In Stuart Broad’s new book, My World In Cricket, he recalls a disappointing start to last summer that led to speculation his England place was on the line. In the following extract he reveals the change of approach that culminated in him being named Man of the Series in the whitewash over India, in the process helping England to the top of the Test rankings.
Sometimes in cricket it is important to take a step back and assess what you are doing to see if it is working as well as it might. For me, there was one of those times during the summer of 2011. In the early part of the season, against Sri Lanka, I didn’t have a great amount of success. In three Tests, I picked up just eight wickets at an average of almost 50. With England having numerous bowling options, some began to question whether I deserved my place in the side, especially after I was rested for one of the limited overs games against them.
During that period, I came back to play at Trent Bridge for Nottinghamshire against Somerset. Trent Bridge is always a ground that encourages the bowler to pitch the ball up, as it will always tend to do more that way. I gained confidence from taking five wickets in the first innings and also noted that I had more luck when I pitched it slightly fuller. For England earlier on in the summer, I’d felt in good rhythm, and was bowling with pace and aggression. There was talk that I saw myself in the role of ‘the enforcer’ – the one who gets the batsman jumping around, avoiding bouncers, while perhaps overlooking the crucial part of actually taking wickets. I’m not sure it was quite like that. However, there is no doubt that if you bowl short of a length, if the ball does anything it may be more difficult to get a nick, either because the batsman has more time to adjust or because the ball has moved further, but if you pitch it up a bit more there is a greater chance it may take the edge.
However, it isn’t as simple as thinking: if I pitch it up I will improve my chances of getting wickets. I also realised that I had to overcome a fear that I have. My problem is that I hate being hit down the ground, even though as a tall bowler that’s actually quite hard for a batsman to do. However, I’ve learnt from watching Jimmy Anderson, who bowls such good lengths and isn’t afraid of having people try to hit him, as he recognises that’s how he takes his wickets.
Obviously, during that period, I had several people giving me lots of advice, but I have always found that the most important thing is for me to work things out for myself. I listened to what people had to say, hearing opinions from those I respected, and I took ideas from various sources. But in the end, no matter what anyone suggests, I had to buy into the solution and get there on my own. I’m the one who has to control my career.
To help give myself some extra protection if I was bowling a fuller length, and to avoid being hit past me, I realised I had to change my field settings. Previously, I had tended to start off with a very attacking field, as I felt that was what an aggressive strike bowler should do. However, at the start of a spell, and particularly in early season in England, I recognised that I ought to give myself a chance to grow into a spell by giving myself some protection. For example, I might take gully out and put him at cover instead.
It’s all about getting into a spell – Ottis Gibson, who was the senior bowler when I started my career at Leicestershire and who now coaches the West Indies – always had a first ball and last ball policy. In other words, he stressed how important it was that you do not go for a boundary with your first ball or your last ball of an over. That’s why I’ll rarely float one up first ball to see if it will swing; instead, I’ll look to bowl a dot ball. Obviously, I’d like to take a wicket with every ball I bowl, but in fact I have to build a plan to take a wicket.
I decided to focus on trying to start off by bowling five overs for just five runs. That was an idea that I picked up from Paul Franks and Mick Newell at Nottinghamshire, among others. Rather than thinking about how I needed to take wickets upfront, and that to do so required a huge slip cordon, I decided instead to try to create pressure on the batsman. If I can bowl some early maidens in my spell, then I will gain in confidence very quickly. By doing that, the batsman might just be forced into a rash shot having lost patience because he couldn’t even find a way to push singles. This logic can apply at any level of the game: the best way to pick up wickets isn’t necessarily by having very attacking fields. In club cricket, there are very few batsmen who show real patience, so building pressure on them is just as good a way to get them out.
Having taken that decision to make what, after all, was a relatively small adjustment to what I was doing, I was delighted with the results. Later that summer, against India, I took 25 wickets in four Tests at an average of under 14. Bowling slightly fuller also brought bowled and lbw into play, and nine of the wickets I picked up came that way, whereas I’d taken only one in that manner against Sri Lanka. By resetting my goals and rethinking what I was trying to achieve, I had managed to transform my results and so helped the team to do even better.