Intimidation. The single word that describes quality fast bowling. Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Glenn McGrath, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, and more recently, Dale Steyn all evoke the stereotypical image of a fast bowler- tall, angry with a ready-to-kill attitude. The same cannot be said for Stuart Broad though as his baby face looks exude a kind of calmness that is almost reassuring. Currently taking the world by the storm, his ascension has been a surprise to most, if not, all of us.
Stuart Broad could not have found a household more inclined towards sports. His father is the former English opener and current ICC umpire, Chris Broad and his mother, Carol is the head of sport at Brooke Priory, a preparatory school in Oakham, a tiny day school. It is difficult to ascertain whose influence was more profound, his mother or his father, for although his father was a former opener in the England team, he first developed his love of cricket at his mother’s school. While the senior Broad was an opening batsman, the youngster has been an all-rounder ever since his school days. Perhaps wishing to emulate his father, he first started in cricket as a batsman at the tender age of 8. His intensity and desire to win saw him open the batting for his school team and even more surprisingly, he also opened the bowling. Described as a nagging bowler who could stem the flow of runs, a growth spurt at the age of 17 suddenly brought the venom in his bowling. From a batsman who can bowl, he become the opposite – a bowler who can bat. Before deciding on cricket as a career, his competitive streak ensured that he excel in other sports as well such as rugby and ice hockey. His school coaches and teachers describe him as ‘shy’ but not ‘reserved’. A model pupil who excelled both in academics and sports.
Graduating from school, Broad was given a place at the Leicestershire County Cricket Club. His impressive performances with the club not only earned him a full time contract but also cemented his place in the county team where he got to play against the likes of Graeme Smith and Sanath Jayasuriya (both of whom at the time represented Somerset County Club).
His early years in international cricket were not memorable. Despite performing well against Pakistan at home in 2006 – he was twice on a hat trick in the series, he was subsequently dropped for the Champions Trophy 2006 and the Commonwealth Bank ODI Series in Australia. The reasonable performances were not good enough for him to be included in the first draft of the national team. Injuries to English players meant a call up right in the middle of the 2007 World Cup which eventually led to a more permanent position with the team. His occasional tantrum on the field got him into trouble with umpires and match officials. Yet, for all the good cricket he played, the only memory that stuck in people’s minds is that over in Durban wherein Stuart Broad was lambasted for 6 sixes by Yuvraj Singh. There is little doubt that being smacked for 6 sixes in an over would not have been a good moment exactly for a bowler’s self esteem. It would have had some kind of psychological impact.
Commendably, Broad put the incident behind him and bounced back, performing exceedingly well in the following tours of New Zealand, South Africa, and India. His impressive all-round performances even led to Geoffrey Boycott comparing Broad to the legendary Sir Garfield Sobers, perhaps the highest compliment an all-rounder can receive. Growing in stature, the young fast bowler remained in the shadow of his fast bowling partner – James Anderson. During this time, Broad was inconsistent. Capable of being a match winner, as his 5-37 against Australia at Cardiff in the 2009 Ashes proved, he always seemed to be at the cusp of greatness but somehow, it eluded him.
After a long slump in international cricket, Stuart Broad’s moment in the sun came in the 2011 India series. Before the series began against the then No.1 Indian team, the selectors were under immense pressure to drop him on account of his below average form. He had just been dropped from the ODI side, and averaged 36 after 37 Tests. Repaying the faith that the selectors and team put in him, Broad, took 7-94 and scored 74 in the first test match followed by the memorable 6-46 which included a hat trick, taking the wickets of MS Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar in succession. Emerging from the shadows of James Anderson, Stuart Broad seemed to have become the more lethal of the two. His height meant that deliveries pitched at a good length would bounce at an uncomfortable height for the batsmen. Capitalizing on his strengths , Broad found his groove in the series . Following the India series, Broad had been more of a menace to the batsmen then Anderson and that is no easy task to accomplish. Even more profound had been the change in his attitude. While Broad occasionally got carried away in the heat of the game, from 2012 onwards, Broad’s aggression and how he has been able to effectively channel it has been one of the talking points in cricket.
Whilst Broad has never been one of the good boys of international cricket, his refusal to walk at Trent Bridge in 2013 against the Aussies turned him into one of the most hated players in Australia. Walking has always been a controversial topic of debate in cricket. Yet a player not walking is perfectly within his rights to do so. This distinction has been forgotten in our age of social media where Broad was incessantly mocked and criticized. His unapologetic response further fueled the hatred. During the 2013-14 Ashes in Australia next year, “Stuart Broad is a shit bloke” adorned many t-shirts and “Stuart Broad is a w***er” was such a regular chant that Broad even joined in at one point.
Former Australian cricketer and captain Steve Waugh has an interesting theory in this regard. “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.”
This explanation leads to a startling revelation. Just like Javed Miandad, Arjuna Ranatunga, Sourav Ganguly, Broad is driven to win. All his theatrics on the field like excessive appealing or not walking are driven by the inane desire to win that drove these greats just like it does Broad. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that Broad’s average against Australia i.e. in the Ashes is better than his career average. His game elevates to another level against quality oppositions. Exhibit A is the 8/15 he took to demolish Australia for just 60 runs.
Given that Broad is only 30 years old, the road ahead for him is still long and full of challenges. He will soon be the spearhead of the England bowling attack and it would be interesting to see how he continues to attack without the support of Anderson at the other end. Yet, if he continues up at this rate, he may even be remembered ahead of the likes of Sir Ian Botham and that is high praise indeed !