By Nick Hoult, at Lord’s
There was hardly a hint of emotion when Stuart Broad bowled Mark Adair for his fifth wicket, but deep down he knew the importance of what he had achieved.
A five-wicket haul from the 20th Test is a nice round number, another milestone to treasure, but this was a performance with deeper significance for his near-term future. Broad’s five for 51 has made it very difficult for England not to pick him at Edgbaston in the first Ashes Test.
Broad led Bazball’s return to the English summer. Ireland were bowled out in 56 overs for 172, and by the end England were close to a lead at 152 for one, flying to over six for over in the afternoon sun with Ben Duckett unbeaten on 60 in his first home test to prepare. what could be a tough friday for an irish bowler.
Not far from St John’s Wood, in Beckenham, David Warner was at the net as he prepared for the threat of the wicket being bowled to him by Broad. Few bowlers at his age, 36, improve a weakness against a certain bowler. There is too much history, too many old wounds to fade in a sport like Test cricket that tests the mind like no other.
Probably Warner’s best bet is for England to repeat their generosity from the last Ashes tour and not pick Broad for the first Test. There’s still a chance for that to happen, but Broad has made it much more difficult.
Seeing Broad running from the Pavilion End, a handkerchief billowing in the wind and bowling an exact line and length, it was hard to think that here was a bowler playing for his Ashes place. But James Anderson and Ollie Robinson, if fit, are ahead of him and Mark Wood was rested for this game with an eye on the Ashes. There’s no room for another closer unless Ben Stokes moves up the order and plays hitter.
Broad, in his own words, is playing towards the end of his career, but is no longer in his ways. He launched a length of attack demanded by Stokes with four slips and a wide spread in extra cover to tempt the advance. He waved the ball around after lunch and was the bowlers’ choice all day.
Broad has barely returned the figures of a Test cricket legend in county cricket – 15 to 28.5 which don’t even put him in the top 50 bowling averages in Division One. But, like a wise old pro, he used cricket from County to find a rhythm and avoid injury, while other England colleagues such as Anderson and Robinson were in a different class when bowling County players but spotted problems.
Broad knows that timing is everything and a new ball, on a perfect pitch against Ireland’s best order, is one of those gifts not to be wasted. His performance was a lesson for his two younger colleagues, Matt Potts and Josh Tongue. Potts improved with each over, looking better left-footed than he had last summer, but his two-for-36 failed to further his Ashes claims much and Tongue was wicketless on debut. He showed something to work with, his average pace of 87 was lively, but on a day that demanded hitting the top, he was required to hit it in a side leg field for wickets that were harder to get than for Broad Pitchers. Up Tongue hit a couple of batsmen on the helmet but gave the Irish tailenders no chills and was forced back to three slips and a gully.
Stokes didn’t bowl because he has to budget his expenses like a financial officer in charge of a company’s balance sheet. There’s so much money in the pot and he has to spend it wisely, so he stepped back and dropped to one knee. It meant that Leach bowled after just 10 Test overs on an early summer day in England. The left arm spinner threw well, attacking and holding at the same time. He’s reliable because he revels under Stokes’ captaincy. He kept the ground open to tempt Ireland’s only dangerous man, Paul Stirling, and complied, dismissing trying to sweep to the deep edge of square leg only to recover a catch from the mitt.
If Stokes is unfit to bowl, and England pick three closers, Leach will have to work hard in the first innings against Australia, and they will go after him hard, hoping to reopen the wounds. It will be a fascinating subplot. Ireland, apart from Stirling, did not try to hit him over the top so he could settle. By the time Curtis Campher, who made a 33rd patient, confronted him, it was too late. Campher missed and was shot down, charging down the field.
At 19 for three Ireland was reeling. Hitting wide three times in 18 balls, England cleverly catching on slips, including Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie for a duck. When Ireland’s young talent Harry Tector hit Broad square in the leg for nothing, they were left alone to fight for any kind of total as Broad reigned supreme, barely bowling a bad ball. Opener James McCollum stayed until after lunch but overcame a catch to escape Broad first for 36. And the England big man had five when he returned one to beat Adair.
Zak Crawley and Duckett were fed plenty of width and put it away. The sun was now shining on what had been a cold day and not many had left the ground knowing how England would play. Crawley produced some wonderful shots, dwarfing Duckett, who was also excellent. Crawley went down for 56 but had done enough to dispel doubt about his place, though not quite as emphatically as Broad.