You know when you run a bath and get the water at just the right temperature?
Or when you get the milk-to-cereal ratio bang on?
Or when you put a USB cable in the right way up even when it was a total guess?
You know those things? You know that weirdly satisfying feeling you get? When it’s smooth and effortless, simple and clean. It all just somehow fits into place.
At Chester-le-Street on Day 2, Stuart Broad just clicked.
It’s happened before. The Oval against Australia in 2009. Trent Bridge against India in 2011. Lord’s against New Zealand in 2013.
Chester-le-Street against Australia in 2013 won’t be remembered in the same breath, unless he takes a handful of impressive wickets tomorrow. But it was a performance that displayed the same irresistible hallmarks of Broad at his best.
When Broad clicks, everything seems right about his bowling. He runs into the crease with a bouncy spring, his head bobbing with the rhythm of his approach like a Churchill Dog on steroids.
His delivery stride is smooth and coherent. His gangly legs and arms, often sprawled out like an ant under a young boy's microscope, suddenly move together in perfect harmony—as if he’s a puppet on the strings of a particularly kind sporting god.
There’s a beautiful fluidity to it. His coil and hang time are part of a motion rather than a forced process. His landing feet kiss the surface of the crease and his spikes gain just enough traction on the dry turf, before his back hip and leg whip round as he rotates through his action. The ball snaps out of the end of his fingers.
He’s rarely bowled better than he did on Day 2 at Chester-le-Street but has often done so with more luck. His first seven over spell brought him three wickets, and his second—equally good—brought him none. On another day, he could have had five.
The ball hit the pitch like a firecracker. Exploding off a length, jagging off the seam and whipping through to the keeper with effortless ease.
Only Chris Rogers and Shane Watson had both the patience and conviction to survive Broad’s questioning and probing spells. The rest were left hopping around their creases like men on hot coals. Broad’s fuller-than-usual length, delivered from a great height, clearly caused angst as to whether the batsmen should go back or forward.
David Warner and Usman Khawaja both prodded tamely outside their off stump like an old woman poking a wasps nest with her umbrella, and both got edges behind. Michael Clarke couldn’t resist his attacking instincts and flashed hard at a tempting wide ball.
The Chester-le-Street pitch is just about perfect for Broad. It encourages bowlers to pitch the ball up— something he has been infuriatingly reluctant to do in the past. And the ball not swinging has rendered movement of the pitch the main threat.
Broad’s high, correct action and steady wrist keep the seam bolt upright and propel the ball at pace— attributes tailor made for this pitch.
Broad admitted at the close of play that once the shine wore off the ball and it got softer, taking wickets became more difficult. The pitch thus far has been very two-natured depending on the weather and state of the ball, and that was no different on Day 2. His third and fourth spells, although the latter picked up a wicket, were notably less threatening than his earlier bursts.
He should really bowl this well more often, and it’s difficult to pinpoint a reason why he doesn’t or can't. He has all the attributes of a fast bowler that lend to bowling these kind of spells with clinical regularity, and why he can’t do so is a difficult question to answer. And if he were to do so, the greatness with which he is often associated would become a far more realistic possibility.
However, there’s a certain beauty to the mercuriality and volatility of these performances, and when it does happen—when everything works—it's a wonderfully fulfilling sight to behold.
In fact, do you know that thing when you put the back cover of a mobile phone on and it makes a satisfying click? Yeah? Well, that was Broad on Day 2.