What is Stuart Broad? In a rare and wide-ranging interview, England’s rangy enigma pulls up a chair in a London pub and tells all to Ed Kemp.
Who or what is Stuart Broad? Jumped-up pretty boy with an inflated ego? Or long-serving model pro who deserves to go down as a great? English cricket at large has never quite been able to make up its mind.
Beyond doubt, Broad is a cricket lover. His boyish enthusiasm for the game shines out as he speaks. While some professionals affect a hardened indifference to the game that has been their living, Broad makes no such pretence. In conversation with AOC in a quiet corner of a London pub, Broad, who will turn 30 in June this year, is as wide-eyed about the summer ahead as any of us.
Despite the nudges of his girlfriend – the model Bealey Mitchell – he won’t arrange anything to celebrate his landmark birthday because “it’s the cricket season” and logistics are complicated. He wouldn’t have it any other way. “It is quite a big thing turning 30, but then… it’s the cricket season! I’ve not had my birthday not playing cricket for 10 years. Which is good… That’s what summer birthdays are.”
As a child he would subscribe to the magazines, record the overnight coverage of England tours and toddle along through the gates at Trent Bridge to follow the game for himself. Now he gives lively and illuminating explanations of his approach to bowling, impassioned assessments of the England team’s progress, and a description of a new batting trigger movement he’s been working on in the Nottinghamshire nets with Peter Moores, getting up excitedly from his chair to demonstrate the footwork.
Don’t be fooled; Stuart Broad is a cricket nerd. And AOC is more than averagely appreciative of them.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of Broad’s England debut, meaning that one third of his three decades on the planet have been spent as an international player. Having been picked as a 20-year-old for five ODIs at the end of the English summer in 2006, he has hardly been away: he made a Test debut 18 months later in Sri Lanka, and despite suffering with injury, loss of form and being dropped more than once, he remains not only one of England’s most recognisable cricketers, but one of their best. After a monumental Ashes performance that included that remarkable 8-15 at Trent Bridge last year, followed up with another stunning match-winner at Johannesburg (6-17) during England’s 2-1 series victory in South Africa over the winter, he became the No.1 ranked Test bowler in the world for the first time, and also went past Bob Willis to become England’s third-highest Test wicket-taker in history, behind only Jimmy Anderson – in whose shadow his bowling has generally been cast – and Ian Botham.
So is the cricketing public putting aside any lingering ill-feeling towards Broad – getting over any stubborn resentment of his on-field persona, grandiose bearing and knack for disaster as well as triumph? What exactly is his current place in cricket’s popular imagination? And what will life be like when he’s gone? Ahead of a momentous summer in his life and career, Broad gave AOC an extended opportunity to examine these questions.
Do you feel like you’re finally starting to get the recognition you deserve?
I don’t really analyse the way I’m playing based on the recognition I’m getting. I’ve quite rightly and more than happily been in Jimmy’s shadow – because he’s older than me, he’s always been ahead of me in wickets and we’ve just been very much a ‘Jimmy and Broad’ partnership – Jimmy’s been the main man and I play second fiddle. I like that, because we could sit here with a beer, me and Jimmy, and we know that we’re a really good partnership, we know we work together. When I’m on a hot streak he ties up the other end. When he’s on a hot streak I tie up the other end. I don’t know if it was true but you used to hear that Caddick and Gough would not speak or be gutted when the other got wickets… with Jimmy and I it is genuinely a partnership, a friendship.
Maybe I’ve not had the criticism or the praise I should have had from time to time because I’ve been in Jimmy’s slipstream a little bit. I’ve certainly got wickets from him being a better bowler, from the fact that batters at the other end are thinking: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing with Jimmy here – he’s going in, out and everything, I’ll have a go at Broad and…’ Snick, gone! I wouldn’t have got the wickets I’ve got or be where I am without him at the other end.
Do you get a sense that you’re coming out of Jimmy’s shadow now?
