James Lawton: Broad must resist Flintoff's mistakes
Saturday 22 August 2009
As long as he plays cricket Stuart Broad may never find again the glory that came to him here yesterday.
But there is another question and it is one that the retiring superstar he upstaged so utterly when driving the Australians to the point of Ashes defeat could, if he chose to, answer perhaps better than any man who ever claimed this historic stadium for his own.
It concerns what you do – at the relatively tender age of 23 – with the legacy of such a triumph.
Do you do what the great Freddie Flintoff – who was required to settle for just one Australian scalp, the 10th wicket of tail-ender Ben Hilfenhaus, as Broad eviscerated the business end of the line-up – did when he was the great hero here four years ago?
Do you start a celebration which at times seems as if it is never going to end? Which many believe is what Flintoff did more or less relentlessly from the time he drove in triumph through the streets of London and then took wine at No 10 Downing Street when the Ashes were recovered so dramatically.
This didn't prevent Flintoff remaining a favourite of the sporting nation, despite a series of pratfalls and a disastrous tour of Australia as England captain. But there is an unswerving view among some of the harder minds in English cricket that Flintoff could have been so much more and could have got so much closer to the meaning of the career of the man with whom he is most easily compared – Sir Ian Botham.
This didn't diminish the nation's affection and yesterday he still felt such warmth as he toiled so hard, and no doubt at times painfully, for his solitary wicket, but when Broad began to tear through the Australians, and the cheers rolled around his head and Flintoff knew, finally that his show was over, there was no doubt a twinge of professional concern about how the new man will handle a future that may have been changed for ever in the brief time yesterday it took him to dismiss the cream of Australian batting.
Each time Broad walked back to his fielding position at long leg with a new scalp on his belt, first Shane Watson, then the great Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey, once so formidable he was known as Mr Cricket, Michael Clarke, the batsman of the series and, finally, wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, a century-maker in the first Test, Broad had to acknowledge huge ovations.
Yet each time it happened a certain number of great old pros offered the solemn prayer that the young, blond head was not being turned. One of them was Geoff Boycott, who a few days ago – while some were still debating whether Broad should play after a bowling performance at Headingley that was flattered by a six-wicket haul – made the bold claim that Broad was capable of becoming one of the greatest all-rounders, not just England but the whole world of cricket had ever seen.
There is a significantly large caution, however. Broad, said Boycott, had to improve his bowling, tighten his line and length, and refuse to believe that he is by any means yet the perfect article.
Yet that at times was what Broad quite precisely looked as he moved through one of the most beautifully rhythmic sessions of bowling ever seen in the old ground. The wicket was bowler-friendly in a way that is rarely seen at The Oval, but there was no question that this was an achievement which flowed principally from the ability of a young man to seize his greatest moment with absolute conviction – and a marvellous ability to maintain the pressure he first achieved when sweeping away the obdurate Watson and the absolutely pivotal Ponting.
As the Australians nursed their wounds in the pavilion after being chivvied to a first-innings total of just 160, Boycott declared, "It's all over – Stuart Broad is a brilliant young man and now he has the cricket world at its feet. He just has to keep his head and do his work and he'll be fine. He has a lovely talent and now it just needs the discipline applied by a great professional."
You may say it is odd to register concern at the moment of a young sportsman's greatest triumph, but The Oval is perhaps too redolent, with its memories of glory that slipped away too easily, amid a culture of celebrity and self-satisfaction, not to make such caution inevitable.
It is also true that Broad's ability to live comfortably in the glare of fame was not exactly illuminated in the last Test at Headingley. At times his manner was nothing less than arrogant. He spoke curtly to umpires and once, when the already haunted Ravi Bopara misfielded off Broad's bowling, he received what only could be described as a dressing-down.
Concern could only be heightened by the fact that behind some fine tail-end batting when the result of the game was essentially settled, and a place at the head of the bowling column, the unshakeable fact was that Broad had bowled badly enough to put his place here in some jeopardy.
Indeed, such a move was being openly advocated right up until the moment he received the nod on Thursday morning. But then that all seemed faintly ridiculous when Broad became the new hero of English cricket yesterday. For some time, no doubt, it will remain so, at least short of some miraculous recovery by the Australians who were brought so low by Broad's pace and line yesterday.
However, Broad should find a pocket of silence and reflect that there will be a time when he has to reassure himself that he made the most of some brilliant gifts. That was the chore of Freddie Flintoff yesterday when a new hero came along. Broad, we have to hope, will be wise enough to recognise that it comes around quickly enough.
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