Stuart Broad fires Ashes warning as new outswinger outsmarts Middlesex

Stuart Broad fires Ashes warning as new outswinger outsmarts Middlesex
Stuart Broad fires Ashes warning as new outswinger outsmarts Middlesex

Nottinghamshire 364 and 158 for 6 (Clarke 52, Bamber 2-26) lead Middlesex 274 (Stoneman 76, Higgins 53, Broad 4-58) by 248 runs

Stuart Broad, bopping around Lord’s in Nottinghamshire stash. Stuart Broad posting candid shots of a ground he’s playing at for the 29th time in his career to his Instagram story. Stuart Broad, commuting in from Wimbledon, on the underground for the first two days of this fixture with Middlesex, and probably again on Sunday after driving in on Saturday, given it’s the London Marathon. He’ll take a view in the morning.

For those that lament county cricket’s loss of quaintness, Broad has spent the last three days embodying the modern oddities it still harbours. And he made a clear distinction that, whatever tweeness remains in this thing we all care for, imperfections and all, it does not need to be dismissed as irreverent whimsy. Everything that happened counted, everything that happened mattered.

With 4 for 68, the veteran England seamer led Nottinghamshire to a 90-run first-innings lead which swelled to 248 by stumps. Through 22 overs, the 36-year-old stepped up his tapering for an international schedule of six Tests across seven weeks – two of them back here at Lord’s – with an Ashes series in full view for one of its recurring main characters.

Having picked up Pieter Malan with the final ball on Friday, Broad’s gutting of a spluttering Middlesex engine room contained nuggets of things to come. Most notably an outswinger brought about by technical changes workshopped with Notts bowling coach Kevin Shine – primarily through holding his bowling hand higher to allow smoother flow into release.

Last week’s uprooting of Cameron Bancroft’s off stump was exactly this, leaving Broad encouraged at its development. It is a developing weapon in his armoury with other, higher-profile Australians in its sights.

“It’s designed, to be honest, for Marnus [Labuschagne] and [Steve] Smith,” Broad said. “It’s the reason I wanted to change something, to try and bring their outside edge in more.

“My stock delivery will always be wobble seam trying to nip back on off stump, because I think that’s the most dangerous ball. But to those guys, I think dragging them across with away swing is important. So this action tweak is pretty much designed at those two, and it was good to see it really swinging away today.”

Bar a yorker to Luke Hollman that swung into the left-hander to trap him lbw, the delivery was mostly a prop, dragging the odd right-hander outside off stump with a 2023 Dukes ball far better than 2022’s. “It couldn’t be any worse, to be honest,” Broad said.

At present, he is down for two more Championship matches before the Ireland Test at the start of June. Notts have the next round off, before hosting Lancashire and Essex at Trent Bridge. James Anderson, currently toiling on a flat one against Somerset, messaged Broad on Saturday with an early request for a green seamer. Alas, for all Broad’s pull, that decision rests in someone else’s hands. But the aims of doing right for Notts and himself – and England – run parallel over the next month.

“Four feels like a good number,” Broad said, “to try and make a good impact for Notts but also to get workloads where I want them to be. I wanted to backload quite a few overs in this period because of the Ashes.

“No bowler’s going to play six games in seven weeks. I want to be able to have that workload to fall back on that if I miss two weeks Test cricket, say, or three weeks, when I get my chance I’m good to go.”

The aim for the next 24 hours is to beat the rain before beating Middlesex. What looked an apocalyptic Sunday forecast seems to have dropped down a few grades in the last few hours, enough for Broad to focus on helping Notts to a second win in as many games. If, as expected, there is no play before 1pm, one imagines the visitors’ second innings won’t go beyond the 50.5 overs managed in the final half of day three.

That they needed 82 overs to dismiss Middlesex in the first innings won’t bother them too much, particularly given that effort, at this juncture, is an anomaly. This was was the first time Middlesex have managed a batting point in five attempts, brought up by a full-blooded pull shot from their skipper. The bad news was Toby Roland-Jones’ boundary was more about desperation than fulfilling side quests as the hosts were nine down.

A strong start of 111 for 2 was wasted when the final eight fell for just 163. The worst of it was a middle-order collapse of four for 51, as much instigated by Broad as batters wandering into traps loaded with obvious bait.

Stephen Eskinazi and Max Holden, Broad’s second and third, were the most culpable, partly because of telegraphed tweaks in the field. Matt Mongomery asked skipper Steven Mullaney (stood at mid-off) if he had the right angle around the corner like a van driver being guided into a parking spot by a pedestrian. Haseeb Hameed almost brought out the spirit level when adopting a carpenter’s level of accuracy to ensure he was equidistant between the catchers at square leg and midwicket,

Broad’s observation from years of bowling from the Pavilion End was how often the ball travels in the air through leg slip, which now seems to be a problem area for Eskinazi. The dismissal of Holden, as it happens, was the work of Ben Duckett, who recalled Holden’s penchant for an aerial flick in that region from their days together at Northamptonshire.

Yet again, Ryan Higgins was responsible for instilling some credibility, though at least this time he could build upon Mark Stoneman’s 76, the end of which – lbw to Hutton – brought the allrounder to the crease. Higgins was unperturbed by the short stuff and clinical with anything full, and crunched a pull shot well in front of square on the legside for a sixth boundary to take him to a third half-century in five innings. An attempted late cut off the very next ball from Lyndon James saw him take out his own off stump.

That “favour” was returned with interest when Higgins took out James’ leg stump at about 6.30pm, bowling the right-hander around his legs and drawing more enthusiasm from those remaining in the stands. It was a very necessary inroad, ending the most productive partnership of Nottinghamshire’s second innings on 45.

By then, at 133 for 6, Nottinghamshire’s lead of 223 was spilling over into daunting for the hosts, particularly with Joe Clarke settling into a groove. The early loss of Duckett for 170 less than he managed in the first innings was a mini-victory and no less than Ethan Bamber deserved for a quality set of 14 overs for his 2 for 26.

Likewise, Hollman’s legspinner through Ben Slater and the lbw of Clarke after he had registered his first half-century of the season, were moments of worthwhile retaliation from Middlesex.

More will be required on Sunday, however much play the weather allows. To lose this match for three defeats from three would already be catastrophic for Middlesex’s Division One survival hopes. Rain would be their saviour.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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