Stuart Broad: Ashes hero and all-round good bloke
It was a summer that changed his life but English cricket's golden boy can handle the great expectations and is desperate to help his country reach No 1 in the world. David Lloyd speaks to Stuart Broad
Sunday 08 November 2009
Stuart Broad knew what happened last summer would change his life, and events over the past few weeks have shown him to be spot-on. If being recognised in the street more often than before – and being invited to appear on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross – were not proof enough of a higher profile post-Ashes, attracting the attention of Shane Warne surely clinches the deal.
Having spent at least part of July and August "bagging the Poms" – with Ravi Bopara and Paul Collingwood usually top of his hit-list – Warne recently looked ahead to this winter's engagement in South Africa and suggested that England were more than capable of ruining Broad by promoting him to No 7 in their desperation to find an all-rounder ready to fill the void created by Andrew Flintoff's retirement from Test cricket.
While it is tempting to tell old Warney to worry about Shane Watson's bowling or Phil Hughes's batting and leave England matters to people over here, you can see where he is coming from.
England have a limited-overs series against the Proteas to get stuck into before turning their attention to next month's First Test in Centurion. But no matter how long the two Andys, captain Strauss and coach Flower, leave their decision, working out how best to balance a five-day team who must now do without Flintoff on a permanent basis promises to be a task and a half.
At the heart of their calculations will be a young man who has the tools and the temperament to become a champion cricketer with bat and ball.
What with his wise cricket head and impressively mature outlook on life, it is easy to forget Broad did not turn 23 until just before the start of the Ashes series. Given good luck with injuries – he was sent for a scan yesterday after a problem with his shoulder – and some common sense when it comes to managing workloads, he should be around for another decade and has plenty of time to develop.
Mind you, a glance at our table of great Test all-rounders (opposite page) will show that Broad is already making a favourable impression – and compared with the young Flintoff he's a real high-flyer, having scored more runs at a much better average and taken nearly twice as many wickets at the 22-match mark.
Ian Botham's stats at the same stage are not of this planet, but the rest of the figures should inspire rather than intimidate a man whose goals include turning himself into a world-class all-rounder.
And yet, as Warne said, patience may be a virtue. This winter is perhaps too soon to push Broad into a No7 slot that can go to Matt Prior if the selectors decide to play an extra middle-order batsman, or could be filled by either Luke Wright or Adil Rashid in the event of extra pace or additional spin being required. Travelling down any of those routes would allow Broad to continue to play with freedom at No 8 while being regarded first and foremost as a bowler.
It was with the ball, of course, that he produced the decisive performance of an Ashes series that had threatened to reach its climax without him.
After a Great Escape in Cardiff, Flintoff's SuperFred Show at Lord's and the Headingley Horror Story, it was Broad who stood head and shoulders above the rest on centre stage at The Oval by taking 5 for 19 in 47 deliveries as Australia crumbled to 160 all out in their first innings of the final Test. Every time he struck, the roar in south London grew louder and, a couple of days later, England had the prize they most wanted.
A lad who was so short of wickets – he might have been dropped after the drawn Third Test at Edgbaston, and remained a candidate for the axe while England's team for The Oval was being debated up and down the land – had produced an outstandingly good spell of fast, accurate bowling when his captain most needed it. The reward was an appearance on the front page, never mind the back, of almost every national newspaper in the country – and, soon after, an invitation to put his memories of the summer into print with the first of what could be several Broad books: Bowled Over – An Ashes Celebration.
The stirring deeds of July and August – collectively and individually – are history now, however, and we will soon discover if they were the start of something big or, as happened four years ago when Australia were last sent home empty-handed, a terrific but pretty much isolated success story. "We are very conscious of the fact that winning the Ashes is not the be-all and end-all," says Broad. "We won them, brilliant, but now we have to build on that if we want to be the best team in the world."
Provided Kevin Pietersen can find fitness and form, England's batting unit should have as much strength in depth as South Africa's. But when it comes to raw pace, the visitors – without Steve Harmison and Flintoff – will not be able to compete with Dale Steyn and Co, and could come a cropper if they try. Broad and his chums in Strauss's attack are plenty quick enough to keep the opposition honest, but their real strengths lie in swing and seam.
"One thing I'm going to focus on this winter is sticking to a game- plan," says Broad. "It's crucial I don't fall into the trap, now Harmy isn't on tour, of trying to be the bouncer bowler or the enforcer, because I get my wickets when I'm patient and hang in there around off stump. What I did in that spell at The Oval is my style of bowling. I tried to hit the top of off stump more often than not and I only bowled two or three bouncers in that whole spell.
"It's crucial that I don't try to be something, or somebody, I'm not. Yes, of course you must adapt when the team needs you to do a certain job, like bowling a couple of overs where you're trying to knock someone's head off, but it's important that I stick to my strengths."
Broad managed to do that when the stakes were sky-high, but now he faces pressure of a different kind: that created by expectation. A hero in August, we will expect him to be a star again this winter. And it could yet be his job to take on the genuine all-rounder's role, despite Mr Warne's prophecy of doom should he be plonked at No 7.
"Shane was a great bowler and now he is turning himself into a pundit, but I'm not sure the England management, or players, will be taking too much notice of him," says Broad with a grin.
"If England want me to go in at No 7, I'm always working very hard at my batting. As an ultimate goal I'd like to be a Test No 7 but we've also got the options of Adil Rashid, who has a good first-class record, and Luke Wright, who has really improved in the last six months and scored first-class hundreds for Sussex."
Whichever way England go, time is on Broad's side – or at least it should be, provided players like him, who appear in all forms of the game, are not worked to a standstill.
That is an old subject but an increasingly important one, and England's tour of Bangladesh in March will surely see a few big names left at home. Broad, as one would expect, has given the question of burn-out some careful thought. This is the young man, remember, who refused to put himself into last February's Indian Premier League auction – thus turning down the possibility of a six-figure payday – because nothing was more important than his Ashes dream.
"I don't think you can ever ask for a breather at international level," says Broad. "That's for the hierarchy to decide. But player burn-out is going to be a huge worry.
"In future the best way will be to rotate people, something Australia do fantastically well. They will go to one of their key players and tell him he's having the next three games off but assure him he will then be straight back into the team, even if his replacement scores three hundreds while he's away. It is a difficult balancing act but it cannot carry on as it is, because players will either not perform to their best or just break down.
"I want to play on beyond 30. And I've got aims and ambitions – to play 100 Tests, to be England's leading one-day wicket-taker, to win World Cups and to win more Ashes series.
"But they are not going to happen if you're injured all the time and I think the medical staff are clued up to the fact that a two- or three-week break here and there can prevent you from being out for six months just down the line."
Early next year, no doubt, Broad will need to consider the IPL question once again and he stresses that it is "something I do want to experience at some stage". But nothing, you suspect, is likely to be put ahead of chasing the dream with England – be that bowling, batting or, hopefully, performing as an all-conquering all-rounder.
Stuart Broad: Bowled Over – An Ashes Celebration is published next thursday by Hodder and Stoughton (£18.99)
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