Stuart Broad can sense when he is about to start one of his unstoppable spells of bowling.
He not only clinched England’s three-day hammering of the West Indies with one such stint, but of course went past his boyhood hero Sir Ian Botham when he took three wickets for four runs in 11 balls at Edgbaston on Saturday.
Broad, renowned for streaks of wicket-taking which leave international batting line-ups in utter disarray, has 384 to Botham’s 383 – and after England’s innings-and-209-run trouncing of the West Indies in this country’s inaugural day/night Test, the 31-year-old has only team-mate James Anderson ahead of him in the national all-time list.
It was a minor surprise even that, after equalling Botham with two wickets in two balls, Broad’s latest hat-trick bid was foiled by the tail-end defence of Kemar Roach as he again homed in on the stumps.
There was little doubt that the historic moment was merely suffering a minor delay, however – and sure enough, although Broad must settle at this stage for only two of the 14 hat-tricks taken by an Englishman, he clean-bowled Shane Dowrich two overs later to move a clear second behind Anderson.
Statistically, his 3-34 was small-fry by his standards in an England victory set up by Alastair Cook’s double-century, a hundred too from captain Joe Root and some fine bowling from Anderson before the West Indies were asked to follow-on.
Broad’s performance was reminiscent nonetheless of so many others that have proved far too much for opponents such as Australia, South Africa and India over the years.
Asked if he starts to realise before everyone else when one of his ‘super spells’ is in the offing, Broad said: “I sort of can.
“It’s strange. I do feel light in my run-up, (and then) I think the most important thing is I make the batsmen play pretty much every ball.”
Broad has had a steady rather than remarkable summer so far, with 16 wickets in five Tests. But he felt something different start to click in Birmingham.
“It was probably the nicest feeling I’ve had this summer on the hat-trick ball,” he said. “I thought, ‘Could this happen, could this be?’
“It was a great atmosphere running in, and I just said, ‘Right, just try and hit the stumps’ ... (but) unfortunately Roach kept it out.”
No matter, Broad was at the top of his game again. “It was probably the best 40 minutes of bowling I’ve had this summer,” he said.
“When I don’t get it quite right, I get pushed into sort of fifth stump and get left a few times.
“I really don’t like being left – it feels like the waste of a run-up.
“I think consistently for that seven-over period it was probably the most I made batsmen play a forward-defensive at me all summer.”
The early finish in Birmingham has left extra time before the next Test at Headingley for Broad to share a celebratory bottle of wine with Botham, a man he credits as having a significant effect on his career, initially from afar and increasingly as an unofficial team mentor at closer quarters.
“He is someone who has been a big influence on me,” he said of his father Chris’s former England team-mate.
“In the past couple of years, he has spent more and more time in the changing room, and the guys really listen to him. He obviously has an influence on us, the way he performed against Australia ... and you can tell he wants us to do well.
“I could tell he was genuinely proud and delighted that I’d managed to go past him, and that’s testament to him.”
It is Broad and Anderson who must carry the wicket-taking responsibilities in the middle these days, though.
At 35, Anderson has moved within eight Test wickets of becoming the first from this country to reach 500, a feat Broad predicts will be far from the limit of his fellow seamer’s remaining career potential. Both are set for pivotal roles in the forthcoming Ashes winter, and Broad is already eyeing a 2019 home rematch too.
“He’s going to be crucial for our chances this winter for sure,” he said of Anderson.
“He is picking up wickets at a huge speed at the moment and not only will he be looking at 500, he’ll be looking way past that.
“I’m 31 now and still feel like I have quite a bit of cricket left in me, a few more miles in the tank.
“I’ll be just turned 33 (in 2019) so I’d certainly hope my performances will keep improving to be a part of that Ashes for sure. I’ll play as long as that competitive spirit and drive is there.”