I remember a stat came up at Headingley last year when we were playing New Zealand. Jimmy had just had a fantastic tour of the Caribbean, taken a lot of wickets, I was getting a bit of stick about not making breakthroughs… Mike Brearley had come out saying Broad’s not penned in for the Ashes team, all that sort of thing. And the stat came up that Jimmy and I over the previous two years had each taken 98 wickets at exactly the same average. I think the average was about 24 – and we were within a couple of decimal places of each other. That makes you just realise: Jimmy’ll have his time, I’ll have my time, but we’ll always equal each other’s wickets because that’s the partnership we are. People were giving me stick at the time and saying I shouldn’t be in the Ashes side. And I thought ‘If only they did their research and looked, it’s all plain to see’. But I certainly don’t think I’ve gone ahead of Jimmy because that’s not how we work.
Broad instinctively tackles questions about popularity and recognition in these terms – as if they are exclusively about on-field cricket-merit rather than personality. But it is his perceived character that has cost him favour. At times seemingly aloof with journalists and fans away from the field, where he has been armed with high demand for his face and an array of endorsement opportunities, there’s also the stuff on it: double teapots and verbal abuse for erring fielders, persistent and dramatic appealing, throwing the ball at batsmen and then not apologising, never believing he’s out – or else knowing he is but not walking. It’s a badge of honour to be disliked by the Aussies, who recognise a little of their own uncompromising competitiveness in him, and Broad relishes it – as proved when he walked into a press conference down under in 2013 (Public Enemy No.1 after the Trent Bridge non-walk) armed with a copy of the Courier-Mail newspaper which bore his image and the declaration of a ban on any mention of the “smug Pommy cheat”. He had just taken five wickets on the first day of the series – he’s very comfortable with his reputation there. But it is another thing for fans on your own side to feel lukewarm.
Broad is not an ignorer of criticism nor media coverage in general. He knows very well it is there. The cricket geek within him means he reads quite a bit about the game, and he specifically mentions appreciating the columns of Nasser Hussain in the Daily Mail; Hussain has long been a defender of Broad’s – admiring his big-game temperament as the stuff a captain will always want in his side. “He is not as popular as he should be and remains an under-appreciated cricketer,” Hussain wrote of Broad last summer. “He has not always been well liked by the public but when it comes to his cricket he is completely switched on. There is no one who thinks about his game and England’s plans more than Broad.
“Broad is not one for pleasantries and will sometimes walk past you in the morning without saying anything, which doesn’t always endear him to broadcasters, but that is because he is completely focused on his game.”
It’s not that Broad doesn’t care at all about how he’s perceived. It’s just that his focus is rarely far from the game itself.
Do you think you’re less popular than your cricket deserves?
Not many people come up to you in a bar and go: ‘You’re rubbish, you shouldn’t be playing for England’. A few people would go: ‘Let me get you a beer, great year, I was there at Trent Bridge,’ or ‘I was there at Edgbaston’. So you only really hear slightly positive feedback because it’s quite a ruthless thing to go up and say, ‘You’re crap, I can’t believe you’re playing for England’, so you probably don’t hear that side of things.
I always read Nasser’s column, he’s always said to me: ‘I’d want you in my team as a captain’ because forget the five-fer on a green seamer or a hundred against the uni teams, when it really counts I’ll generally stand up for someone. He does talk about me being seen as having tantrums or being a bit aggressive on the field and that people don’t actually appreciate what I have done for nine years.
But if your coach, the selectors and your teammates appreciate you, it doesn’t really matter.
Has the on-field behaviour stuff been a problem?
