Broad’s Ashes dismissal of Warner reminds fans what might have been
When Stuart Broad took David Warner’s edge on the first day of the Sydney Test, into the slip cordon to be safely clasped, it felt like something clicked into place. This was the scent of a familiar dish, or YouTubing a favourite scene from a movie. The reassurance of the familiar, and the rightness of something that should be just so.
At the same time, there was the unmistakable sense that thousands of people across the world were shouting at their television sets that they had told you so, or told someone so, and why had nobody listened?
Warner’s 2019 Ashes immolation at the torch of Broad is the stuff of forever. Ten innings, 95 runs, a single-figure series average. Among cricket lovers, it lives on with the potency and permanence of a race memory. Broad was the tormentor for seven dismissals of the 10, coming around the wicket to the left-hander, angling the ball in, using his mastery of English conditions to make it seam and swing from a length so full as to be always threatening. Sometimes it came in to hit pads or stumps, sometimes away to take the outside edge, even drawing nicks when an increasingly flummoxed Warner tried to leave the ball.
In the current series, then, when Broad was left out in Brisbane and in Melbourne, there was widespread bewilderment. Why would England forgo the weapon that could wipe out Australia’s prolific opener? Perhaps because it was a different year in a different country. The bowler had twice before played series against Warner in Australia. Across all five Tests in 2017-18, Broad didn’t dismiss him once, while Warner repeatedly set the tone and averaged 63. In 2013-14, Broad got him four times, but only after the opener had made enough runs to average 58.
Even previous series in England had not gone Broad’s way: no wicket in 10 attempts in 2015, where Warner made five half‑centuries and averaged 46; one dismissal in six innings against the junior version in 2013. In emphasising the dominance of 2019 on the one hand, you also have to concede that in all their other contests Warner has played 15 Tests for six Broad dismissals, three centuries, 12 half-centuries, and an average of nearly 49. But it could have been different at the Gabba, right? Where Broad got him out twice in 2013? Yes, got him out for 49 and 124.
Admittedly the 2021 Gabba had greenness and juice in the surface, and that duel could have been compelling. The question about whether there was a psychological hangover from 2019 would have been tested. Audiences were denied the intrigue of that contest, and that is a shame in itself.
It doesn’t mean the whole series would have been different. Broad bowled to Warner the next week instead, in Adelaide. Warner made 95. Even if Broad had been picked in Brisbane, England would presumably have stuck to the plan of batting first. Which brings us back to the problem that England’s batting is currently nowhere near the standard to function in international cricket. Broad’s prowess with the stick would not have improved upon Brisbane’s first-day debacle.
Among all of the arguments that have played out before and during each Test about the choice of bowlers, England have had a batting collapse in every innings: 10 for 147, eight for 74, eight for 86, nine for 144, eight for 124, and 10 for 68. Stuart Broad can’t change that. Stuart Broad can’t defend that. Wasim Akram, Malcolm Marshall, and Robocop fused with a bowling machine can’t defend that. Even bowling magic cannot transform batting coal into gold.
So when one old combatant dismissed the other on the first day at the SCG, there was an echo of what might have been had they gone head-to-head to start the series. There was also an echo of what might have been had the work of Broad and company been given support by the rest of their team. That edge into the slip cordon could be the starting point of a mighty bowling surge on the second day, and it still won’t matter a jot of ink in the scorebook unless England can find some runs to go with it. Broad bowling to Warner in Brisbane was never going to change everything. It can’t change anything unless something else changes first.