Stuart Broad’s magnificent five-wicket spell before tea on the second day of the Ashes decider at the Oval not only shattered Australia’s first innings, it also announced the 23-year-old’s arrival as Andrew Flintoff’s natural successor.
It was the best Broad has ever bowled in his young career and he showed absolutely why he is capable of filling Freddie’s boots.
He’s making runs in virtually every Test he plays, and he’s taking five-fors. Flintoff came into his final Test with just three five-wicket hauls in his entire Test career. Broad already has three five-wicket analyses, and there will be a lot more to come.
The way he bowled was just as spectacular as his successes as Australia were sent crashing from 73 for no wicket to 133 for 8 at tea. He shaped the ball skilfully, he cut it around off the seam off this dry surface and bowled good lines and with real intelligence.
I know Broad has played a fair few Tests now, but he is still relatively inexperienced in terms of the amount of first-class cricket that he has played and his performance here was truly remarkable in that he bowled like a veteran in the way he did his job.
Broad was the inspiration for England’s sudden wrecking of the Australian innings and it just showed how right Ian Bell was in saying at the start of the second day that England’s own first innings total was not as bad as much of the media was making out.
I really do think that the press should be more supportive of the England team, especially in an Ashes series and considering the obvious fact that batting was going to be more and more difficult on a pitch that is so dry.
Yet Broad’s wickets were not really down to the surface. They were the result of excellent bowling, and I cannot remember a spell as good as that from a fourth seamer in any Ashes Test that I have experienced.
People might try to compare it to Ian Botham’s five wickets for one run to finish off Australia and win us the 1981 Edgbaston Test but Beefy was a frontline bowler who just charged in and blew their lower order away; Broad was not used up front in this innings and yet he took out the heart of their batting.
Graeme Swann, too, impressed with the way he bowled at Australia’s left-handers – getting wickets with his arm ball and also with sharp turn. He made the odd ball skid on and his variety and changes of pace made it hard for the Aussie batsmen to pick the line and play it with any certainty.
Just why Australia chose to go into this Test without a specialist spinner, Nathan Hauritz, is a mystery and a huge selection error.
Marcus North fills in with his off breaks but he does not get the flight and dip on the ball which Hauritz does because he is simply not a frontline spinner.
Australia’s policy of always picking six batsmen and only four specialist bowlers will also need to be reviewed now that Warne and McGrath are no longer around for them.
England’s ability to balance their attack by fielding five frontline bowlers has made a big difference at the Oval, while Australia have been handicapped by their insistence on going with just four seamers and some part-time spinners to support them.
All in all, though, and thanks mainly to Broad, it was a remarkable second day and – as Ricky Ponting will no doubt be saying at the end of the game – it was a very good toss for England to win.