At Ayers Rock during the 2013-14 Ashes
At Ayers Rock during the 2013-14 Ashes
Stuart Broad is one of England's finest. Yet he is baited abroad and only grudgingly admired back home
Stuart Broad was born in England but made in Australia. His win-at-most-costs approach has ensured a complicated relationship with both countries. In Australia, during the 2013-14 Ashes, he was the subject of an almost unprecedented level of hate. In England, traditionally the land of the lovable loser, the level of affection and respect he has received is not remotely commensurate with his record.
Broad could be a national treasure. He has more than 300 Test wickets. He is England's most successful Aussie-basher since Ian Botham, and the first man in history to be the Man of the Match in three Ashes-winning victories. He specialises in exhilarating spells that take out a lease in the memory bank, during which he bowls with irresistible force. Yet his attitude and even his place have been questioned for a disproportionate amount of his career. It has been a rocky ride to the cusp of greatness.
The cliché about Broad is that he is a bowler of great spells rather than a great bowler. His performance in the last Ashes seriously challenged that notion. In a series full of crack pace and swing bowlers, Broad was comfortably the standout. With the possible exception of the 4-0 win over India in 2011, he has never bowled as consistently across a whole series.
It is easy to forget, because of his indelible association with Jimmy Anderson, that Broad is 29 years old - four years younger than Anderson, less than a year older than Moeen Ali, who is regularly described as part of England's next generation. After 87 Tests, Broad is in the unusual position of being a veteran at his peak.
Broad is a fairly gentle soul off the field. On the pitch, however, he needs to "hate" the batsman, and so he gets into character
Anderson and Broad come as a pair, but they will not leave as one. Soon Broad will have to go it alone - an undesirable situation but one that might have some fringe benefit. Broad has always been Anderson's plus-one - it is always Anderson and Broad, never Broad and Anderson - yet soon he will be the main man. His 8 for 15 against Australia at Trent Bridge, in his first game leading the England attack since 2011, was a significant statement of intent.
"Stuart Broad is a w***er." That catchy ditty was sung regularly by Australian fans in 2013-14. Broad would agree with the printed version, because he could replace the asterisks with I-N-N rather than A-N-K.
Winning is Broad's world entire. That has been the case since he played for Hoppers Crossing in Australia at the age of 17. There was a latent tough guy in him - his heroes were Martin Johnson and Stuart Pearce, tough guys of rugby union and football - and that stint in Australia brought it to the surface.
As the son of Chris, who made three centuries in Australia in the 1986-87 Ashes, he was always likely to receive a bit of extra four-letter wisdom from grizzled old pros whose affection for pretty-boy Poms knew plenty of bounds.
"I went over as a young kid, public-school cricket, all nicey-nicey, flat wickets, knock it around… and then I stepped out there and it was like being in a fight," Broad said in November 2013. "They were coming at you all the time. They let me know all about what they thought of my old man and his three centuries."
The old man and Stu: the Broads know a thing or two about taking the fight to the Australians
© PA Photos
The old man and Stu: the Broads know a thing or two about taking the fight to the Australians © PA Photos
It was not just that. As the cliché goes, he went a boy and came back a man. He also went as a batting allrounder and came back as a bowling allrounder. Broad was famously described as "the 27-year-old medium-pacer" by Brisbane's Courier-Mail during the 2013-14 Ashes; at 17 he really was a medium-pacer, and an occasional one at that. But a sudden growth spurt - he was 5ft 6in on his 17th birthday - and an increase in pace changed his attitude to bowling, as did the opportunity and expectation that, as the overseas player at Hoppers Crossing, he would bowl all day.
Broad experienced a mental growth spurt too. Chris Rogers played with him for Leicestershire in 2005, and against him for Northamptonshire in 2006. He could barely believe the difference. "I remember we lost a game against Yorkshire at Scarborough and he didn't bowl very well," Rogers told the Cricket Monthly. "Then he went from being a boy to leading the attack. The stride he took in one year, you just don't see that."
Botham took 343 wickets before his 30th birthday, the most by a fast bowler; Broad is 28 behind, with a maximum of seven Tests before he turns 30
Every now and then you see a young player who has something different - not talent, which is a prerequisite, but a steel and substance that makes you nigh-on certain they will go all the way. That Broad was such a character became abundantly clear on August 12, 2006. It was Twenty20 Cup Finals Day, and Broad's first moment in the national spotlight. He had only just turned 20, and in the semi-final was opening the bowling to Ronnie Irani, Essex's boisterous, hardened captain. Irani had been one of the players of the tournament, smashing the new ball to all parts, and he tried to launch a pre-emptive strike by telling Broad he was "as big an idiot as your dad was".