I think my behaviour on the field since probably the end of 2010, has been exemplary really. I work non-stop with a fella called Mark Bawden [ECB sports psychologist], developing this ‘warrior mode’ based around me getting into the best mental and physical frame of performance to be at my best – working on looking outside of the stadium whether I’d been hit for four or bowled a good ball, because it doesn’t give emotional tells away, it gets me out of the heat of the battle, making sure I’ve got the right balance between emotion and clarity. I’ve worked quite hard on that and I think it shows. Because I don’t think I’ve shown those frustrations as much as I had done in the past. So it does annoy me a little bit when I’ll read ‘feisty Broad’ or whatever, because actually I’ve been quite controlled in the last five years, I think. And you know what, as a young 23-, 24-year-old playing for your country, I’d prefer to be on the side of being slightly over the top with passion rather than fans getting annoyed that I wasn’t giving 100 per cent. I watch a lot of sport and sometimes you accept people underperforming if you feel like they’re giving you everything.
It’s hard to dispute that Broad has always given it everything – and the perception that he stands up with match-winning performances on big occasions – from the Oval to Trent Bridge to Johannesburg – is not based on some spurious mythology, but rooted in hard evidence. All of this has contributed to Broad’s reputation as a streaky cricketer – one who blows hot and cold. There have been significant dips in form: where he’s too heartily embraced an ‘enforcer’ role for example – at the start of 2011 he was consistently bowling too short, before going on a wicket-spree in the mauling of India later that summer; in late 2012 he was well down on pace – as he explains now, due to a technical issue that he has addressed – and was dropped for the third and fourth Tests of the series-win in India that winter. But since then he has been ever-present, with neither injury nor loss of form interrupting his rise to the No.1 ranking.
Let’s talk about the knack for hot streaks. How do you explain that element of your cricket?
It’s interesting how they’re happening a bit more regularly now. I showed signs in 2009, with that five-fer in the Ashes at the Oval. But then you had to wait another year or 18 months before anything really happened again. But it is becoming more consistent. I think I’ve learned what I need to do to take wickets, I’ve learned technical things about my game that you have to get wrong to then get right. In 2012 I spent the whole year with my feet crossed, so then my hip couldn’t drive through. People were saying ‘Are you tired?’ ‘Well, no, I don’t feel tired.’ ‘But your pace is down at 79, 80 mph.’ It was because technically I couldn’t drive through the crease, I was coming across myself – absolute nightmare as a bowler. I ended up getting dropped at Kolkata because of a technical problem. So I’ve learned to deal with technical problems quicker.
And now with experience I’m aware of when it’s my day. I have little checkpoints. I pick my knees up like a show pony, making sure I’m running in, staying big at the crease. And when all those are ticked you think: ‘I’m feeling pretty good, I’m getting it to move around, there’s good bounce… let’s get the fielders in place.’ You don’t have hot streaks if you don’t have fielders in place. Titch [James Taylor] took catches at short-leg at the Wanderers, but four years previously I wouldn’t have had a short-leg, so that’s Ashes when I got that 8-15 I had five slips. Stokesy was fourth slip and caught that one full stretch. Without the fielders there I wouldn’t have had those dismissals so having those more attacking fields has given me the chance to be more wicket-taking.
That seems to go hand in hand with this team’s more attacking philosophy in recent times…
The Strauss era I really enjoyed. But it was very based around: ‘Go at two an over, if we field for 100 overs and bowl them out for 250 we’ll win the game’. Whereas now we don’t care if we go at four-and-a-half an over. But we might bowl them out in 70 overs because we’ve gone for it. And we know we’re going to score at five an over. Strauss, Cook, Trott, Bell – Kev was different because he was an aggressive player – everything was set up around batting long periods of time, bowling for long periods of time, but we’d get a result on the last day because we’ve got a lot of strength in the changing room. Whereas now it’s like: ‘Let’s bat as quick as we can, get as many catchers in as we can and try and take wickets, and if either one works we’ll win the game!’ It’s quite exciting to watch, but we also have times like Centurion where we lose six wickets like that and it’s like: ‘What are we doing lads? Someone just get stuck in for a bit!’ But my theory on that is the more we play, the more experience the batters get, the fewer bad days we’ll have.
