Stuart Broad studio portrait
© Getty Images

Hate to Love

A touch of Pakistani mayhem

Stuart Broad is easy to hate - until he conjures up one of his cathartic spells of fast bowling

Ahmer Naqvi |

When I was deciding whom to write this essay on and considered what it was that I hated about them, I was reminded of my childhood, and specifically the biases and world views we assembled then. When we had no choice but to accept the world for what it was and learn to work our way around it.

It struck me that we are aware of social hierarchies before we can even speak, and so are quick to take a spot on the ladder of society when we enter it. As a child, what this means is that those on top of the ladder among your peers are the kids who can run the fastest or are the biggest or can ride the merry-go-round very quickly without throwing up. I was terrible at all of these things, and thus was accepting of my status near the base of the ladder.

When we enter our teenage years, a new consideration appears - our looks. Suddenly, right when the majority of us are going through largely ugly metamorphoses both emotional and physical, our looks become a new way to climb up the social ladder. Sometimes, the kids who were already the fastest and biggest also turned out to be good-looking, retaining their status at the top. The rest of us had little choice but to accept it.

What is more unsettling, especially for boys who are unquestioning of the demands of masculinity, is when someone rises based purely on their looks. As a kid on the lower rungs of the ladder, you seem to resent their good fortune that much more. It is also a symptom of finding your notions of masculinity being threatened, since unlike the jock, whose qualities tend to appeal to other men, the good-looking guy can do without any approval. Perhaps it was just me, but I especially harboured a dislike for the type derided as "pretty boys". It seemed as if those boys didn't have to cope with any awkward stage during the horrors of puberty, as if they escaped the scars from the wars we all endured.

As much as I hate typing out this sentence, Stuart Broad achieves just about all the requirements of the platonic ideal of Pakistani fast bowling

As you advance in your teen years, you also develop a sense of (often misdirected) rebellion, when proximity to authority is seen as a betrayal. Anyone at school with a parent who taught there, or was part of the administration, was always viewed with caution and hesitancy. You always suspected their achievements were an outcome of nepotism. Not all children of teachers face this ostracism, though - some rebel so outrageously that no one can accuse them of any compromises, while others have strong enough personalities to win people over. The very worst, however, are the type who act all entitled, prone to petulance when things don't go their way. They are the reason the stereotype exists, and you feel nothing but derision for them.

When I got to university, I learnt to expand my mind and question the biases and hierarchies that I had previously accepted. I learnt to get over my prejudices, and to stop labelling and stereotyping people. I was now interested in politics and institutions, railing against privilege and entrenched elites, against archaic systems and their exploitation.

It was around this time that Stuart Broad first emerged, a composite that provoked just about all the biases I had acquired over my life till then: a petulant, privileged son of a cricketer-turned match referee, with a face like a Victorian-era version of Adonis. His effeminate, lovely looks triggered the most base of my heteronormative prejudices; his poor sportsmanship and habit of sulking at umpiring decisions inflamed my hatred for entitled brats. When Yuvraj Singh hit him for six sixes, I felt a most resplendent joy - each of my past selves sharing in the delight, lapping up the cosmic sense of justice.

Aussie basher: Broad takes a wicket in his spell at The Oval in 2009 that helped England seal the Ashes

Aussie basher: Broad takes a wicket in his spell at The Oval in 2009 that helped England seal the Ashes © Getty Images

In the years since, Broad has done nothing to change my view about his personality. He took a stand against chucking but said nothing about the Big Three shenanigans that took place at the same time, marking him out as a hypocrite in my eyes. Then in early 2015 he delivered patronising advice to Britain's working poor (before deleting the tweet and putting out an apology).

So why am I writing this article? Because of those spells.

At the height of his late-career revival, I had dismissed Mitchell Johnson's style as not as exciting or skilful as Pakistan's - fast, low and aiming for the stumps. There has been a lot written about what makes Pakistani fast bowling great, but one of its defining features is how a great spell seems to tear apart notions of time and rationality, existing in an unbearable immediacy of reverse swing and crashing stumps.

And as much as I hate typing out this sentence - and I will probably renounce it later - Stuart Broad achieves just about all the requirements of the platonic ideal of Pakistani fast bowling. He doesn't do it all the time - he is naturally a back-of-the-length bowler, and when he is in that mode I don't care much for him. But there is another mode he operates in, where he seems to exist in brief yet transcendental moments of ecstasy.

His poor sportsmanship and habit of sulking at umpiring decisions inflamed my hatred for entitled brats

That Broad has ripped through entire teams within a session, or even a single spell. It is in those moments that he changes his length and line, getting far fuller. He doesn't always get reverse, but he seems to create that Pakistani sense of visceral excitement, that same feeling of impending annihilation. In these moments, Broad takes wickets not because he scares the batsmen or outsmarts them - he takes wickets because he is simply better than them. Like the great Pakistani bowlers I continue to adore, he has the ability to make batsmen question the very point of their task - a frequent response of a rational mind in the face of genius.

Most importantly, he has the sense of occasion, having chosen to inflict these spells most often during decisive moments of Ashes series. It is one thing to compose highlight reels against lesser opposition or in low-consequence matches, another to do so in matches that matter most to your side.

One of the things I have loved about Pakistani fast bowlers is their ability to create spells where they pick up wickets not thanks to their brains or brawn but just because they feel like it. And when I think about that, I realise that "just because you feel like it" is one of the greatest delights of childhood, when you can act largely without fear of consequence, or trouble or shame. It offers such a wonderful sense of freedom, and it is perhaps that impulse from my childhood that I love most about a great spell of fast bowling. For all the biases that Broad provokes, this is one joy he regularly revives.

Ahmer Naqvi is a freelance writer who works for the music website Patari. @karachikhatmal