The brisk, brusque manner in which Broad sorted Irani out was similar to Mitchell Starc's emphatic defenestration of Brendon McCullum in this year's World Cup final. After somehow surviving a very adjacent lbw appeal, Irani was caught behind poking at a lifter for a seven-ball duck. Broad then bowled Leicestershire to victory in the final. Sixteen days later he made his England debut.
In the 2013-14 Ashes, Australian crowds went to lengths to make their feelings towards Broad known, fuelled in particular by his refusal to walk at Trent Bridge a few months earlier
© Getty Images
In the 2013-14 Ashes, Australian crowds went to lengths to make their feelings towards Broad known, fuelled in particular by his refusal to walk at Trent Bridge a few months earlier © Getty Images
Jeremy Snape was the Leicestershire captain that day. Now he is a leading sports psychologist, the founder of the consultancy Sporting Edge, and has worked with South Africa, Sri Lanka and Shane Warne's Rajasthan Royals. "Before this he was the galloping talent who everyone thought (and hoped) would make it big," Snape told the Cricket Monthly, "but this was the day which made that look inevitable.
"Broady was thick-skinned and focused enough to channel the barrage of expletives and age-related remarks [from Irani] into increased pace and bounce until he took Ronnie's wicket. His celebration was a great moment. It featured a boyish giggle but also a recognition that he had just changed the game in a pivotal moment for his team. It was a coming of age."
In terms of controlling his competitive instinct, it has taken Broad longer to grow up. He has been in trouble on a number of occasions with umpires and match referees, and even managed to offend people with a comment about the minimum wage.
England loves a stiff upper lip but it is less comfortable with a hard nose, unless it is admiring one in those from other countries, like Steve Waugh or Graeme Smith
In one sense he has been a victim of a social-media culture of faux outrage that is intolerant of even the mildest excess; most of Broad's crimes do not compare to those of cricketers - or just cricketers called Broad - in the past. But some things are hard to defend: throwing the ball at Pakistan's Zulqarnain Haider in 2010 was out of order, and his occasional tendency to celebrate rather than appeal does not look good - even if it is an instinctive reaction Broad has been conscious of, and has been trying to eradicate, since before he played Test cricket. His liberal, misguided use of the DRS has also led to accusations of brattish entitlement.
Broad is a fairly gentle soul off the field, and says he has hardly ever raised his voice in his life. On the pitch, however, he needs to "hate" the batsman, and so he gets into character. He calls it Warrior Mode. "He's a pretty ruthless character when he needs to be but I never felt like he crossed the line," says Rogers. "He's always been very respectful to me. He never sledged much; his aggression was mainly through his body language and his bowling."
If it's Tuesday it must be Trent Bridge: Broad took eight in Nottingham in 2015, to follow up his hat-trick there in 2011 (and the kerfuffle over not walking in 2013)
© Getty Images
If it's Tuesday it must be Trent Bridge: Broad took eight in Nottingham in 2015, to follow up his hat-trick there in 2011 (and the kerfuffle over not walking in 2013) © Getty Images
The infamous non-walking incident against Australia at Trent Bridge in 2013 felt like a media construction, or rather a social-media construction. The fact that Brad Haddin deflected the ball to slip has almost been airbrushed out of history, and most within cricket did not draw a distinction between Broad and the 475 million other examples of players not walking. Broad's aggressively unapologetic reaction was most revealing. When Michael Vaughan later asked him whether he regretted it, Broad said: "No. We'd have lost the game." The English archetype of the happy loser disgusts him.
In that sense Broad would be more at home in Australia, though you wouldn't have known it from the abuse he received in 2013-14. "Stuart Broad is a shit bloke" adorned many t-shirts during the 2013-14 Ashes, and "Stuart Broad is a w***er" was such a regular chant that Broad even joined in at one point.
The nation doth protest too much. "We tend not to like cricketers who actually play like Australians," said Steve Waugh at the time. "In my experience, the guys that are hard-nosed and get in your face, like Javed Miandad, Arjuna Ranatunga, Sourav Ganguly and Stuart Broad, we would probably like to have them on our side. That's why we don't like them."
Winning is Broad's world entire. That has been the case since he played for Hoppers Crossing in Australia at the age of 17
Broad does not necessarily like not being liked, but he knows how to turn it into fuel. He took five wickets on the first day of the series and was one of the few England players to maintain his form when they were overwhelmed 5-0. Broad, while having clear contempt for some of the excesses of Australian fandom, is clearly a disciple of their sporting culture: "They are the toughest of the tough, aren't they?" he said in July this year. As a child, in the back garden he was Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Matthew Hayden. "They were so successful - they were winners."
