Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Joe Root continue to learn, grow and excel

In the last 18 months, Stuart Broad has taken 74 wickets in 33 Test innings at 20.51 Lee Smith / © PA Photos/Getty Images

Stuart Broad has been much in the news - his runs and wickets the result of a special talent, his fine and demerit point the result of petulance. His father Chris, the match referee in this case, answers for both. Stuart is 34, too old for either, you might argue, and something of a Peter Pan. He talks about the possibilities of life as if it is just beginning and accepts challenges without the doubts that hover above most others who have been around since the days before Lalit Modi announced "Lights, camera, auction" in the build-up to the first IPL in 2008. Broad made his debut as an England one-day cricketer in 2006 and followed with a Test cap in 2007. It's a long time ago for one still steaming in. He has become an example to the rookies around him who see a man 14 years on from his first ball in the colours of his country and who still so desperately cares.

An attraction in this England side is the wide range of ages. The bright faces of youth cannot help but display enthusiasm and joy at their luck; Jimmy Anderson, now 38, cannot help but emit irritation at his lack of it. It seemed reasonable for Anderson to point out that he had one bad game, though closer analysis of recent figures suggest that the kryptonite is taking hold. To some degree he is a victim of his own success: after all, 600 wickets creates high expectation. Almost inevitably, he is now trying too hard and has therefore found his usually efficient rhythm elusive.

This is perhaps the most infuriating thing about sport: the more you know, the less able you are to apply it. Tiger Woods holes fewer putts now than in his pomp because he is tight. Why should that be? Because he now knows the result of failure and because the next one - the one back in the old days - is no longer a given. At times in the last Test, at Old Trafford, Anderson appeared to be trying so hard that it hurt. Rhythm comes from relaxation in the moment of effort. Anderson has forgotten how to, or dare not, let go. Someone should remind him to loosen off those shoulders and find the rubber in that wrist before it is too late. Selectors tend not to find sympathy for age. Ask Broad.

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Three weeks ago, Broad was seething or, in his own words, "frustrated, angry and gutted". Fair enough. Ben Stokes, captain for that first Test against West Indies, said he had no regrets about leaving out a bloke with 485 wickets and added how pleased he was with Broad's punchy response. Broad, of course, was only revving up the engine when he spoke. Picked for the second Test, he took three wickets in each innings and made 11 not out - a significant innings against good fast bowlers. More of that in a moment, but for now, point made. The next Test led to one of his most memorable and satisfying games in an England shirt. There was a reason for this. Or another reason beyond the proof of his point.

To unravel the Broad of the last month we must go back to the same ground in 2014 when Varun Aaron hit him in the face. Twice in consecutive balls Broad had hooked Aaron for six but, rather as was the case with Andy Roberts, Aaron had another gear. The third ball in this trifecta was noticeably quicker and finding its way between the grille and peak of his helmet broke his nose and gave him a black eye worthy of the name. Worse, it gave him nightmares in the weeks and months which followed. Worse still, it put the development of his batting into reverse.

Before that match, Broad had 2144 Test runs from 72 matches at an average of 23.82. (In 2008, nine Tests into his career, he averaged 37.) Since then, he has made 1164 Test runs from 68 matches at 13.85.

"I have had nightmares about it. I have had times when I have felt the ball just about to hit my face in the middle of the night," Broad has openly said. "After my operation - I don't know if the drugs had anything to do with it - I would wake up feeling like a ball had actually hit me in the face. Often I see balls flying at me. My jaw clicks from it. Yes, it has affected my batting, but I am working with a psychologist on the process to deal with it." That's pretty heavy stuff. There's no explaining the reaction: some get back on the bike, others just can't.

Cricket brings two fears, mental and physical. Dealing with one is okay - a rite of passage to all but a very few - dealing with both is a problem. They fight with each other and the mental usually wins. Broad's batting became increasingly feeble until it was embarrassing. He knew it, we knew it. He tried new techniques but none with anything but the same humiliation when it came to lights, camera, action. A man who made 167 in a Lord's Test match couldn't make a trick.

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Then, just the other day - the 25th July - he smashed nine fours and a six in a score of 62 that came in just 45 balls and included all the old free swings of the bat and gorgeous timing. His high backlift and open bat face are made for this sort of counterattack, and attack he did, as if possessed by a new mind. Confidence flowed from a performance that defiantly backed up the wickets on his return to the team and fuelled the engine for those who came next. Ten wickets came next, including the mark of 500 in total, the Man-of the-Match award and the don't ever think of dropping me again statement. Oh confidence, you temptress! One moment there, the next gone to some other hungry fellow. Ask Jimmy. Come to think of it, ask Ben.

Witness Stokes out of the box and batting as if each ball was the accuser. Witness Stokes bowling with pace but not quite with the full gamut of his personality. In the matches immediately post-courtroom, Stokes was understandably wary. Like all of these guys, he was on show and to be judged. Wisely, for a Test or two, he lay a little low. That's hard, because as others question you, so you start questioning yourself. Throwing off the shackles of self-doubt is the magic trick. To be yourself is to be anyone and to achieve anything, even the magic. Put another way - inside the shell there is darkness, outside the shell there is light.

It didn't take Ben long, one discipline stoking the other, press conferences made easier, folk in the street all dewy-eyed again. Within 11 months he was a national treasure, heroically winning the World Cup final and the Headingley Ashes Test with performances of staggering quality, precision and self-belief. Taking him across the summer of 2019, has anyone ever played better cricket for England? Lord Botham perhaps. Andrew Flintoff? Probably not. This stuff rubs off on the others. Allrounders feed allrounders until they are all at it - Stokes, Chris Woakes, Ben Foakes, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Curran et al. And Stuart Broad. Mainly, good figures in one discipline will fire up the other but in Buttler's case, a miserable match with the gloves inspired a brilliant one with the bat. It is, of course, where Anderson misses out. Why, he even dropped a sharp chance in the gully, one he'd reckon to take eight out of ten.

Pulling these powerful men together is the captain, Joe Root, whose longer hair appears to have brought him gravitas. Root bats, bowls, catches at slip and calls the shots; he is crucial to the team's equilibrium and widely respected for his honesty and loyalty. He stuck close by Stokes during the courtroom drama and wanted him on the field the minute it was done. "We are as one" was the message this sent, and it ensured that the impetus for the decision was shared rather than apportioned.

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He has grown into the captaincy, as many do if it comes to them early. Graeme Smith says it took him four years to grasp the complexities of the job, and most particularly, the relationship between his responsibilities to the players and to himself. Root's 42 in the run chase last weekend was a thing of beauty in its construction and pace, both setting the standard and offsetting the fear. When he was third out with the score on 96, he must have wondered if he had blown it. It niggles Root that the high scores have deserted him since his elevation to the captaincy. So eager is he to fashion the game that he forgets its tendency to look away.

This is something Stokes does well. Root seems wedded to his chosen style of confrontation with each opponent, Stokes is more willing to think on his feet and adapt. They are quite a pair, captain and vice-captain, two superb cricketers who rank with any in England's long history.

Such a judgement applies to Anderson and Broad, of course. Anderson has been a master craftsman, one for the ages. Broad claims to be improving, an observation with which I would agree. His fuller length is more consistent than at any time in his career, and now that, eureka, he has seen the value in bowling straighter for longer, he will get greater return for movement both in the air and off the seam.

The best things about these players is that they continue to learn. Broad has adjusted his run-up and wrist position in the last 18 months, initiatives that take courage and work. From knowledge comes understanding and from understanding comes power. He is an intriguing cricketer and one of the smartest bowlers to have played the game. Maybe the trick is to keep writing him off.