Moving up in the world

Published : Feb 28, 2009 00:00 IST

Growing up with a cricketing family equipped Stuart Broad with a fierce appetite to succeed. Now Andrew Flintoff’s injury has given the Notts paceman a chance to stake a claim as a frontline bowler.

Stuart Broad has slender shoulders on a spindly frame. Yet as the burden upon this gawky 22-year-old grows ever greater he gives the impression that he welcomes the load. In the Caribbean England have had to endure utter humiliation in Jamaica where they subsided to 51 all out, followed by almost the ultimate cricketing frustration in Antigua. There is only one thing worse than drawing a match that your side has controlled from the very first ball: that is losing it as England did in Chennai in December 2008.

After cricket’s memorable return to the Antigua Recreation Ground both England’s captain and coach have acknowledged that the draw was as painful as most defeats. England have no margin for error now if they are to win the series, which was supposed to be a Caribbean cruise.

And they have no Andrew Flintoff for the next Test, in Barbados (February 26-March 2), which is why the focus turns to Broad. We are not talking about a like for like replacement here. When battalions of the Barmy Army, all too fleetingly, take the opportunity to sing, “There’s only one Freddie Flintoff”, they are right.

But where will the captain turn for a little magic and a little menace when Flintoff is sidelined? England have a pack of competent pace bowlers, who bowled their socks off in Antigua, but you would be happy if any of them was brought home by your daughter. They don’t snarl much; there is not much devil there.

For all his angelic looks — with a touch of Harry Potter’s nemesis, Draco Malfoy — Strauss’s best bet in Antigua was Broad. He was the one who gave England the chance of victory with his dismissals of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in mid-afternoon.

With Flintoff out of the equation Broad may well be entrusted with the new ball in Bridgetown, where he is craving a bouncier wicket. “It’s a role I’ve hunted in an England shirt,” he said, “in both ODIs and Tests. I love taking the new ball, but you’ve got to earn that right. With Fred out there’s a chance I might have it. It’s one I would jump at.”

Likewise he would not be cowed by an elevation to No. 7 in the batting order if England opted to play five bowlers in Bridgetown. “I’ve always targeted that number eight spot,” he says without suggesting he has totally justified it. But he indicates that a premature promotion for the sake of the team would not worry him.

This is a typical Broad response — measured, intelligent and ambitious. He went on to explain how he had prepared for this tour. “I looked at previous tours of the Caribbean and the success of bowlers like Angus Fraser. And I came up with a clear plan. It’s not necessary to be bowling 88 mph or more all the time. The pitches so far have been like those on the subcontinent. I’ve not tried to attack too much, but to bowl tight and straight. I’ve always admired the likes of (Glenn) McGrath, (Shaun) Pollock or Stuart Clark and recognised the need to be ruthlessly disciplined. Of course if you can do that at 90 mph...” Let’s not be too greedy.

His decision to withdraw his name from any Indian Premier League auction shows the same maturity. “There is a massive summer coming up and it’s been a hectic winter. At my age I just wanted to make sure that I’m physically and mentally ready for this summer. Playing for England is the most important thing in my life,” says Broad.

We are all aware of Broad’s pedigree. His father, Chris, played 25 Tests, most memorably the five on the 1986-87 tour of Australia when England retained the Ashes. The easy assumption is that Chris has shaped his son’s career, especially when we watch young Stuart stand tall and clip the ball through the leg side. Old Chris used to do that to Craig McDermott and Bruce Reid.

But that was before Stuart had celebrated his first birthday and since his parents separated when he was four, it is, in fact, his mother, Carole, who did so many of the hard, early yards that culminated in her son playing for England.

“I didn’t see my dad a huge amount,” says Broad, “but I do recall days going to Trent Bridge and Bristol. I remember watching videos and clips of him playing when we won the Ashes, which made me very proud.

“But my mum was the one who drove me round the country taking me to all the cricket games I played. She’d be the one who sat in the cold and the rain in the deckchair watching and waiting to take me home. I spent a lot of time with her chatting about the sport. I wouldn’t be where I am without her. She’s the first person I call if I’ve had a bad day because she’s just so realistic on life. If I bowl badly she says, ‘You know you’ve got it in you to put it right tomorrow. Just go and enjoy it and it will happen’.

