The Oval holds a firm place in the hearts of many players because it is where you end the summers at home and – if you are lucky – is where you celebrate the victories of the test series. And the one about South Africa was special for many reasons.
Firstly, we were able to pay our respects after Her Majesty’s death, and the pinheadless silence in a plaza packed with 25,000 people before the game and taking part in the singing of “God Save the King” for the first time in a sports venue will long linger in the memories of me and all the players involved.
Fittingly, we then performed well in the friendly to secure a win in just over two days.
It was the icing on the cake of what felt like the most incredible summer to me because, without trampling on old ground, I came as close as ever to never again experiencing that sense of victory on an international cricket ground that I felt then felt in March.
I was pretty devastated after being banned from the West Indies tour and I think that made me allow myself to appreciate everything that came my way later.
What has made it so memorable – yes six wins out of seven is incredible, yes Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes must be given credit for creating a different style of cricket – is being part of a team where every single player looks back can and say: ‘At some point I contributed to a friendly win.’
On a personal level, you can say that I became a little more relaxed, less structured with my approach, more relaxed and had more fun. I really enjoyed that aura that Brendon and Stokes brought to the team.
On the field, I was part of a bowling group that was only thinking about getting 10 wickets ASAP, not caring about the save rate at all, and that actually takes some of the pressure off.
You always keep four slips and when you go to six you know nobody in the dressing room or on the field is going, ‘Oh god, he’s getting hit.’
We all bought into the schedule. If I’m bowling and I get hit for a four or six, I’m fine because I know it’s not fours or sixes that matter, it’s the wickets column. So if I take 29 and finish as the team’s leading wicket-taker for the summer, that means I’ve contributed positively.
It was also an honor to beat Glenn McGrath’s career Test wicket record on our last bowling day of the summer. McGrath was one of my heroes, someone I emulated in the garden and the reason I wanted to be a bowler.
It’s incredible to be up there in his kind of company and to have a one-two as the most prolific Sear in Test cricket with my great pal Jimmy Anderson. It also raised a smile or two that I took the 564th wicket on the fourth anniversary of Jimmy passing Glenn.
During the celebrations, I donned my You Gotta Call Me Night Hawk t-shirt. It’s a line that Will Ferrell brings out in the movie Step Brothers. I wore it to Lord’s at the beginning of the South Africa series and the boys thought it was funny so it was performed again.
Funnily enough, Baz McCullum hasn’t once called me Broady since July and the first time I was asked to adapt the role of night watchman into something that fits our team’s offensive vision. Every day when he goes into the dressing room he says, Good morning, Hawk.
It sums up the current mood in the English camp. Without sounding unprofessional I can honestly say the last four months has felt exactly like playing for a club side you love, with camaraderie, friendship, nicknames and nicknames.
One of the things that evolved was a basic sign-off for every team call. Jack Leach is very quiet, but has a very dry sense of humor, and whenever Baz and Stokes have finished speaking, Baz invariably ends by asking, “What is there to add, Leachy?” The deadpan reply after a pause is: “No, I think you covered it pretty well.” In my last column, I vowed to increase my competitive edge before winning the Old Trafford Test. At the time I didn’t expect to bowl first and the plan for Ollie Robinson to pick up the new ball was actually hatched a few days later while I was a passenger in Stokes’ car after a round of golf .
He asked me what I would do with Robbo, obviously someone who’s a really good New Ball bowler. He was keen to bring him in because he was on a long layoff, his fitness was questionable and there was a bit of pressure on him.
My response was, “Yes, I think he should take the new ball, but that doesn’t mean he has to take the second new ball.” And that we had to be flexible because if we played Australia the following week and David Warner went out batting I would have wanted it.
Things are not set in stone in this team. It’s about being adaptable and adaptable. You’ve seen Alex Lees dance down the track to the new ball, Ollie Pope successfully transitioned into a new role at No. 3, Joe Root Reverse Ramp for Six.
The players mostly stuck to their strengths but always committed to what the team needs at any given moment.
The first change I was asked was to increase the period of pressure on the batters, and I actually felt like doing so as I took a wicket in three of the four innings in either the first over or the second over.
I’ve always been someone who needed new challenges and I’ve always maintained that if I don’t work on something, develop technically or mentally or physically, my training becomes stale and I as a competitive athlete become stale.
It left me intrigued for the rest of my career in England. And that doesn’t mean we’re looking forward to next year’s Ashes. We’ve made this mistake before.
Baz actually has a saying, “Let’s play where your feet are,” and that’s been such a strength of ours all summer. We stayed in the moment. So I’m just thinking about stepping into the next test match I play, the fittest I’ve ever been. At 36, that’s a pretty big deal to say.