Stuart Broad is not a legend, and will perhaps never be, but is he the greatest impact bowler ever? © Getty Images
Stuart Broad is not a legend, and will perhaps never be, but is he the greatest impact bowler ever? © Getty Images

Stuart Broad was once hit for six sixes in an over. He has taken two Test hat-tricks, and was the victim of a third. He made news when he refused to walk in an Ashes Test. He made news again when he ripped apart Australia in a session in his home town (and got a tram named after him). Of all fast bowlers, Broad has taken the most wickets in cricket history before turning 30. Chris and Stuart Broad are among those rare English father-son pairs to have been parts of Ashes-winning teams in Australia.

If one excludes Harbhajan Singh, Stuart Broad is the only contemporary cricketer to have achieved the 2,000 run-300 wickets double in Test cricket. He has thrived at home (219 wickets at 26.42); Asian pitches continue to remain his weakness (31 wickets at 39.45), but he has not done poorly in other overseas venues (95 wickets at 29.80).

And yet, Broad continues to languish in the shadow of James Anderson. They always call them Anderson and Broad, never Broad and Anderson, in the same way they say Spofforth and Boyle, Turner and Ferris, Gregory and McDonald, Lindwall and Miller, Trueman and Statham, Hall and Griffith, Ambrose and Walsh, Wasim and Waqar.

But the question remains: how good is Broad? Let us find out.

After 94 Tests, Broad stands at 345 wickets at 28.52, and a strike rate of 56.3. These are decent numbers, but not phenomenal. There is something, however, that one cannot help but notice — his gradual improvement over years.

Stuart Broad, year-on-year (I have combined the first two years, since he played only one Test in 2007)

Year

W

Ave

SR

2007-08

26

45.23

83.4

2009

47

28.36

53.8

2010

26

37.69

76.7

2011

33

22.30

49.1

2012

40

31.70

62.7

2013

62

25.80

46.2

2014

30

26.70

60.7

2015

56

23.82

48.2

2016

25

24.48

49.2

The difference is stark. While he had an excellent 2011, from 2013 Broad has been another bowler altogether.

Phase

W

Ave

SR

2007 to 2012

172

31.94

62.9

2013 to 2016

173

25.13

49.9

The graph will probably give a better representation of how Broad’s career has progressed. If he continues to deliver this way, he may end up breaking the 25-barrier.

BroadCareer

Broad’s overall career numbers somewhat obscure his numbers over the past five years — a period when he has picked up more wickets than anyone in the world. Of all fast bowlers (it is probably a bit unfair to pit fast bowlers against spinners), Broad also has the best bowling average after Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander. Barring the two South Africans, Mitchell Johnson is the only one who pips him in strike rate.

Fast bowlers with 100 Test wickets (past 5 years)

Player

W

Ave

SR

Stuart Broad

238

25.04

50.5

James Anderson

235

25.81

56.2

Dale Steyn

168

21.57

44.2

Trent Boult

147

29.14

58.1

Peter Siddle

134

28.65

60.2

Mitchell Johnson

132

26.61

47.8

Tim Southee

131

29.33

60.1

Morne Morkel

129

28.55

58.3

Vernon Philander

126

22.08

48.1

Ishant Sharma

105

38.75

72.1

But all this is over a five-year period. All this proves is that Broad has had a very good (not excellent) five years. What, then, makes Broad special?

What makes Broad really stand out is his ability to run through sides. Of course, his 15 five-wicket hauls rank nowhere close to the top among fast bowlers (Richard Hadlee, for example, has 36; Glenn McGrath, 29; and Botham, 27).

But what about those innings in particular? How have these men done during those 5-wicket hauls?

Best averages when a fast bowler has taken 5 or more wickets (post-War):

Player

W*

Ave

SR

5WIs

Shaun Pollock

87

8.98

25.0

16

Fazal Mahmood

75

9.45

30.7

13

Fred Trueman

95

9.47

24.4

17

Ray Lindwall

68

9.55

27.3

12

Malcolm Marshall

121

9.63

25.3

22

Stuart Broad

89

9.69

18.8

15

* Indicates wickets during five-wicket hauls

The numbers do tell a story. Broad does not get 5 wickets too often (once in 6.3 Tests; Hadlee had one in less than 2.4), but when he does, he runs through sides. If he takes 5 wickets, they come seriously cheap.

Best strike rates when a fast bowler has taken 5 or more wickets (post-War):

Player

W*

Ave

SR

5WIs

Stuart Broad

89

9.69

18.8

15

Dale Steyn

133

10.03

20.4

25

Mitchell Johnson

69

10.42

20.5

12

Shoaib Akhtar

63

10.17

20.6

12

Andy Caddick

72

10.76

20.9

13

* Indicates wickets during five-wicket hauls

Now this is serious. During five-wicket hauls, Broad takes a wicket every 19 balls, which is spectacular. In other words, if he takes 5 wickets in an innings, he needs less than 16 overs for that.

Take a minute to understand this. When he takes 5 wickets in an innings, Broad takes 16 overs to bowl out half a side on an average; this is no joke.

Do note the difference between the two tables. Barring Broad (and Pollock), nobody is really from the modern era on the averages table. On the other hand, everyone in the strike rates table is a recent cricketer. Even Caddick played in this millennium. This probably means that taking wickets has actually become easier now for quality bowlers, though they come at the cost of more runs.

Let us delve a bit deeper. We know Hadlee dominates the 5-wicket table, but what about the 6th wicket? Only 8 bowlers have taken 9 or more six-fors, and Broad is one of them. The data, however, tells are more about these men.

Bowlers with 9 or more six-fors

Player

W*

Ave

SR

5WIs

6WIs

%+

Richard Hadlee

101

10.60

26.7

36

16

44.4%

Imran Khan

85

10.71

22.9

23

13

56.5%

Syd Barnes

83

9.68

25.8

24

12

50.0%

Ian Botham

65

11.78

28.1

27

10

37.0%

Stuart Broad

64

7.68

16.9

15

10

66.7%

Glenn McGrath

66

9.30

24.5

29

10

34.5%

Kapil Dev

63

13.73

27.1

23

9

39.1%

Dennis Lillee

56

12.53

27.4

23

9

39.1%

* Indicates wickets during six-wicket hauls

+Indicates % conversion from 5-wicket hauls to 6-wicket hauls

Two factors stand out:

1. Two-thirds of all Broad five-fors are six-fors. Imran and Barnes are the only others to meet the half-mark.

2. When he takes a six-wicket haul, Broad concedes a mere 7.7 runs per wicket, and needs only 17 balls per wicket.

In other words, Broad does not strike every match, but when he does, he scythes through sides the way almost no other bowler has in history.

Combine that with his steady increase over years, and you are up against someone more dangerous than it meets the eye.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)