“She just puts life into perspective. Playing for your country may seem like a massive thing, but you can build it into something it’s not and put yourself under pressure from what the media say, but at the end of the day it’s not life and death. The troops in Iraq are under far more pressure than us. She’s good at that.”

But he has obviously inherited his cricketing ability and his passion from his father. Broad may not be the most obvious exponent of “white line fever” — he’s not yet in McGrath territory — but the softly spoken, unassuming public schoolboy acquires some venom when he is bowling.

He was earmarked for international honours at an early age and he appears to be one of the few starlets able to cope with that level of expectation. He thinks that an early trip Down Under helped.

“I’ve had to grow up very quickly,” he says. “A lot of that was down to me going to Australia for six months after I left school (Oakham School in Leicestershire). I learned how to be a bloke. I knew no one over there; I had to meet people, play tough cricket. I had to grow up a lot quicker as an 18-year-old than most because I was out in the big wide world, living on my own.

“Sometimes I need to pinch myself and realise I am only 22, I prefer to watch a film in and chill out than go out and have a few beers, which is a bit strange for a youngster, but it’s part of the job.”

Broad seems to have a remarkably mature relationship with his father, who is one of the International Cricket Council’s referees, noted for the severity of the fines he imposes upon any Test cricketer who steps out of line. Often when Broad senior is in charge it seems as if some of the players are liable to end the match in debit.

“I would have lost money already if he was the match referee,” says Broad junior. “He fines everyone left, right and centre. Hopefully that won’t happen to me (Chris cannot, of course, referee England matches). I try not to overstep the mark at any stage but I’m playing for my country and I get passionate but sometimes you can get fined for little things like not turning round to the umpire when you appeal, which is something I’ve not been brought up with. If I lose my match fee I’ve only got myself to blame — and my dad for giving me his personality.”

Stuart certainly does not sound as daunted by Chris as the majority of Test cricketers around the world and he gives a surprisingly objective analysis of how a father has reacted to a son’s success: “He (Chris) has always been outspoken throughout his whole career. My coming into the England side has probably given him the chance to have his voice again. He obviously has his views on my career but I think people are quite clever at calling him if there’s any controversy because they know he speaks his mind and they try to get a quote out of him.

“But he’s getting better. He’s learning that he doesn’t need to say anything because it’s not much to do with him anymore. In the past if he said something detrimental I’ve told him I’m not happy with it. But he’s learning. He’s not said anything for a while. Now he’s just a very supportive dad, he’s obviously very proud, and he’s always been outspoken and passionate about what he does, why stop now? We always speak very honestly together. He’ll tell me if I’ve done poorly in the day and I’ll tell him if he’s talking crap. We’ve always had an honest relationship and long may that continue.”

One almost feels the need to give Chris the right of reply. Young Stuart comes over as single-minded and not easily cowed by the more senior members of the family. He explains a little venture from last year: “A charity called me and asked me to pose naked in a magazine? I said ‘with who?’ They said Jimmy (Anderson) and Cookie (Alastair Cook). I said fine.”

And so he did while admitting a few nerves when confronted by half a dozen women handing around tea. “I think people were surprised I did it, my mum double-questioned me when I said I was doing a naked photo shoot and my 92-year-old grand-dad had a bit of a shock when he saw it, but it was something for charity and I was all for it.”

I’m still trying to picture some of his predecessors doing it — Alec Bedser, Fraser?

But there is no time for such fripperies now. England have a series to win. They have to unearth the right combination to get 20, not 19, West Indies wickets in Barbados. There will be plenty of agonising. Is Steve Harmison a spent force? Will Anderson ever swing the new ball again? How fit is Ryan Sidebottom? Is it worth a punt on the recently arrived Amjad Khan? One or two spinners? The one certainty is that Broad will play. It is just a question of who joins him. He is moving up in the world.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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