OPINION | Broad's Test omission will cost Archer his trump card
Ed Smith has left out Stuart Broad for the opening test match of the summer against the West Indies. It's the first time since 2012 that he misses a five-day game at home and signals the end may be nigh for the Anderson-Broad new-ball axis.
With a wealth of bowling talent to chose from, Smith and co. were not in an enviable position. Leaving out any one of Anderson, Broad, Archer or Wood was always going to draw the ire of some. However, opting to omit Broad appears to make the least sense of any of the possible combinations at the selectors' disposal. No doubt the decision-making process was painstaking, but I can't help but wonder whether Smith and his cronies have overlooked Broad's recent home performances, having fallen instead for the most seductive of bowling attributes: speed.
They would not be the first to succumb to speed's primal appeal. Such was Duncan Fletcher's fixation with it, he managed to cajole a young Jimmy Anderson to forsake trying to swing the ball, in order to extract an extra five miles-an-hour out of him.
The game's loyal followers are equally obsessed. Scroll through the cricket twittersphere or Robelinda2's back catalogue and before long you'll find yourself confronted with numerous videos fetishising nasty-fasties bowling express pace. The sheer volume of toe-crushing content out there makes cricket fans' absolute lust for speed abundantly clear. Speed is sexy, speed exhilarates like no seaming, swinging or spinning delivery can. It's also one of the game's rarest commodities, serving only to heighten its allure.
Both Archer and Wood share such a commodity as their primary strength. Make no mistake, both are highly skilled bowlers blessed with a variety of tricks, but they're at their most potent when pushing the speedometer red. Although that may sound rather banal - of course they're at their most dangerous when hitting top speed - bowling flat-out doesn't suit everyone; Fletcher's recasting of Anderson as a tearaway certainly didn't get the best out of him.
But in the case of Wood and Archer, speed is king, and any England selector, coach or captain would be wise to ensure that both men are enabled to bowl at full tilt. They need to be handled with care and caution, given short bursts with ample recovery time in-between.
The selection of the pair of them for the first test is therefore a curious decision, given that one of them, almost certainly Archer, will not be afforded the luxury of long rests and three-over spells. As Anderson's second in command, he will not have lengthy periods in which to conserve his energy. His workload will be heavier, detrimentally impacting his ability to perform at his ferocious best.
In short, by asking Archer to bowl more frequently and for longer, you blunt the attribute for which he is most feared. At 85 rather than 90 or 91mph, Archer is still a threatening attacking option, but at that pace he isn't superior to England's second-highest wicket-taker.
In recent years the case for dropping Broad was reasonable if not strong; his nip, as well as his away-swinger to right-handers, had deserted him. Indeed, in 2017 he averaged a decidedly mediocre 36.06, at a strike rate of 78.
However, the Nottinghamshire seamer has since regained his mojo. The 2019 Ashes were an unequivocal triumph for Broad as he took 23 wickets in the series at 26.65, dismissing David Warner a hilarious seven times. After which he battled admirably against New Zealand in the most unhelpful of conditions, before being England's leading wicket-taker in South Africa with 14 victims at a superb average of 19.42. Only Mark Wood went for fewer runs per wicket on England's last tour.
Partnering Broad with Anderson enables the likes of Archer or Wood to bowl their most threatening deliveries as regularly as possible. It makes for a more balanced attack covering every fast-bowling base: seam, swing and raw speed (plus reverse swing from stand-in captain, Stokes). Either the Barbadian or Northumbrian can come on after the main duo have built significant pressure, and attack in short, devastating bursts. Playing both means sacrificing the pace, and ultimate effectiveness, of one them - an inefficient use of exceptional talent.
With six tests in seven weeks, the need to protect England's thoroughbreds is obvious and makes Ed Smith's decision appear all the more ill-advised. However, there's no doubt that Broad will get his chance before long and assuming he doesn't come in for Anderson, England's attack will achieve equilibrium once more. In the meantime, here's hoping neither Archer nor Wood falls victim to injury, under the pressure to bowl the heat for which they're renowned.