One considered retirement while the other had sleepless nights, but the famed pace duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad were back among wickets against New Zealand on Thursday on their return to Test cricket after being dropped earlier this year in March.
Anderson sent back openers Will Young and Tom Latham inside the first five overs on the opening day while Broad dismissed centurion Daryl Mitchell and Kyle Jamieson in the space of three balls in the second innings to give England the whiff of a rare Test win.
Not that the duo – with over 1000 wickets between them – ever fell foul of the numbers needed to vindicate their selection. The Ashes debacle – responsibility for which seemed to have fallen squarely on them – saw Anderson and Broad pick 21 wickets at an average of 25.19. The pace quartet of Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes took 38 at 35.57 apiece.
To add to that, Broad scalped 11 wickets at 22.00 in the fourth and fifth Tests – his last two since the ongoing Test at Lord’s. Anderson, on the other hand, boasted of the best bowling average – 23.37 - amongst all English pacers in the series but had just eight wickets to show for in three Tests with the Australians bent on playing him out. His astounding economy rate of 1.79 - the best in the series – said as much.
Neither had Anderson lost the appetite for wickets. After all, he was the second most successful bowler for his side in the series against India that preceded the Ashes – picking 15 wickets at 24.66 in four Tests - while his partner in crime was ruled out with injury after the first game.
Owing, perhaps, to the high standards they had set for themselves or England’s 10 defeats in 15 Tests, Anderson and Broad were dropped for the West Indies tour. A combined experience of more than 300 Tests probably left them wondering if they had overstayed their time to see themselves become the villain.
With the dreaded Ashes out of the way, the pace workhorses benched, England was in for yet another rude shock in the Caribbean. While the batting stood exposed in the series decider with West Indies cruising to a 10-wicket win to clinch the series 1-0 and sound the death knell of Joe Root’s captaincy, that the English pacers averaged 36.41, compared to their counterparts’ 28.37 didn’t help.
If the humiliation of losing a Test series to an eighth-ranked team ended Root’s tenure at the helm, it certainly breathed life into the prospects of Anderson and Broad bowling in tandem again.
With Stokes including the duo in his plans in his first statement after being appointed England captain and new coach Brendon McCullum putting them at the “forefront” of the team’s transition, the stage was set for their return at Lord’s.
Perhaps, both are aware that Anderson, 39, and Broad, 35, may well be in the twilight of their careers but hold the promise of ushering in a new dawn for English cricket.