In a single mature moment last winter, Stuart Broad showed that he meant business for England. It was nothing he bowled, it was rather something he said. He told the Indian Premier League, who were undoubtedly willing to give this tall, handsome, blond, talented man a truckload of cash in return for three weeks' work, that he was frankly not interested.
The refusal would have been couched politely because Broad is an unfailingly courteous chap but it was firm. It was precisely what England required because the decision put the game before the riches that can be garnered from it. Broad turned down the IPL because he wants to give him and England the best chance of winning the Ashes: tradition and history before ostentation and modernity.
"The Ashes is a major reason that I didn't go to the IPL and a major reason why anyone plays for their country," he said. "You can make history. People have a passion for the Ashes and I think to the nation it's the most important thing in the cricketing world. It's the pinnacle. Beating the West Indies at home is brilliant but beating Australia gives massive national pride.
"Everywhere I have been people seem to be interested. I was on the London Underground the other day and a chap got off and ran round the side while the doors were open and shouted: 'Broady, good luck in the Ashes!' I felt for me it would be much more beneficial playing in the Championship before the West Indies series than going to the IPL. This is a huge international summer but I've got a sense among the people I've seen that it's all about the Ashes."
It could have been a poster boy for the English cause talking. Alone among those with a realistic chance of being in both the IPL and the Ashes, Broad pulled out of one to ensure his preparations for the other were as thorough as they could be. The fact that Andrew Flintoff was injured in pursuing the IPL dollars (understandably perhaps, since there were about 500,000 of them) makes Broad's decision seem all the wiser and more selfless.
The probability is that he will be rewarded by being given the task of leading England's attack with Jimmy Anderson. They have already forged an increasingly potent new-ball combination in the short game and may now be ready to perform similar duties in Tests. They will open the bowling at Lord's next week against West Indies in the first Test of a long, long summer. Broad made progress in the winter and, perversely, can reflect with some satisfaction on an arid England tour of the Caribbean in the first part of the year.
On a succession of flat pitches, which might have been designed specifically to break bowlers' hearts and spirits, he took 12 wickets in 131 overs. At times it was painful to watch him and the other fast bowlers go to work because they knew before they began that it would be another arduous day.
"Although we lost and it was really hard work it really has helped me develop as a bowler," he said. "It has just awoken me to what flat pitches are like and what you have to do on them is try to buy wickets.
"I'm pleased to have had that experience. You have to try all sorts of things, slower balls, off-cutters, using the crease more and you have to accept that they might not work. But it's better to try and fail than not to try at all.
"Playing for Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge last week it was low and slow although it was obviously swinging a bit more than in the Caribbean. I still threw in a slower ball out of nowhere which surprised the batsman or used the crease, used the angles to confuse the batsman. What those West Indies wickets have done is make me feel twice as dangerous when there is a bit more kiss and nip."
In his opening Championship match against Worcestershire – it could easily be his only Championship match of a crowded international season – he performed beautifully. Not only did he take seven wickets, including 5 for 79, but he also scored 60 from 62 balls in his only innings. Broad is on the verge of being an authentic all-rounder.
There is a temptation when listening to this articulate, gently spoken young man to think that he may be just too nice, too clean cut. It came almost as a relief to see him bristling and seething occasionally in the Caribbean. Why, it was reminiscent of his father, Chris, the international referee who also played for England as a batsman and was occasionally tempestuous and grumpy.
Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the state of play, but young Stuart was not always a model of decorum in the West Indies. On the pitch he fell out with the umpire when he was, somewhat harshly, adjudged to have bowled a wide. He was seen having angry words with the official and his captain, Andrew Strauss.
"I'm certainly very honest and on the pitch on a few occasions I have had to have a word with myself out there because I've let it go too far. I remember that a wide was called when I bowled a bouncer. My mum was on the phone that night to ask what I thought I was doing.
"I have massive passion but I'm going to have to take a step back if I want to keep my match fee. I don't want to have a reputation for being a mardy bugger but I also have strong opinions. It was plain to see that not all decisions went England's way this winter. Whether that frustrated me or I felt subconsciously hard done by I'm not sure but I'm just going to have to make a big effort this summer to smile off bad decisions."
And he smiled as he said so. Broad will not be steam-rollered by anybody. He is vociferous on behalf of bowlers at England team meetings. He describes himself as a stubborn bugger, showing the honesty of his father. Although he has inherited the cricket gene from his dad it was his mum, Carole, who performed most of the driving necessary in taking any young cricketer from place to place and he is always careful to point that out. Polite, you see.
Broad's pace and cleverness have certainly been enhanced lately and the prospect of taking the new ball in Test matches clearly excites him. He is still only 22 but he is already 15 Test matches into his career. His time is coming. There might be some concern that he does not swing it sufficiently but his awkward length can compensate for that.
Test cricket is about attitude as much as talent and Broad is beginning to show, as he did in the Caribbean, that the early hopes invested in him will not be wasted. He has to take more wickets because one every 77 balls is simply not good enough to cut it at international level. But there are signs of that breakthrough happening.
"The batsman needs to know that you are there to get him out. You don't need to be swearing in his face but in Test cricket you need to feel big, you need to feel strong, you need to feel aggressive so that if you bowl a bouncer your body is saying that was meant to knock your block off. You need to give people a bit of verbal when it's appropriate, you need that bit of tension for it be Test cricket.
"I don't think the Aussies care if they get caught giving a bit of verbal but I appreciate there is a difference between England and them. Sledging is irrelevant. As long as you have a presence. If you don't, people pick up on it." The IPL's loss is England's gain.
Stuart Broad was speaking ahead of the Standard Chartered Great Race on 16 July, a 5km team race through the streets of London's square mile. Further information at www.cityrace.co.uk
Fathers & Sons: Ashes families
Stuart Broad is expected to emulate his father, Chris, in representing his country in the Ashes – following in the footsteps of three other father-and son combinations...
*FRED and MAURICE TATE
Fred (one Test, 1902) made his only appearance in a three-run defeat to the Aussies at Old Trafford. After a dropped catch, Fred declared: "I have a lad who will make up for me." Sure enough, son Maurice (39 Tests, 1924-35) grew up to play the Aussies 20 times.
*JOE and JOE (Jnr) HARDSTAFF
Joe (five Tests, 1907-08) played all his Tests in Ashes matches, while son Joe Jnr (12 Tests, 1935-48) played the Aussies nine times.
*JEFF and SIMON JONES
Jeff (15 Tests, 1964-68) played the Aussies four times, one less than his equally injury-stricken son Simon (18 Tests, 2002-05) managed.
And not forgetting...
*Arnie Sidebottom played his only Test against Australia, a draw at Trent Bridge in July 1985. Should son Ryan feature during this summer's Ashes he would complete the fifth father-and-son duo.
James MarinerReuse content