Stuart Broad’s Johannesburg display encapsulating England’s new brand of cricket

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Few would argue against Stuart Broad’s spell of 8-15 against Australia at Trent Bridge last year being his finest hour. However, his 6-17 to embarrass South Africa and knock them off their perch on the ICC Test must surely rank as a close second.

England came into day three with Joe Root at the crease, standing tall after adding another hundred to his growing tally of Test centuries with a superb counter-attacking innings the previous day. It went beyond belief just hours later, with England’s Mr Reliable finishing the match off himself, and clinching a rare away series win for Alastair Cook’s men.

With Root and Jonny Bairstow resuming their partnership, 75 runs behind the South African total, the hosts knew early wickets would be key and must’ve felt right in the match when Root departed to a Kagiso Rabada delivery. When the young tearaway took the wicket of Bairstow to claim his maiden five-wicket haul in Test cricket, the South Africans had limited England to a lead of just 10.

Rabada walked back to the pavilion, ball in hand, waving to the packed house, deservedly awaiting to put his feet up. Little did he know that he’d need his bowling spikes back on in no time at all.

When Stuart Broad steps up, he certainly likes to do it on the big occasion. When he took hold of the fresh red cherry at the start of the second innings, the state of the Wanderers pitch, which was offering the requisite movement, meant a Broad special seemed rather inevitable. Coming from around the wicket, getting the ball to leave the left-hander, Dean Elgar was asking for trouble when he left his bat out to dry to a rising delivery.

Stiaan Van Zyl’s horror of a series continued, nicking off into the hands of Ben Stokes. Yet, the real challenge facing Broad was whether he could dismiss the heavyweights, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla. However, when Broad is in the mood, even the modern greats must simply hold their hands up in admiration.

The inswinger to the right-hander saw de Villiers get a faint inside edge behind to wicketkeeper Bairstow, whilst Amla saw his leg-side flick stick in the hands of James Taylor, an outstanding piece of reflex work at short leg bettered later with the dismissal of Dane Vilas.

Yet even with the brilliance of Taylor, the improved keeping of Bairstow, and the controlled display of the supporting acts; Steven Finn, James Anderson and Stokes, this was Broad coming into his role as the baby-faced assassin. Temba Bavuma had the unfortunate pleasure of being Broad’s fifth, and to finish an incredible display, Broad would use every part of his 6 ft 5 inch frame and athleticism to take a diving catch off his own bowling, removing Faf du Plessis. It will rank as one of the finest bowling performances by a foreign quick on South African soil.

Where do both teams stand now? England’s quest to reach the summit of the Test will continue, with Trevor Bayliss working his magic in the shadows. A team with huge potential is finally realising it, its attacking mindset not only entertaining but also proving to be rewarding.

South Africa on the other hand do not seem to be in transition, but rather decline. AB de Villiers entered the series complaining about his workload, and will now end it as interim Test captain. Their bowling attack has been severely weakened by the losses of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, the former a modern great, the latter a hugely underrated operator with a fantastic Test record.

However, it is their batting that has been the most severe problem. When a team loses heavyweights like Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, leaner returns seem probable, but to collapse to 83 all out in front of their own fans is simply unacceptable. Yet this is where South African cricket lies, and as they head into the dead rubber final Test beginning on Friday, they will know that they face a very long road back to the top.

Photograph : Tim Felce via Wikimedia Commons

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