Is this a more lovable team?
I think we’ve got a really nice set-up in that we’ve got young, free-spirited players who want to give it a crack, but we’ve also got the likes of Cook, Jimmy, myself, who are a bit more consistent and just know what we’ve got to do each day and we just get that done really. You know Cooky’s going to go out and leave outside off stump and cut, but you don’t know what Ben Stokes is going to do. You just say: ‘Good luck, Stokesy!’ and he’s just had four cans of Red Bull and you’re thinking: ‘Jeeesus, what’s coming here?’ But it’s great. Everyone will get on the balcony to watch Ben Stokes bat, but the next two guys will have their pads on, because three men will be on the hook and he’ll be hitting it for six. And I think you need that blend. I find it more exciting playing in this team, because I turn up each day and I’m like: ‘What’s going to happen?’ The biggest example was at Lord’s last year: we were 30-4 and then Root and Stokes got a run-a-ball 200 partnership and it was like: ‘What on earth is going on?!’
I’m very proud that I played in a team where we got to World No.1 by methodically getting results, getting the job done. But I also really enjoy rocking up not knowing if Stokesy’s going to get 100 off 90 balls or nought.
Broad is an experienced member of this new-look England side – though somehow eternally young, also comparatively long in the tooth. And while he hasn’t featured much in England’s exciting limited-overs sides of late (in part because, in being rested around the Test schedule, he hardly gets to play the shorter forms) he is not accepting a future of long-form specialism. Although he’s played 39 consecutive Test matches since being dropped in India, at 29 – a fast bowler who seems to have worked out his game with the ball at Test level – Broad could be forgiven for focusing his attentions more narrowly from now on.
But it’s not his style. As a batsman, despite some fairly wild fluctuations in form, by his own admission affected by the horrendous blow to the face he took from India’s Varun Aaron in 2014, his recent technical work with Moores, who is now working as a consultant coach at Notts, has made him more confident that ever (“I feel like this could be my summer with the bat”). Where once getting in a net was the last thing he wanted to do, now he’s excited to get out there and try out his adjusted method. And as he says, “I’ve shown signs of decent quality and then real stretches of poor form, but at the end of the day I still average 23 for a No.8/9 which is up there with the best in the world.”
Not only that but he remains determined to regain a spot in England’s 50-over team, a goal he sees as realistic. Following a disappointing display at the 2015 World Cup, Broad didn’t feature in any of England’s ODIs last summer and was only called into the squad for the 50-over leg of the South Africa tour as a late replacement for the injured Liam Plunkett – carrying drinks for the first three of the lost five-match series before filling in with little cause for fanfare for the final two.
What’s your relationship with one-day cricket now?
One of my huge career goals is to play in the 2019 World Cup [in England]. I’ll be 32 – there’s been a lot of good World Cup players at 32, I don’t think that’s too old. It was nice to be in the one-day squad in South Africa, it was the first time I’d met Jason Roy, David Willey… absolutely brilliant blokes. I was nervous when Jimmy and Cooky flew home and I was left with these young bucks, I was like: ‘How am I going to be taken here?’ But it was wicked, I loved it. Yeah, I was carrying the drinks, but I loved being around them, there’s a real energy about them, they’re fearless, training was exciting, but it also made me wake up a little bit as well; I came in for the last two games, I’d not really played any white-ball cricket for a year, and I felt a bit behind things – I need to play white-ball cricket for Notts, I need to get out there and develop my skills. I’ve just not played much. I didn’t expect to be in the World T20 squad. I’d not played for a year, there are better bowlers in white-ball cricket that have come along and done well. I’ve now got that challenge to raise my game, perform in county cricket and get in that World Cup side. We know that injuries happen with fast bowlers and people get called upon. And I want to be there, I think my experience can help – but my skills have to be better, I need to develop a new slower ball that no one knows about to move forward. But I can do that, and it’s quite an exciting thing to have as a 29-year-old: you’ve got to get some new skills in the locker to get in the side.
