Whangarei, New Zealand: Results are what captains usually stand or fall by but Stuart Broad’s continued leadership of England’s Twenty20 side could hinge on whether he has found a cure for the bruised heel that has dogged him for the past few months.
Sore heels can be the bane of fast bowlers and Broad struggled in India with the problem, a common ailment among those who bang their front foot down hard to generate pace. Wicketless, and with his speed down in the two Tests he played, he returned home early to sort the problem out. Clearly a captain needs to play to exert his influence and Broad, currently involved in all three formats of the game for England, now needs to prove his body can stand up to more than the odd series. It could prove a stern challenge.
England’s analysts have worked out that Broad transmits seven times his own body weight through his left foot when he bowls, with his heel bearing the brunt. If he was not a fast bowler it would not be a problem but because bowling is a repetitive discipline, bruised heels can quickly become a chronic injury.
Broad, apparently, has soldiered on to the point where he has lacerated the fat pads that act as shock absorbers in the heel, leaving bone to pound on boot, which in turn pounds on hard ground. The bowling crease is always compacted with little to ease the jolt. Solutions need to be found quickly with much hope being pinned on a new bowling boot.
The footwear, specially developed, has a softer, springier sole to absorb the shocks. What Broad’s own heel cannot supply, technology can, or at least that is the hypothesis which will be tested over the next few days when England play a New Zealand XI in Whangarei before their main three-match T20 series.
Yet, even if they are found wanting, the boots’ bright day-glo details will at least ensure England’s T20 captain remains visible should bad light descend. He will also discover whether his time off has helped ease the problem or whether he needs to manage the pain through medication, determination, a rethinking of his bowling action, a review of his overall workload, or a combination of all four. Broad has bowled twice in nets without discomfort over the past fortnight though that is not an acid test.
It may be that he has to drop one of the three formats he plays, but he has always been a glutton for glory and is unlikely to volunteer. He is reaching that point where he needs to prove his durability as nothing debases talent, however exceptional, more frustratingly than being hors de combat.
At 26, Broad is one of the oldest in the current T20 squad, which at practice in Whangarei looked a fizzing maelstrom of adrenalin, testosterone and youthful ambition, epitomised by the can-do attitude of Alex Hales. As England’s opening batsman, Hales has been in fine form for his country as well as in his freelance capacity as a bat for hire in the various T20 leagues multiplying like pond life around the world.
Innings of 99 last summer against the West Indies, and 55 and 40 against India before Christmas, stand alongside the 89 he made off 52 balls for the Melbourne Renegades against the Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash. One of his eight sixes in that innings almost struck the clock on top of the famous green-roofed pavilion, a mighty smite that must have carried well over 100 yards. Hales surrendered his place in the Bangladesh Premier League to play in the Big Bash, the likelihood of getting paid being considerably better in the latter. Given a fair wind, the cricketing gun for hire can play for as many as six T20 leagues, an interchangeability of players and teams that must surely endanger 20-over cricket’s cachet as an international format.
“I don’t think a club T20 differs much from an international one,” said Hales. “The crowds in Australia are massive and the standard of the Big Bash is very good and the overseas players are good. With there only being eight sides, the standard of Aussie players is very good so the standards are pretty similar.
“A lot of the T20 tournaments around are on my radar but England remains a priority. I’ve got a lot of ambition to break into the 50-over side. “Any opportunity in an England shirt is a time to put pressure on those in the team and I’m just going to try to do as well as I can over the next fortnight.”