Over three years ago now I walked around the Newlands outfield in Cape Town with Stuart Broad and talked about the end of his career and when it would happen and how much time he had left and of the number of extra wickets he had in him.
Broad and Jimmy Anderson have been asked about the ending almost from the start, but as we prepare for a much-anticipated and balanced Ashes series and on the first day of the first Test at Edgbaston on Friday, they still don’t care about those questions.
They always defy time as much as they defy their opponents. They challenge convention, challenge expectation, challenge age, challenge the youthfulness of others, challenge injury, challenge complacency, and challenge the right to feed the hunger that still burns within them.
In the inevitable England/Australia composite teams that come with the prelude to series like this, Anderson makes everyone. Broad makes most of them. Perhaps their contributions will be rationed by the end of July, but in the weeks to come, we should never tire of the thrill of knowing we’re watching living legends go about their business.
Stuart Broad (left) and Jimmy Anderson (right) remain key for England heading to the Ashes
Broad has faced retirement questions for years but still defies age and expectations
Anderson is part of every England v Australia composite team at the age of 40
It seems funny now to think that on that day in Cape Town in January 2020, Broad was talking about whether he would make one final Ashes contest in 2021-22. Many thought there was little chance of that happening. Broad was not one of them.
He had 479 Test dismissals at the end of England’s win at Newlands, in which he played a vital role, and we wondered as we wandered around the stadium in the shadow of Table Mountain to find out if he would reach the gold goal of 500 before he retired.
He played in that series – even though he liquidated the Aussies afterwards saying it should have been declared null and void – and he now stands 18 wickets under 600. Anderson is 15 from less than 700.
In the years since that sunny day in Cape Town, Broad has overtaken Courtney Walsh and Glenn McGrath in the list of leading Test wicket takers. Only Anderson and the spinners, Anil Kumble, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, stand above him.
Anderson, 40, and Broad, 36, are remarkable men and remarkable cricketers and of all the other storylines that will unfold in this Ashes series, their battles with Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and David Warner will be among the most important. Can they turn back time one more time?
Mail Sport chief sports editor Oliver Holt describes the pair as ‘living legends’
Well, they’ve made it a habit for as long as anyone can remember. And in a Test series whose outcome is devilishly difficult to predict, a series that may depend on the fitness of the two bowling attacks, it would be foolhardy to bet against them again. One of them always seems to find a way.
Steve Smith confessed this week that he lay awake in bed, visualizing Broad running towards him and trying to figure out the best way to tag him. “I do a lot of visualization while I should be sleeping,” Smith said. “I’m thinking of Broady coming to me with three slips, one point, halfway through, looking at what my options are to score, how he’s looking to get me out.”
David Warner, who became Broad’s bunny, will no doubt have the same kind of thoughts, though they’re closer to nightmares than dreams. His vulnerability to Broad could haunt what will likely be his final Ashes series.
For all the other promising bowlers in the English arsenal – Ollie Robinson has probably been England’s best performer over the past year and Mark Wood may well get the nod to play Edgbaston ahead of Broad – it’s still Anderson and Broad who dominate the thoughts of the opposition.
Anderson missed the recent Test win over Ireland with a groin injury, news that has struck fear and concern among England fans. Broad responded with first-inning bowling numbers of 5 for 51, the 20th time in his career he took five wickets in one inning and the first time he had done so at Lord’s in a decade.
Experience has taught us that whenever you try to remove one or the other, or both, from the narrative of a series, or from the narrative of English cricket, they find a way to shape it.
So I might be tempted to say that these ashes will be Broad’s last hurray. Or at Anderson’s. But that would be stupid.
It would be foolish to call this Ashes series the last hurray for England
Now is the time for the Stones experience in England
Manchester City struggled for much of the Champions League final against Internazionale on Saturday night, so it was particularly pleasing to see John Stones emerge as a player who rose above the nerves and drove his team.
Stones has established himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world this season. England’s upcoming matches against Malta and North Macedonia would be the perfect opportunities to play him there for his country.
Fans victims of yet another final farce in Istanbul
It never ceases to disgust me that, in a sport swimming in money and awash in obscene profits for its governing bodies, football can still treat its fans so appallingly.
Istanbul is one of the great cities in the world and has breathtaking football venues, but the Ataturk Olympic Stadium is not one of them. It is also very far from the city.
Fans fell victim to more chaotic organization in a Champions League final on Saturday
And so, just as in 2005 when Liverpool faced AC Milan there, the prelude and aftermath of Saturday’s Champions League final descended into dangerous chaos. Traffic jams started five hours before kick-off, fans had to run on highways to get to the game, the metro was suspended, fans were stuck in buses with no water or toilets for hours after the match. The infrastructure just couldn’t cope. The fans, as always, are the ones paying the price.
Djokovic’s debate remains subjective
The wonderful thing about arguments about the greatest treble winners or the greatest tennis players is that there is no right answer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Novak Djokovic has won more Grand Slam singles tournaments than any other male tennis player, but that doesn’t change my view that Roger Federer is the greatest of all time. And I would have Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in my top three.
The debate over whether Novak Djokovic is the greatest tennis player of all time is a matter of opinions and personal preferences
The leaders of the hammers have reaped the rewards of their composure
I’ve leveled a lot of criticism at David Sullivan and Karren Brady over the years for their role in stewardship of West Ham, so it’s only fair to give them plenty of credit this week.
In the feverish world of the Premier League, there are a host of owners who would have done the foolish thing and fired David Moyes earlier in the season. They didn’t do that. They kept their cool. They did the smart thing and stuck with it and they were rewarded with one of the greatest nights in club history when their side beat Fiorentina to win the Europa Conference League final in Prague.