ENGLAND TOUR OF WINDIES, 2019
Stuart Broad endured a tough opening session before coming back to strike in the next © Getty
One of the reasons It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has emerged as one of the most remarkable sitcoms of its generation is down to its peerless character development.
More successful sitcoms of the past suffered from the usual affliction of allowing their characters to become caricatures of themselves, most notably in Friends, when Joey went from charming goofball to slack-jawed moron who was one season away from losing complete control of his bowels. But those behind Sunny, particularly executive producers Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day, who play Dennis, Mac and Charlie respectively (three of the four main protagonists) ensured their characters had the requisite depth to evolve naturally.
The most notable individual story is that of Mac: a caucasian male, who while wrestling with his weight and social standing, learns to embrace his sexuality, a journey which reaches a spectacular crescendo at the end of season 13 when he tries to gain his father’s acceptance through interpretive dance.
But arguably the most entertaining arc is Dennis which, essentially, charts the fall and fall of the high school jock. Once he was adored and commanded a respect that was essentially fuelled by fear – “a Golden God”, as he puts it. But his decline into the relative anonymity of adulthood that leads him down a path of scheming is gripping. And the most compelling moments are those when his constant denials of his decline are punctuated by fits of all-consuming rage. A complicated yet entertaining character is eroding before us in equally entertaining fashion.
Those traits along with feelings of discontent and scorn came to mind while watching Stuart Broad in the opening session of day two in St Lucia. Jos Buttler had dropped a sitter off him at third slip. The same batsman, John Campbell, then successfully over-turned a decision when he was thought to have edged to first slip. Not long after, a top-edged hook would fall safely to give the opener another life. Broad by this point had blown a gasket.
The veins were popping, the face was red – though the graft could take some credit for that – and, having bowled five overs for just 12 for no wicket, the 32-year-old was left wondering if maybe things were better last week when he was donning the yellow bib as a spare part. A man of 433 Test wickets dressed like a highlighter.
You wondered if the universe was trying to tell us and him something. As James Anderson has improved with age, Broad has grafted harder, reworking an action that had brought him 400-odd wickets, just to keep his head above water. Yet here he was in the morning, bowling out of his skin and slowly descending into his own madness.
He played the part of team player at Bridgetown, running the occasional drinks, as he had done for the first two Tests in Sri Lanka at the end of last year, and doing a stint in the field as 12th man, greeted by raucous applause when he made the appearance with England on their way to a 381-run defeat. But inside, he despised it from the moment the call was made to the very end of the four days. Especially that ovation.
In his Mail on Sunday column, he said he was proud about how he coped with the decision, writing: “Several guys came up to me later, saying they had absolutely no idea that I’d been left out because I’d not shown my disappointment.” It’s a line that jars a touch because it’s very hard to picture. And it does leave you wondering if it should have been: “I could have really lost my rag. But I didn’t.”
Broad was ticking and, for a instant, his anger uncontrollable. Anderson, equally frustrated, was left cursing his opening partner when Broad, for reasons only he will know, fielded the ball close to the nonstriker’s end, feigned to throw to get the batsman back in his crease and then threw anyway – wildly – for four overthrows. Anderson could not look at him. Much like the devolution of Dennis, it was compelling viewing and you knew exactly why each thread as unravelling.
Beyond the last few months, Broad has clearly been irked by the notion that he is not what he once. That’s not to say England can do without him, just that the team are not so reliant on his success. He has just one five-wicket haul in the last two years and his batting is no longer worthy of note. In an XI without Adil Rashid, he is the weakest fielder. Three times this winter, they’ve figured they could do without him and while those could be explained by conditions and tactics, they are no balm to Broad.
However the crucial element to Broad is his sheer self-belief. Take, for example, his words at the end of the day when asked if he felt he had something to prove when coming back into the side: “I don’t think so. Everyone in the set-up knows how nicely I’ve been bowling in the nets.” The easier answer here is “yes”. But “yes” hints at self doubt, and Broad does not do self doubt. His work after lunch explained why.
Channeling that rage, Broad treated the middle session to another masterclass, this time not leaving empty handed. Shai Hope edged behind, undone by a zipping leg-cutter and three balls later Roston Chase had his off stump rearranged by a quick delivery that kept low. A similar spell followed in the evening with a leaping delivery flying off the glove of Shane Dorwich to hand Broad his third.
“In all honesty, I could have walked away with a hatful,” gleamed Broad at the end of play. He was not wrong, and his inkling was backed up given, according to England’s number crunchers, West Indies had 103 plays-and-misses in that day’s play.
Worse still, the barnacle in chief, Darren Bravo, 33 off 165 balls at stumps, should have been seen off on 20 off 90 when Broad found his edge only for Buttler to shell for a second time. It was the 97th drop off Broad since the start of 2006: no one has had more missed catches off their bowling which is remarkable given Broad debuted in December 2007. Next on that list is Anderson, who moved up to 84 drops in this innings which could offer Broad peace of mind that it’s not personal.
“I feel a bit lost as to how we only got six wickets to be brutally honest,” said Broad. “We put everything into it. Heart and soul has gone into that day. 103 plays and misses in the day? I can’t think of any more in any Test that I’ve played in.”
Maybe the universe is trying to tell Broad something. But, with 125 caps, he is in no mood to listen. Even with the Windies holding all the aces with an 85-run lead and four wickets in hand on a mischievous surface, he reckons England can somehow square this three-match series.
That sentiment from any other mouth would be regarded as predictive, innocuous sports patter. But from Broad, there’s an unbreakable confidence that commands belief, and a body of work to suggest he can be the man to provide England with the final few wickets on day three and then a shot at victory when he resumes his duties for the fourth innings.
In among the near-misses, Broad moved to 436 Test wickets with only six men ahead of him on the all-time list. Though he is not the bowler he once was, he is still an asset to Joe Root and this wayward England side.
We may still be witnesses Broad’s decline, but there will still be times like these to reminds us of the power and glory of Broad, with wickets and rage in equal measure.