At the top of his mark, pawing the ground to mark his run-up, adjusting his headband and steaming across the turf with the red cherry in his hand, Stuart Broad encapsulated the art of fast bowling.
A crowd puller, Broad has been England’s man of action, its bowling hero who passed cricket’s tough endurance tests with flying colours, having served his team with unwavering resolve for 17 long years.
On Sunday, Broad walked out with his best mate and bowling partner James Anderson to a teary and rousing standing ovation at The Oval. The Australians gave the veteran cricketer a guard of honour and the claps refused to die down as one of England’s celebrated sons decided to hang up his boots.
Broad and Anderson are playing their 138th game together and it will be the last time the pair will be seen in action on a cricket field with Broad announcing on Saturday that the Oval Ashes Test will be his last.
Before the start of the fifth and final Test, Broad, one of England’s greatest fast bowlers, didn’t even show the slightest inclination to retire. While the lens was firmly fixed on Anderson, Broad made a shocking announcement and first broke the news to his skipper Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum, calling time on an illustrious career.
Most sporting careers usually end abruptly in the mid-thirties due to injuries or lack of form, greats being the exception. To withdraw from action is tough as the temptation to keep playing always lingers. Some get sidelined while some stretch beyond their time before getting sidelined or asked to retire. But Broad chose his moment at the age of 37, still at the peak of his prowess.
“Tomorrow or Monday will be my last game of cricket,” Broad said. “It’s been a wonderful ride, a huge privilege to wear the Nottinghamshire and England badge for as much as I have. I’ve always wanted to finish at the top, and this series just feels like it’s been one of the most enjoyable I’ve been part of.”
As the curtain falls on a glittering career, Broad will be remembered as a cricketer who excelled in all three formats but reserved a special place for Test cricket, where he unleashed his best.
BROAD IN NUMBERS
Hailing from a cricketing family, cricket was in his veins and Broad’s unique ability to swing the ball both ways captivated the attention of selectors, and later spectators. Broad made his Test debut against Sri Lanka in December of 2007 in Colombo under the captaincy of Michael Vaughan, a year after making his first ODI appearance against Pakistan in Cardiff. The introduction to international cricket was rather harsh as Yuvraj Singh smoked the fast bowler for six sixes in an over during the India-England T20I match in the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007.
The carnage was such that many careers would have ended but with a mature head on his shoulders, Broad quickly moved past the nightmarish experience to emerge as one of the potent new ball operators for England. With renewed confidence, Broad’s stakes only grew higher as the Nottinghamshire bowler went on to pick 845* wickets with four Ashes wins under his belt.
In an iconic long list of achievements over the years, the eight for 15 against Australia at Trent Bridge in 2015 certainly ranks as an all-time highlight among other fast and furious spells. Ashes has always been his happy hunting series as Broad stands tall as England’s most successful wicket-taker of all-time by picking 151 wickets against Australia.
Visiting teams’ batters have always found batting tough in England and Broad only made their life miserable by exploiting the seaming and swinging conditions. After Australia, the fast bowler enjoyed bowling to the New Zealand batters as he picked 94 wickets - his second highest in terms of wickets against any opposition - and then South Africa (89) followed by India (74). It was again at his Trent Bridge home ground in 2011 where Broad tore apart the Indian batting line-up, with a blistering spell of 5/5 to trigger a collapse.
Broad never had the raw pace but was a shrewd operator with the ball and had the skill to bowl on surfaces that didn’t aid swing as he hit the deck, bowling the hard lengths and extracting bounce. A game-changer with the ball, Broad’s best Ashes would be 2013 series where he picked six wickets in an evening session at Chester-le-Street to help England blank Australia 3-0.
With 20 five-wicket hauls and three 10-wicket hauls, Broad exhibited his unquenchable thirst for picking wickets, putting up a bowling exhibition and went on to claim his 600th Test wicket during England’s drawn fourth Ashes Test match against Australia.
“I’ve loved the battles with Australia that have come my way personally and the team’s way. I’ve got a love affair with Ashes cricket and I wanted my last game to be Ashes cricket,” he said.
With 602* wickets from 167 Test matches, Broad is the second most successful fast bowler in England’s Test history, behind Anderson, and stands fifth in the all-time list. Test cricket has been Broad’s priority and the fast bowler is the only Englishman to have taken two hat-tricks.
A T20 World Cup winner, Broad played a key role during England’s 2010 T20 World Cup victory, captaining the T20 side 27 times between 2011-15 and finishing as the third-highest wicket-taker for England in the game’s shortest format.
An ODI veteran too, Broad has picked 178 wickets in the 121 matches he played, registering five for 23 as his best figures. A useful batter down the order, Broad has a Test century to his name, when he butchered the Pakistan attack at Lord’s in 2010 - clubbing 169, his highest Test score. However, his ambition of being a genuine all-rounder was curtailed by a Varun Aaron bouncer four years later.
In his sparkling cricketing resume, there is of course a blot. During the first Test of the 2013 Ashes at Trent Bridge, Broad sparked off a controversy by opting not to walk despite clearly edging Ashton Agar to the first slip, where Michael Clarke latched on to it. The incident was stunning and it still follows Broad but England won the match by 14 runs, courtesy of a 138-run seventh-wicket stand between Broad and Ian Bell that changed the course of the game with the fast bowler scoring a gritty 65 off 148 deliveries.
“I was thinking, we need more runs here, we’re 230 ahead. If I get out, we lose the game. So I’m never just going to walk off and accept a loss. I looked up at Aleem and he said not out,” he recalled later.
For Glenn McGrath, it was Mike Atherton who the legendary fast bowler prised out 19 times. And for Broad, whose boyhood hero was McGrath, it’s David Warner. The 6ft 6 inches tall fast bowler has tormented the diminutive Australian opener by dismissing him 17 times to draw level with West Indies greats Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, who dismissed Atherton 17 times.
RISE FROM THE ASHES
After a disappointing 2021-22 Ashes series, Broad was dropped from the England squad for the West Indies tour. While pundits wrote off the fast bowler, he was back in the side under the new leadership role of Stokes and McCullum. And at the end of the Oval Test, Broad will have another distinction of becoming the only English bowler to have played all five Ashes Test matches and finishing the series in the top three list of best bowling performances.
“Last March there were times I thought I would never play for England again and that hurt. So to have had the 14 months I have had, bringing so much entertainment to the country, it has been a huge pleasure. I have been part of some fantastic teams and it is lovely to go out now having played for one of the best of them,” he said.
Broad walks into the cricketing sunset having scaled the bowling mountains across terrains, leaving behind a decorated career studded with numerous milestones that will stand the test of time. But what will be missed apart from the blonde hair and the boyish look are the big boots and the thunderbolts that blew apart some mighty batting sides. Farewell Broady!
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