From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.33 :: Aug. 18, 2011
Whatever “it” is, Stuart Broad is up for it. Seven wickets down and only 117 scored. Opponents 52 ahead and the captain wishing for someone to take a hat-trick.
Media crying out for a suitable interview. Glamour picture wanted. Player with beautiful girl friend needed for television feature.
Don't look any further. Stuart Broad, 6ft 6in, slim at 13st., blond, handsome; the fastest England bowler at 90 miles an hour; aggressive, high speed scoring machine; superb fielder.
Mettlesome, feisty, chippy, valiant, frisky, willing to confront any danger but at the same time a parfait gentle knight. When he is not being The Enforcer, that is.
Now the selectors are hoping cricket's new Poster Boy will step into the gap left by Freddie Flintoff and that other, almost mythical, space vacated by Ian Botham.
Broad, 25 and coming to the high point in his career, already captain of the England Twenty20 team; with 122 Test wickets, the first bowler to take a hat-trick against India, also has that magic gift — like Flintoff, like Botham — which enables him to turn low points into pinnacles, to win matches from the cusp of defeat.
He has just had two marvellous Tests. At Lord's, where in the eyes of English cricket writers and fans every feat counts double, he was out for a duck in the first innings and not out 74 in the second. His seven wickets cost just 94 runs.
That is high class all-round cricket but if anything he was even more successful in the second Test. His hat-trick was perfectly timed and no doubt was the main argument in his man of the match award but he also scored 64 in the first knock, 44 in the second — he was batting No. 9 and expert Test batsmen reckon on only 70 a match — had 6-46 in the first innings and 2-30 in the second.
Fifteen minutes after grabbing victory with the final wicket later he was a willing interviewee for any TV station. Lucid, cogent, chatty. Microphone man could not have wished for anything more although of course the Ian Bell incident almost drowned the Broad impact.
Stuart Christopher John Broad has all the right genes to get into one sport or another. His father, who mixes 98 per cent perfect behaviour, has a streak that will not tolerate being wronged. He is the most unlikely choice for a match referee although he is now a highly respected one, if a tad stern. A brave man too as he showed when the Taliban attacked the bus that was taking him to a match in Pakistan.
Long before a strike rate of 32.53 catapulted young Broad to the head of the England bowling averages with 15 wickets at 11.33 in this series he went to Oakham School in the Midlands and played cricket and hockey.
Broad's parents had split by that time but that seems to have made no difference to his relationship with mother or father. You can see him with both — separately — and with his sister Gemma who works for the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Five or six years ago his name began to go the rounds. Here was a lad, the clever ones said, who had pace and intelligence and cricket wisdom beyond his years and who might one day wield his bat as Richard Hadlee did.
Those who remembered Broad senior refusing to leave the wicket during that unpleasant tour of Pakistan, and knocking his stumps down in annoyance when he was out in the Bi-Centennial Test in Australia and, finally, cursing when he was out in a home Test the following year, raised eyebrows at the thought of young Broad being influenced by his father.
They need not have worried although the family way of not accepting wrongs easily still emerges from time to time.
One of his old mentors says: “I am convinced that Stuart would be better off without his father by his side just as I feel Andy Murray would be a better tennis player if his mother Judy kept out of the way.” I have seen too many young sportsmen go wrong under the influence of parents to disagree.
Stuart made an immediate impact when he was chosen for England although he gained the biggest headlines when Yuvraj Singh hit him for six sixes in a Twenty20 World Cup match in South Africa.
He will have thought about that as he bombarded Yuvraj at Trent Bridge. He remembers his tormentors.
It was still clear that he had something to offer. Michael Vaughan, then England captain, called him “the most intelligent young bowler I have met in the game” and he played major roles as England headed for the top of the tree. He has 10 GCSEs and three A-levels which makes the point.
Like many young England cricketers destined for the top, he spent a winter playing grade matches in Melbourne and by the time he had learned more of his trade with England in Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh he was injured in Australia last winter and had to fly home.
I wonder if he was fully match fit when he played against Sri Lanka early this summer and by the time he was out for nought at Lord's against India there were loud voices shouting for him to be dropped and any one of the half dozen young quick bowlers given his place. Then came Lord's and Trent Bridge and he was a candidate for sportsman of the year.
The game holds its breath to see what Broad has to offer next but the insiders would be happier if he did not confront umpires when a decision goes against him and there are former stars who say that if his father was ever his match referee — it cannot happen, of course — Broad might be in a lot of trouble.
For a while he was often called “England's Enforcer” from a phrase used, with typical Aussie relish by their bowling coach David Saker who also told him he had the best bouncer in the world. At Trent Bridge in particular Broad got his wickets with balls pitched right up, or just outside off stump. Coach Andy Flower is now claiming it was always a misnomer.
Still, it suits the Broad personality. He admires the methods of Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock and if they were not tough, ruthless sportsmen in the style of Manchester United's Paul Scholes I am mistaken in my belief that he will go on to be one of cricket's immortals.
He may have another 10 years to go and I see him instead in the style of Hadlee, a careful, precise, thinking fast bowler who had plans for every batsman, a strategy for a match and a long term ideal for his own career.
As Broad reaches the zenith of his cricket life he would do well to work out where his future lies. The captaincy of England is sure to be a major step and after that surely the sky is the limit.
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