* Broad spells, where landmark batting cards are turned to ruins. Think his trifecta of Ashes-winning home spells in 2009, 2013 and 2015. That kind of potency, pace and movement. When the crowd noise goes up a notch with each pace into the wicket for every ball, like the escalating chord of “My Sharona”, getting louder and louder every once-around, appeal and subsequent dismissal. Broad felt it, too, going up to Root in his second over and telling his skipper he had it all going on. Root didn’t need telling.
At the end of the second over of his second spell, after tying Ajinkya Rahane in knots, Broad pretended to offer something to hit when there was anything but. Rahane bit and Keaton Jennings took a sharp catch to his left at third slip. It was the fifth time in Tests that Rahane has fallen to Broad across 176 balls that have only given the batsman 54 runs. Before he goes to bed tonight, there’s every chance he’ll check under his bed to make sure Broad’s not there too.
In the 27th over, Broad pulled his length back ever so slightly but enough for Cheteshwar Pujara to believe the back foot offered him sanctuary. The punchline was inevitable and yet no one – least of all Pujara – saw it coming. With Broad’s fullest and most inswing-y delivery, Pujara’s off stump was given a seeing to. Fast forward 12 deliveries and here we are: Broad with what he reckons is the hat-trick ball in the right mitt. Ashwin tall, languid and twitchy at the business end. There is a moment’s pause, which seems fleeting but is enough for the crowd to restart their hyping whoops. Number three was on its way, Lord’s believed.
Though four years Anderson’s junior, there has been a movement gathering in some quarters to push Broad into retirement, like he is some seeing-eye-dog that has developed an unhelpful knack of dragging its owner into oncoming traffic. Last year was his worse for a while in Test cricket, with no five-wicket haul and an average of 36.06. Even Australia went easy on him as he lacked the bite of his previous trip downunder, nabbing only 11 scalps in eight innings. It was not sympathy, they simply weren’t worried about him.
When Michael Vaughan suggested he get the flick for the Headingley Test against Pakistan, Broad responded with three for 38 on the opening day to not only take out the tourists top-order but also allow him a right of reply via the post-match press conference, which he took with both hands. His three in the second innings sealed the match along with a 1-1 scoreline.
Just last week, after Sam Curran’s maiden Test half-century, many were willing Root to take the new rock out of Broad’s hands and give it to the 20-year-old. Funnily enough, Root stuck with the bowler with over 400 wickets. An opening burst to remove openers Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan in his first four overs. He deserved more, too.
Indeed it seems as the 32-year-old enters the final stanza of his career that, more than ever, he draws on criticism to drive him, much like the way Superman relies on the Earth’s sun for his super strength. Broad feeds off the trolls. Case in point: so far in 2018, he has bowled at an average speed of 84.3mph which is faster than he has done in the past seven years. Something has changed in that time and it’s certainly not just the crisp haircut.
The field is changed for the hat-trick ball, four slips moved closer together and set a little further back anticipating a bit of extra bit of hot sauce splashed on this delivery. There’s a catching cover, which is probably fair as nervy batsmen push forward desperate to keep out the straight one. There’s also a short-midwicket – Pope’s hands hungry for another after snaring Kohli. Again, all fair. But theres also a catching midwicket just over his left shoulder. And around the corner, not only is there a leg slip but a leg gully.
“When someone is in that frame of mind, in that zone,” started Root, “it doesn’t really matter where you put the fielders.”
It was a field that perfectly encapsulated what Broad is about. Cast your minds back to the first day’s play, when Anderson, in the midst of his five for 20, had five slips, a gully and an open cover. As traditional as meat and two veg.
The brilliance of Anderson knows no bounds – nine for 43 in the match have now taken him to 553 all told – but there is a sense of predictability to his majesty. For Broad, there’s an inherent sense of sheer, uncontrollable havoc. If Anderson was a house party, you’d decant the red wine. If it were Broad, you’d line the walls with plastic sheets, board up the windows and hide the knives.
By the time Broad arrived to the crease, the crowd were already rising to their feet: preparing to celebrate that edge behind, that dive at short leg, that bunt to cover, that flick around the corner to leg slip or gully, that rattle of timber. Instead, Broad hooped his inswinger sharply but innocuously down the leg side for four byes. One delivery later, it’s the end of the over and, due to the rains that followed swiftly, an early tea. He walks off, peeved, with Pavilion End figures of seven overs, four maidens, four for seven.
“Oh I was just so disappointed with that hat-trick ball,” moaned Broad in an interview on Sky Sports after England had wrapped up a staggeringly easy innings and 159-run win. “It was soooooo bad! I started it too straight. That sort of ball, when it’s hooping, needs to start on that fifth stump line.”
When play resumed after the delay, the moment had passed. Broad couldn’t crank back up to 11, even though there were a few deliveries that jagged and stung the fingers of Ashwin or made mugs of other mere mortals. Though there was a degree of unfulfilled promise, of Broad’s third three-bag spurned and a Broaddozer session interrupted, Root hit the nail on the head in his post-match briefing when waxing lyrical about his Nottinghamshire star.
“The really pleasing thing throughout this series is we’re not relying on one individual. Every guy within that attack has put in crucial performances throughout the two games.”
Though the elder statesmen Anderson and Broad did the brunt of the work, Chris Woakes nabbed Kohli in the first innings and two more in the second. Curran, after collecting the first three in the first innings of the first Test, made do with one here but kept things tight. It ensured there was less pressure on Anderson’s right shoulder and, crucially, meant Broad did not have to do the controlling work, which he is loathe to do at the best of times.
A balanced attack will enhance Anderson’s longevity. It could also ensure that we have not seen the last of those demonic Broad shifts. That next cluster and, heck, that third record-busting hat trick may come yet. Knowing Broad, probably when the Ashes is on the line a year from now.
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