Succession planning is the cornerstone of all successful sports teams – the identifying, developing and then blooding of new talent to replace the old and waning. Yet even the most assiduous mess up the process, which is why hale and hearty though James Anderson and Stuart Broad still seem, their successors should already have been lined up by the selectors… and primed for action.
But have they? And if so, who are these heirs to our greatest pair of opening bowlers and
their legacy of 1,000 plus Test wickets?
England play Australia this summer for the Ashes, cricket’s
biggest, most famous and longest-running duel. One imagines that if everyone
available is fit by late July when the squad for the first Test is picked, then
Broad and Anderson, or ‘Branderson’ if you like, along with Ben Stokes plus one
other between Mark Wood or Chris Woakes, will start the series as England’s
Others will need to be ready. Anderson will be 37 and Broad
33 prior to that first Ashes Test at Edgbaston on August 1. For some modern
players, age can be just a number given their enhanced fitness and
the protection offered by central contracts. For most, though, the biology does
not lie, which is probably why Broad sought to remind Joe Root, England’s
captain, that he still retains the vim of younger men by hitting him on the
head with a bouncer at Trent Bridge, though Root had the final say by scoring a
It is a law of nature that bowlers of advanced vintage not
only feel the strain more than their younger counterparts, they also struggle
to shake off niggles as they once did. So while form is unlikely to be an issue
for Broad and Anderson, as both know their game backwards, fitness could be,
which is why a phalanx of likely lads needs to be primed for action not just
for the Aussies, but also going forward into the International Cricket
Council’s Test Championship, which begins with that series, but runs for the
next three years.
Then there is the mental state of Broad and Anderson to
consider. At present, both men claim to want to keep playing for England, but
moods can change fast in international sport. With 575 Test wickets to his
name, Anderson is probably eyeing the 600 mark before any contemplation that he
might reach for his pipe and slippers.
A spectacular series against Australia would get him there.
Assuming it also ended in an England win such an occasion might be a fitting
moment for him to retire. Then again, a swingeing defeat, with him short of
that milestone, might also persuade him to call it a day, the emotional
tug-of-war of top level sport making it almost impossible to call.
Broad’s next milestone is 450 Test wickets (he has 437). It is one he should reach without difficulty providing he plays the entire Ashes series, though that is by no means certain given Sam Curran was preferred to him in the Caribbean only three Tests ago.
Although four years younger than Anderson, Broad is three
inches taller. That makes for more stress through his body even before
considering that he also bowls quicker than Anderson and has done throughout
their joint careers. As such they should not be seen as equivalents obsolescing
at the same rate and a tough Ashes series might just hasten that process.
Two bowlers, Woakes and Wood, have already been mentioned.
When gremlin-free and on song both are worth a place in the side, with Woakes
more suited to English conditions and Wood to overseas, where his 90mph pace
tends to be helped by the variable bounce and pace you tend to get on pitches
Neither are bankers in the manner of ‘Branderson.’ In their
bids to bowl quick, both men have suffered injuries which have kept them out
for series rather than mere games – Woakes with knee and side, Wood with ankle.
As a result, neither can really be considered even medium-term replacements for
England’s two senior bowlers.
Sam Curran won the man of the series against India during
last summer’s Tests, his well-timed interventions with bat and ball crucial to
the outcome of the series. As a skiddy, brisk, swing bowler, but a clever,
counter-attacking batsman, he is more likely to fill the niche that says ‘batsman
who bowls’ rather than the specialist bowler who eventually replaces Anderson
or Broad, even if he was (over) promoted as such in the recent Test in
Barbados, with series-losing consequences.
Two potential fast bowlers, and I use potential guardedly as neither of these bowlers has stayed fit for long, are Jamie Overton of Somerset and Olly Stone of Warwickshire. Stone even went on England’s tour of the West Indies, but returned home after a stress injury was discovered in his back.
Both men are genuinely quick but while speed is a highly
valuable commodity in cricket, that value is only realised when it can be
delivered not just over two or three spells a day, but over the course of a
series or three. So far, neither has shown the physical rigour to achieve this.
One who has withstood most of the physical trials is Steve
Finn, Middlesex’s captain. Now 30, Finn last played a Test for England two and
half years ago. Finn’s problems were largely mental stemming from confidence
issues over his lengthy run-up and possibly from a surfeit of advice from
well-meaning coaches. Having tasted the high life and succeeded, at least to
begin with, you’d have thought he’d be craving a return but that is not the
impression given as he settles on lifting Middlesex out of Division Two of the
Finn’s county team mate, Toby Roland-Jones, had a fine start
to his England career taking 17 wickets in four Tests before a dreaded
stress-fracture brought a compulsory halt to matters. Tall, with a strong
hit-the-pitch action, he would seem the obvious replacement for Broad, injury
problems permitting, except at 32 he is only two years his junior.
Nottinghamshire’s Jake Ball bowls in similar fashion and while only 28, he
appears to have blotted his copy book so far as England are concerned.
The most talented young bowler around, and therefore one who
fits the bill, potentially, as a long term replacement, is 24-year old Jofra
Archer. Barbados-born but recently qualified to play for England, Archer is
quick but with scope to improve his skills.
The only impediment is whether red-ball cricket will pall in comparison to the white-ball
riches he has so far received after stints in the Indian Premier League, the
Pakistan Super League and Big Bash.
There are other promising bowlers like Warwickshire’s Henry
Brookes, Middlesex’s Tom Helm, Yorkshire’s Ben Coad and Zak Chappell of Notts,
but only Coad gets regular first team cricket. Even then, he probably lacks
that crucial yard of pace you need at Test level.
The era of Branderson is nearing the end. But while it is
difficult to see which two might replace them with anything like the same
certainty of performance as they supplied over the years there is, in the
word’s of Charles Dickens’
Mr Micawber, the likelihood that “something will turn up.” It always does.
DEREK PRINGLE / Photo: Getty Images