Simplification the key to Stuart Broad’s blistering spell as England bowler explains ‘Nighthawk’ role

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The cliche ‘one of those days’, is often associated with Stuart Broad. But under the lights of the Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, the England bowler swapped his usual matinee special for an after-the-watershed display of bowling perfection.

“Nah. I was buggered” replied Broad when asked if he was annoyed to have been taken out of the attack after ten relentless overs. “I didn’t want a tenth to be honest but Stokesy [Ben Stokes] wouldn’t have it.”

Stokesy wasn’t having it because Broad had put together a spell of bowling which all but assured England a tenth Test victory in 11 outings. Boasting figures of four for 21, all of which were clean bowled, Broad’s effort meant New Zealand finished the day 63 for five and still 331 runs adrift.

“If I’d have got five tonight then maybe,” was Broad’s response as to whether today’s spell went into his own personal hall fame. “But not yet. [There’s] always room for improvement.”

On seven occasions in Broad’s career he has taken five wickets or more in a single spell, the last being in 2016 when he took five for 14 against South Africa, but the most famous being his eight for 15 against Australia a year previously.

It is the mark of a bowler who will be remembered as both timeless, having debuted in 2007, but also for the moments where he enters the zone and opposition dressing rooms rush for their pads.

“You just go into a rhythm of not overcomplicating,” Broad explained. “Not thinking too much, not trying to swing one away, swing one in, change your length. I was just so simple in what I was trying to do, I was almost taking the batter out of the equation. I was looking to bowl the same ball whoever I was bowling against.

“I know I’m a better bowler when I just keep it as simple as possible.”

Broad’s dramatic return to form is a welcome headache for England with Stokes’ demand to have “eight fit seamers” for the Ashes summer ahead. With James Anderson a lock, Ollie Robinson quietly becoming one of the most impressive seamers in the world and a desire for an x-factor, high-pace bowler in Mark Wood or Jofra Archer, the spot for Broad in the XI wasn’t so obvious.

“I can’t control whether I play or not,” said Broad on whether he felt the shirt was his. “But I can control whether I’m fit, fresh, in rhythm and hungry. I know within myself I’ve got a good record in Ashes cricket and if I have a positive effect on one Test match and we win the Ashes as an England team, that’s a great drive for me. Of course I’d like to play five, four or three but if I have a positive impact in any of them that’s my job as a senior bowler done.”

Broad’s talents make him unique, but where he isn’t unique in this England side is his singing of praises of the leadership group that has transformed the team from one that had a single win in 17 matches to now being borderline unbeatable. Broad, half-joking, even commented that he was gutted that there hasn’t been a fly-on-the-wall style documentary being made about this England team over the past year, such has been the rate of change.

“It’s amazing to be a part of, I’m so lucky to see it first hand,” he said. “Everyday Baz [Brendon McCullum] walks in and he’s like, ‘What a job this is. What a gig I’ve got’. Everything is positive, it’s not fake. It’s really authentic.

"Honestly, since June I can’t remember hearing a negative word in the dressing room. It's phenomenal to watch up close."

England’s extension of fun goes for both on-and-off field matters. Golf and a beer are encouraged off the pitch as long as the two are attacked with the same gusto that training is the day after. And in Broad, England have elected him “nighthawk”. A twist on the conventional “nightwatchman” role which has traded in the pursuit of safety, for the pursuit of chaos. A role that Broad debuted last night.

Broad said: “I was laying on the physio bed at quarter to nine last night and Baz walks in and goes ‘Hawk, it’s time.’ I was like, what do you mean? He goes, ‘You’re going in next,’ and I was like ‘okay’. It’s a pretty simple game plan – try and hit the ball to the boundary and try and cause chaos really.

“I think it’s going to be used at different times. If it’s nipping about and the bowlers are holding length it’s a great time for the Nighthawk to be used because you can hit them off length and make them bowl a different style.”

“It’s sort of a free hit, it doesn’t matter if you get out first ball, create a bit of chaos and make people smile and it certainly makes our changing-room smile.”