England's young lion takes to Test scene like a duck to water
Aggressive, cocky and full of self-confidence, the 21-year-old Stuart Broad has shown in his first 18 months of international cricket that he has a long career ahead of him, writes Angus Fraser
Friday 21 March 2008
There are players who put on their England kit for the very first time and, for whatever reason, it just looks right. It is hard to describe why but the sweater, shirt and cap seem to fit. They appear at home. Stuart Broad is one of them.
As a fast bowler Broad is still a baby and he has a fair distance to travel before he comes close to being the finished article, but, in the 18 months since first donning a full England shirt, he has made quite an impression. It is not just the way Broad bowls that is striking, it is the manner in which he conducts himself both on and off the pitch.
For some time the England management have realised what a fine prospect the 21-year-old is and it is why they continue to handle him with care. When many commentators and supporters were calling for him to be picked for the Test side, the selectors held him back, wanting to arm him with the proper weapons before throwing him in to the gladiatorial arena that is Test cricket.
Not that they needed to have feared too much. Like a young lion, Broad fancies himself, believing he is indestructible. He is confident and aggressive, and he enjoys confronting opponents. But unlike many bowlers whose posturing and growling at the end of their follow-through is nothing more than a charade, Broad means it. He enjoys goading an opponent and taking them on because he backs himself to get the better of the contest.
There have been times when such an approach has not come off, like when he was smacked for six sixes in an over by India's Yuvraj Singh in last year's Twenty20 World Championship in South Africa. Such a mauling would have broken quite a few bowlers but Broad just dusted himself down and went off to the next game. In the one-day series that followed, only two weeks after Singh's fireworks, he showed his character. In five matches Broad took 11 wickets against Sri Lanka at an average of 17.5, conceding just over four runs an over.
His father, Chris, the former England, Gloucestershire and Nottinghamshire opener, was a similar sort of character. Chris rarely doubted himself, an attribute that led to him earning the nickname "Carly", after Carly Simon who sang "You're So Vain". Stuart is very proud of his hair, too, according to team-mate Graeme Swann, but it is a likeness to Draco Malfoy, a wizard in the Harry Potter films, that has led to him being nicknamed "Malfoy" by many.
Broad's bowling will define his career but it is with the bat where he has highlighted his ability to deal with high-pressure situations. On two occasions England's batsmen have looked all at sea chasing down a small total until Broad arrived at the crease to calmly guide his side to victory.
As a bowler Broad has all the assets to make it to the top. He is tall, bowls with good pace and possesses a simple action that is easy to repeat. When he first entered the England set-up he looked unhealthily skinny but he is getting stronger and fitter all the time.
"To me, in terms of bowling, he is still a baby and we have to look after him as you would any young child," admitted Ottis Gibson, the England bowling coach. "We have to nurture him. He is only 21 and, as exciting as he is, he still needs some protection and looking after. He is still developing and his action is not the finished article by any means, so that is something we are working on all the time.
"We are very happy with where he is at at this very moment in his development and the contributions he is making to the set up. We will continue to work on things behind the scenes like his strength and fitness.
"Hopefully by the time he reaches his peak as a fast bowler, at about 28 or 29, all those issues will be sorted out and he will still have four or five of his best years ahead of him."
The technical issues that need to be addressed are not major. Most high-quality fast bowlers bowl with a strong front/leading arm. Ideally, the arm acts as your guide and it should be thrown down the pitch in the direction a bowler is aiming. It should also be pulled in tight as the ball is released.
There are occasions when Broad's front arm appears limp, sort of hanging there like an old piece of celery. When he gets tired or tries to bowl too fast, his arm can fall away to the off-side too early, which results in it pointing at gully. The problem is the arm takes the head, which takes the bowling arm and the bowler ends up pushing the ball in to the batsman to bowl straight, an angle of attack that causes the best players fewer problems.
A fast bowler wants to be upright at the moment of delivery and release the ball with his fingers behind it. It is an action that increases the chances of the seam being hit and the ball swinging away from a right-handed batsman.
When his action is right, Broad can swing and seam the ball away. The skills sound the same but they are different and they take a different mind-set to bowl, because one – seam – involves the bowler thumping the ball in to the pitch just short of a length, while the other – swing – requires the ball to be pitched right up to the batsman, encouraging him to drive at the ball.
"What type of bowler he is is entirely up to him," Gibson said. "What we have seen so far is that he can do both. He is very skilful and he has a big capacity to learn. He picks up things quickly and likes to try things out in the nets. He is also very good at holding his line and length when he is put under pressure, so in pressurised situations he will keep a cool head.
"He is six feet seven and he gets the ball to bounce as we saw in the last Test. He can swing it when it is swinging, nip it around when it is seaming.
"He loves fast bowling. He came late in to it, he only started it properly when he was 16, but one of the key things about fast bowling is that you love what you do. It is not a normal thing to do. It is the hardest thing in cricket to do. There is nothing more demanding than trying to bowl fast on unhelpful surfaces."
In Wellington, in the last Test, Broad showed what he can do in helpful conditions. Here in Napier, on a more batsman-friendly surface, we will find out a little bit more about him.
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