Exactly 10 years ago to the day England started a Test match in New Zealand with what was to prove a lasting and very successful change in personnel. The second Test in Wellington was seen as crucial for England and their captain, Michael Vaughan, coming as it did after seven without a victory and with the team facing the prospect of a series defeat with a game to spare, and some personnel changes were inevitable.
Though the batsmen had been misfiring – being bowled out for 81 and 110 in successive Tests – it was the bowlers who took the hit, with Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison left out. “It was a tough call,” said Vaughan. “There was a gut instinct that we needed to make a change to give the attack a shake-up. Now I really hope that both fight to get their places back.”
Harmison, Mike Selvey wrote in the Guardian, was “contemplating the prospect of never playing for his country again”, while Hoggard “will have the opportunity to come back”. In fact it was the other way round: Hoggard never again played for England in any format while Harmison would remain involved for another year or so, playing his last Test the following summer at the age of 30.
Back in Wellington, Vaughan talked up the two bowlers who, as a result of the change in lineup, would be playing together for the first time: James Anderson and, in his second Test, 21-year-old Stuart Broad. “It’s exciting times,” he said. “It feels like a new era and it’s a great opportunity for them.”
Anderson took seven wickets in that Test and Broad three (Ryan Sidebottom got a five-for in New Zealand’s second innings to finish with six for the match), as England went on to take the series. They were the first nine scalps in a running tally which now stands, counting only those wickets taken in games both have played, at 774. During the recent Ashes series, in which there was very little for English bowlers to celebrate, they overtook Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh (762) to become the most successful new-ball partnership in Test history. If it felt to Vaughan then like a new era, that is certainly what it has become: as of the third Ashes Test in Perth – their 100th – the pair have been picked together in more than 10% of all England Tests ever.
But in New Zealand this year, as in 2008, they – and Broad in particular – start with something to prove. Over the last 19 months and 16 Tests the 31-year-old’s bowling average, 28.43 before August 2016, has swollen to 29.33 with his average over the past 18 months up to 36.43, and his strike rate from 56.4 to 78.1 (in the same period Anderson, remarkably, has improved: his average has gone from 28.26 to 20.61, and his strike rate from 56.9 to 53.9).
It is a challenge Broad is determined to face head, or rather side, on. Since the Ashes he has attempted to remodel his action, “working to get more side on, [with] more twist in my shoulders to get my front arm more towards the target, helping my feet align much better”. He has publicly stated his desire to play in the 2019 Ashes, but his place may be dependent on the results of his labour.
“I have seen Stuart doing a lot of work on his action recently so it is good to see he is still hungry and trying to keep [up with] these other guys,” Anderson says. The pair have worked – and talked – together extensively since the end of the Ashes. “We’ve chatted quite a bit,” he says. “From his point of view he had to go away and work on his action. That was good for him. It is good if you are focused on one thing. It takes you away from the world. We chatted, and I think the conclusion we came to is we are both really hungry to keep playing and have the drive to keep improving. We still think we have something to offer this team. We are performing well and trying to help the team moving forward, and help the other bowlers, to try and make the transition for them coming into the team as easy as possible.”