English cricket has produced many winners down the years but none quite as brazen as Broad. This, perhaps, is the reason why plenty remain suspicious of him. England loves a stiff upper lip, but it is less comfortable with a hard nose, unless it is admiring one in those from other countries, like Steve Waugh or Graeme Smith. Broad is like nothing English cricket has seen before: the pretty-boy tough guy with the cold contempt of a Bond villain. In a sense, the mixed reaction to him in some quarters is fear of the unknown.
Detention candidate: Broad's occasional petulance has landed him in trouble with umpires and match referees
Detention candidate: Broad's occasional petulance has landed him in trouble with umpires and match referees © AFP
He has never been the subject of the same affection as Anderson, the swing-bowling artist who has broken all England records. Nor has his place been as secure. Anderson's Test spot has never been seriously questioned since he went to another level in 2010, whereas Broad was dropped in India in 2012-13 and has been seen to be under pressure on a number of occasions.
One such occasion was a landmark in Broad's career. Before the 4-0 win over India in 2011, he was in dreadful form. He had just been dropped from the ODI side, and averaged 36 after 37 Tests. Broad decided to reject the idea of being England's "enforcer" and bowl a slightly fuller length. The result was 25 wickets at 13.84 in four Tests, including a hat-trick at Trent Bridge. After years of experimentation, Broad finally knew what type of bowler he wanted to be, and had a mantra to stick to: top of off, top of off, top of off.
Broad does not necessarily like not being liked, but he knows how to turn it into fuel
That remains his only Man-of-the-Series award, although many would have given it to him against Australia this summer. It is a fitting statistic nonetheless, because Broad has generally bowled exceptional spells out of nowhere, often either side of some underwhelming performances. Whereas his one Man-of-the-Series award puts him level with Ravi Bopara and Chris Tremlett, fine cricketers but not on the list of England greats, his eight Man-of-the-Match awards are behind only three of England's greatest match-winners: Botham, Kevin Pietersen and Graham Gooch.
Broad is a reminder that, before you can seize the moment, you first have to sense the moment. "He definitely goes up a gear when he feels the time is right," says Rogers. When he does so, every delivery crackles with wicket-taking menace. It is apt that he is one of only two men, the other being Wasim Akram, to have taken two Test hat-tricks since the Second World War.
Rogers has faced more balls from Broad in Tests than any other batsman, and does not subscribe to the increasingly common view that Broad bowled a significantly fuller length in the Ashes. "The big difference is that when he's 'on' he gets his zip, so he's going to be a different kind of bowler from whatever length. He seems to have found a length that suits him - I don't think it was exceptionally full. He got it up there but it was still top of the stumps to waist-high. It wasn't half-volley stuff. It's all about rhythm, and he seemed to find it more often than not this summer."
Jimmy's best man: Broad has always been second behind James Anderson
© PA Photos
Jimmy's best man: Broad has always been second behind James Anderson © PA Photos
Never more so than at Trent Bridge, when his 8 for 15 skittled Australia for 60. Here was the ultimate Broad performance, in that he combined accuracy with intensity. Broad's great spells have the common theme of zip and pace, but they are not always alike. The three Ashes-winning spells show that. At The Oval in 2009 and Durham in 2013 he attacked the stumps, at Trent Bridge he concentrated on hitting the seam and the outside edge.
Botham took 343 wickets before his 30th birthday, the most by a fast bowler; Broad is 28 behind, with a maximum of seven Tests before he turns 30. Fast bowlers can decline very quickly, and Broad has had injury problems that may increase with age, but the number of wickets taken by the great fast bowlers after their 30th birthday - Courtney Walsh 341, Glenn McGrath 287, Richard Hadlee 276, Allan Donald 216, Curtly Ambrose 215 - offer an alternative scenario in which Broad could even overtake McGrath's fast-bowling record of 563 Test wickets, never mind Anderson's. Even Anderson has taken 158 wickets and counting since turning 30.
Broad's first task is to improve his mixed record outside England - 108 wickets at 34.10 - and show that this summer's Ashes was indicative of a bowler reaching a peak of wisdom, maturity and fitness rather than a slightly illusory career high. He also has to show that he can produce his best away from the unique intensity of an Ashes, to which Broad is unashamedly addicted. He is one of the few modern England bowlers whose Ashes record is better than his overall record.
Whatever happens, Broad's career will be defined by what he has done in the Ashes, but achievement elsewhere could well determine whether he is recalled as a great bowler or a bowler of great spells. What he really wants is to be remembered as a winner. "He wins Test matches," says Rogers. "Any player who does that is world-class. Not everyone is good enough to win games by themselves, and he does."
It's a tribute Broad would surely love - especially as it comes from an Australian.
Rob Smyth is the author of Gentlemen and Sledgers: A History of the Ashes in 100 Quotations
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