Could you not preserve your career quite happily by remaining a long-form specialist?
That’s now how I view it. I don’t want to play until I’m 37. I don’t mean any disrespect to cricket, but I don’t want to cling on to a career. I don’t want to be hanging on and people going: ‘Bloody hell, is that Broad still rocking out? What’s he doing?’ I want to give it everything at the top level. And that means playing every game – all formats. Twenty20 I won’t play again, because the next World Cup is in 2020 in Australia so if I didn’t get picked for this one I’m not going to get picked for one when I’m 33, 34. But I’ve got a really good white ball-record in England – my record is obviously very different away from home than it is at home, and I hope the selectors look at that, because we’ve got a Champions Trophy and a World Cup in England. And my white-ball record in England is good. So I hope that I get involved at some stage and I take my chance. It might not be this summer, but hopefully soon.
One day, not too far from now, Stuart Broad will no longer be a cricketer. And just as he seems to suggest he’s in it – as a player – for a good time not a long time, he’s already thinking of what retirement might hold. As part of that he has set up a pub company in partnership with fellow Notts seamer Harry Gurney, with the pair likely to open the first of what they hope will become a group of pubs in Nottinghamshire this July.
“I’m getting to the age where you’ve got to start looking a little bit to the future. I think it’s very dangerous to look too much to the future because it takes your eye off the ball of what you need to do. But it’s a really interesting thing for me to have been involved with because we live in such a bubble in cricket – you need to just get your bags to the baggage truck and then what time your bus is leaving for the flight. You need to know no details. Whereas I’ve been involved in haggling over where we want a fruit machine, whether we want a fruit machine… what colour the carpet should be… I’ve really enjoyed being part of negotiating what can go on. It’s just a little bit of an eye-opener to the real world, which you need.”
Not part of England’s World T20 squad, Broad dipped his toe into the world of TV punditry this spring. And it’s in that world that he’d like to make his primary living when his playing days are over.
“I’d like to stay in cricket. It’s my interest, it’s my hobby, it’s what I’ve done my apprenticeship of life in, I suppose. I really enjoy talking about cricket, I have quite an interest in the media and I’ve done a couple of things with Sky over the past couple of months that I’ve really enjoyed. And it was a bit of a shock to the system. The first time you have an earpiece in and you’re giving your opinion on something and then the producer’s shouting in your ear saying: ‘We’re going to a break in 10 seconds, you’ve got ‘8, 7…!’ and you’re trying to finish up what you’re saying in the timeframe, it is a bit of a shock. I never knew that sort of thing happened, which gives me a lot more respect for the people who are involved in that sort of thing.
“When Matt Prior retired he said his biggest regret was not having done TV or radio a bit earlier because you realise these guys aren’t criticising you because they think you’re a bad bloke or a bad player necessarily, it’s just their job – they watch the game and they’re like: ‘What can we talk about here? Well, that was a bad bit of fielding, let’s focus on that – what did he do with his feet?’ It’s just a split second decision – let’s have a go at Broady’s front arm, because he’s not pulling through and he’s not got wickets for three games. As a player it makes you realise it’s not a personal attack, it is purely something to try and interest the masses. I found myself being – perhaps not overly critical because I’m still playing – but judging people on what they were doing. Not even really thinking about their name or who it is but just what they had done in that split second. That sounds a bit ruthless but it’s going to help me in my mental state, because I’ve had times when Bob Willis has been absolutely brutal at me, but now I realise you’re just a bit of cricketing meat for that period of time – take it on the chin and smile.”
There have been a few people over the last 10 years who’d like to have seen Broad take one on the chin, and it wouldn’t have surprised any of them to see him turn back round with a smile. The day will come when Broad – who is now playing better than ever – is fully appreciated for the remarkable cricketer he is. But at 29, with a media career beckoning, time is of the essence. The charm offensive, perhaps, has already begun.
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