Stuart Broad, fleshing out his art, evolving into just maybe world’s best for England

If calling Stuart Broad the world's best bowler, writes Osman Samiuddin, 'does not feel entirely right, neither does it feel entirely wrong'.

England’s Stuart Broad, looks on during the man of the match presentation on Saturday after England's third-Test win over South Africa in Johannesburg. Themba Hadebe / AP / January 16, 2016
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Once a first wicket falls, many of the greatest fast bowling spells can develop a sense of inevitability.

Bowl at this length, like this, put guys here, there and there. Attack that line. Get the seam right. Have the right ball. Keep that wrist locked.

And of course wickets will fall in a flurry – what else did you think would happen?

It almost sounds easy. Bowlers play this effect up. “I just kept it simple”, or “I was aiming for the top of off”, or “I just run in and go whang”. The mood was right, the ball felt right, things went my way.

Almost as if you or I can run in, let go and half an hour later, we are sitting back here with five for seven off 25 deliveries.

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It can look easy, too. When Stuart Broad took eight for 15 at Trent Bridge in the Ashes last summer, it seemed as if he was doing the simplest things.

Bowl full, tight on off-stump, move it away, celebrate, bye and thanks for the memories.

In reality, we all know and understand there is little that is easy or inevitable about these moments. You can get all of the above right and come out at the end of the day with nothing.

It happens a lot, especially in a time in which great spells do not come easy or often.

Which is why Broad is such a special bowler.

From his bag of great spells, he pulled out another on Saturday, five wickets for 14 runs in 10 overs in Johannesburg, but actually 31 balls in which he took those five in concession for a solitary run.

Up it went, alongside the eight at Trent Bridge in 57 balls, the six for 22 in the same number of balls also against Australia but in Durham in 2013, the five in 31 balls against India (with a hat-trick). For brevity we will leave it at that, but the list is longer.

In Johannesburg his was, as it is so often, the decisive spell to wrench open a match, or to secure a series. This one won England the Test and the series and threw him to the top of the ICC rankings.

If calling him the world’s best bowler does not feel entirely right, neither does it feel entirely wrong.

And it is some coup, by the way, to do it in a series that was supposed to be headlined by the world’s two best fast bowlers, neither of whom was Broad.

It is not just the people at the ICC who rank him that high. Statsguru shows that he is the highest Test wicket-taker in the world since July 2011 (223 in 53 Tests), with more five-fors than any fast bowler.

There are other, more revealing confirmations.

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ESPNcricinfo notes that he has taken the wicket of the opposition’s leading run-scorer (overall, not in that particular match) 44 times, which is among the highest ever.

That is, he regularly gets the big, best opposition wickets.

Even Impact Index, which can often deliver what might be considered counter-intuitive findings, is in agreement.

Over the last three years, Broad has had a slightly greater impact than James Anderson and has been England’s highest-impact player in that time.

Who, then, can argue against this triple thunderclap of statistical proof?

This last year especially has seen Broad become his own bowler, and not a second name hyphened after Anderson’s. Less and less is he the understudy in that partnership. More and more he is creating a shadow large enough of his own within which others will have to tread.

He is doing it in a way, moreover, that his counterpart in this series, Morne Morkel, has been unable to.

Morkel, by the way, has been magnificent just recently in the absence of Dale Steyn.

But it is difficult to see him ever hitting the heights Steyn has, and not just because Steyn is an almost unattainable ideal.

Broad-Anderson has suddenly become a far more equal equation. Until the last year I had always preferred watching Anderson bowl.

The swing is what sells him, not only visually appealing but because its generation remains, mostly, a mystery.

Broad is not a swing bowler per se, though he does find swing in conditions and when he goes fuller. But his greater weapon is seam movement, which, effective as it is, is a touch less attractive to this eye.

It was never quite the artist and artisan, because that would be to demean Anderson as just an aesthetic pleasantry, but you get the drift.

Anderson paints spells by hand, a little flourish here, a sly, lingering motif there that only he understands. Broad graphic-designs spells into reality. He is less subtle and more efficient, and of modern homogeneity.

Watching him this year has been to revisit that opinion. Such has been the force not only of his headline spells but also, as a great example, the more evolved nature of his work in the UAE.

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