England Need A Reset. But This Isn’t The End For ‘Branderson’.

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I was personally very upset when England dropped / rested Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad for the Test series in the Windies. It was tempting to write a diatribe there and then! However, rather howling into the wind for the umpteenth time this year, I’ ve decided to publish this instead. It’s Mark Cohen’s brave defence of Andrew Strauss’s decision. Do you think Mark has a point?

The decision to omit Stuart Broad and James Anderson from the three upcoming Test matches in the West Indies may have sparked popular outrage, but there is some method behind the alleged madness of Joe Root and stand-in Director of Cricket Andrew Strauss.

An individual player’s character looms larger in cricket than any other team sport. But ageing greats can also be the roadblock to progress. Broad and Anderson’s self-belief and drive, which once propelled England to the summit of Test cricket, is now threatening to chain it in the past.

England’s next opponents are evidence enough of this quandary. Fast-bowling titans Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose propped up the sagging West Indies teams of the late 90s. Their subsequent retirements within a year of each other pulled the rug out from under a team that had not prepared for the future. Broad and Anderson’s omnipresence threatens to do the same if unchecked.

Unlike the Windies of the late 90s, there are some willing successors in Mark Wood, Ollie Robinson and in due course, Jofra Archer. The unpopular truth is that England’s two greatest fast bowling servants are just that – servants – and not kingmakers or dictators. Their success over the years may deserve selection, which surely will come around again soon enough in the English summer, but it does not demand it and cannot come at the expense of the team’s longevity.

Whilst the current form of England’s all time wicket-takers might demand selection, it is an unfortunate reality that the modern day athlete’s age is too often the stick with which they are beaten; such is the way with the highly tuned operations of professional sports teams .

Unstable calves have proven to be their Achilles heel in recent years. Anderson’s withdrawal during the first day of the 2019 Ashes with a right calf strain was evened up with Broad sitting out most of last summer with a tear in his left.

Their strength and durability is nothing short of remarkable, given the physical rigours placed on the modern day fast bowler, but the dilemma whether to stick or twist on selection extends well beyond the physiotherapist’s report.

Stepping back for a moment, the impact this decision will have had on both players and their relationships within the England team cannot be discarded lightly.

Having been dropped for the first ‘bubble’ Test (also against the West Indies) in July 2020 Broad spoke candidly about how it was hard to understand why he had been stood down from ‘his’ shirt. His column in Sunday’s Daily Mail merely reached back 18 months to pull the same feelings to the fore once again. Anderson has kept his counsel so far, but surely shares the same disillusionment.

The forthcoming test series in the Caribbean is one that England should, and can, win. But Strauss and Root have clearly chosen it as an experimental venture. As hard as it might be to stomach, Broad and Anderson should also take this view, as the yet to be confirmed new coach will likely recall them immediately. It benefits that unknown figure to also see what alternatives are out there behind the two fast-bowling gatekeepers of English test cricket.

Broad and Anderson should also not be singled out as the Ashes scapegoats. Six other players from that touring party have also been axed, including the solidly performing Dawid Malan and the thought to be previously immune Jos Buttler.

What supersedes the Broad and Anderson debate is a problem that was summed up by the latter during the fourth Ashes test in Sydney: it doesn’t matter what bowlers you play, if you get bowled out for 140. At a time when low expectations are mixed with backroom staff fluctuation, a dollop of experimentation is needed in the batting department before launching into another congested English summer.

The English rebuild is only just beginning and it is hard to see Broad and Anderson not being involved with the process as early as the summer series against New Zealand. This is not the end for them, therefore, but perhaps remaining on the other side of the Atlantic is part of the reset that this England side so desperately requires.

Mark Cohen



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