STuart Broad didn’t want to be at bat Friday morning. But the night before England had collapsed, again, five wickets for eight runs this time, and put him back in the thick of things. So there he was. England were 116 points in seven, still 16 points behind, and Trent Boult was bowling. Broad hit his first pitch for four, then deflected the next for a single.
Ben Foakes played the rest of the game so Broad was facing Tim Southee now. He hit four more, on the ground, then he took a hit on the next delivery and completely missed. On the balcony, Ben Stokes grimaced.
Broad also threw his bat at whoever followed, and it knocked his stumps off the ground. Broad turned, tucked his bat under his arm, and stalked back to the clubhouse. If he had looked up, he would have seen Stokes bury his head in his hands.
It was a scrappy innings, a motley series of half-gunned shots from a batsman who once made 169 on this pitch but has now long since stopped playing properly. What did Broad say when they were debating how bowlers were doing in the Ashes last winter? “It doesn’t matter which bowlers you bowl if you’re knocked out for 140. That might be a little brutal, but it’s the truth in Test cricket.” This time, they had made 141.
Broad played well early on the first morning, especially in his first outing – four overs, one for eight – but he seemed to falter in the second set. It was as if it wasn’t the New Zealand stick that undermined him as much as the boring familiarity of England’s.
He must have been stiff because of the short delay between sets, disappointed to find himself in this kind of mess again. Broad will be 36 in a few weeks. He knows he has a job waiting for him on Sky’s commentary team. Of course, there are questions about how long he wants to continue. He was putting them up himself after England dropped him for the West Indies tour in the spring.
During a Friday afternoon commentary, Kevin Pietersen wondered aloud if Broad was still as enthusiastic as he had been the first morning. His pace had dropped to around 78mph and Pietersen suggested the New Zealanders should try going down the wicket to play with his length.
Broad had gone out early on Saturday morning. There was rain in the air and the start of the game had been delayed by 30 minutes, but he was training on a pitch at the far end of the pitch. His teammates were all still in the locker room.
Former players will tell you that the decision to retire is sudden; often, they say, it happens when you wake up one morning and realize you don’t want it anymore, not like you did anyway. Who knows what Broad was thinking while he was bowling alone? KP, maybe, and the view from up there in the media center.
At 11:30 a.m., Broad opened bowling for the day. It was his 23rd over the inning. In it, Daryl Mitchell elevated his century by driving three races through extra cover. New Zealand’s lead was 233 and the game moved away from England. But Broad had a new ball to work with and a tantalizing last chance to try and get his team back in the game.
Once again, therefore, with feeling.
Broad landed one where he wanted it. He whipped a pitch, moved just enough to take the edge of Mitchell’s bat and fly to slide.
Broad wanted more. At the top of his run, he began to wave his hands, gesturing to the crowd, shaking them awake, snapping them out of their morning slumber. It took them a little while to figure out what he wanted, but when they did, they started cheering him on.
The next ball was fuller and straighter and it hit Colin de Grandhomme on the pads, Broad spun on his heel and shouted his call, the ref shook his head, he was missing his leg.
But De Grandhomme had wavered off his pitch, and while everyone was busy appealing, Ollie Pope picked up the ball and broke the stumps with a throw to chase it away. Broad whipped his hands again, and suddenly the crowd of 30,000 was screaming for him, as if Lord ran out of electricity.
The next ball battered Kyle Jamieson and knocked him down. That made it three wickets in three deliveries. It was a team hat-trick, but it was Broad’s moment. He had done it, he had brought the team back into the game, with his talent, his will and his speed, and the realization that he wasn’t ready to give it all up just yet.