England fast bowler Stuart Broad on the Ashes and Cricket
England fast bowler Stuart Broad, and Twenty20 captain, is inextricably linked to clashes with the Australians in the Ashes. For the Nottinghamshire pace man the famous contest punctuates his life more than most—indeed, it’s in his blood. His father, Chris, was an Ashes legend and was named man of the series in 1986-87 after opening the batting Down Under and knocking 487 runs, six months after his son was born.
After the success of your father’s side the Australians went on an 18-year period of domination over England. What does the Ashes series mean to you?
There’s a lot more media attention, and you tend to get bigger highs and lows because of that. Your reputation is built up or you get hammered. You have to keep yourself out of that as much as you can.
And as the highs and lows tend to be bigger with the Ashes you want to make sure you are on the winning side. Test match losses are the most painful. Five days is a long time to work hard and get nothing.
You were a vital member of the victorious 2009 Ashes squad, and named man of the match in the decisive fifth Test at the Oval, after managing figures of 5/37 on the second day. Did you really feel as though you belonged in the Test side after that performance?
It’s scary that it’s four years ago now! But yes, it really helped. I was 23 and needed to secure my place in the team. I found a beautiful rhythm and was very relaxed. If we didn’t win that Test we were in trouble. The next day, walking down the players’ steps, I was asked to sign the front page of a newspaper which had a picture of me on it. I knew then that it was pretty special. You need good performances to make you feel as though you can perform at international level. That certainly helped.
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How intimidating was it touring Australia in late 2010?
I vividly remember the first Test at The Gabba in Brisbane. I went in when Peter Siddle, on his 26th birthday, was on a hat-trick. There were 42,000 people and the ground was shaking, bouncing. There was a kind of tribal element to it, as though they were shouting ‘kill, kill, kill’. I showed weakness in being intimated by their attempts to disintegrate me mentally, and it provided a learning curve. I was out LBW, but I’ve never fallen into that mindset again.
Although the team won the series it was a pretty disappointing tour for me personally, in fact. After that golden duck I reached the lowest point of my career when I tore an abdominal muscle at the end of the second Test in Adelaide. That was the only time I’ve ever cried in sport. My emotions completely overwhelmed me. I remember bowling and being hot and sweaty, and then I just felt this explosion—I could hardly breathe. I walked off, and lifted my shirt off and there was blood underneath the skin. The doctors sent me home soon afterwards.
Growing up, who were your cricketing heroes?
It’s always a tricky to answer as I didn’t really have any English cricket heroes who were playing when I was old enough to pay attention. That was mostly because Australia kept beating us in the Ashes! Sir Ian Botham is a legend, though and being England's highest-ever wicket taker he is someone I have always looked up to. I loved watching Courtney Walsh, Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock. I tried to learn from the way all those quick bowlers had a kind of in-your-face aggression. It was an attitude which said: ‘I’m here to get you out. I’m not going to make this easy for you.’ I think all good fast bowlers need that. And I’d like to think that I have that.
The British media certainly think you have that aggression, and they labelled you ‘The Enforcer’. How does that sit with you?
That nickname was coined at a time when I was thrown the ball to try and rough batsmen up a little bit. I like to have that string to my bow. I’d like to think that I’m more of a line-and-length bowler, but there will still be occasions when I’m tossed the ball and told: ‘Right, let’s try and hit this guy on the head for 20 minutes.’
I’ve always had that mindset, even at school. As soon as I cross the white line ... I’ve always been very competitive. I’m not a verbal bowler, but I think you always have to have a presence: stand tall and look the batsman in the eye, let him know you are coming for him. A look can be more dangerous than a word.
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There have been occasions when your aggression, particularly earlier in your career, has spilled over. How have you improved that control?
“Up to the age of about 24 I had a few disciplinary issues where I got a bit too hot headed. So now I work with the England team psychologist, Mark Bawden, to control my game. He helped a lot of the team find processes to move their game forward. You realise that as a player you have 100 per cent capacity. I don’t think any player in the world has reached that level.”
After your personal recent success in New Zealand, when you took the most wickets—31—in 13 games at 26.35, you credited another member of the England staff, your elder sister Gemma. How did she help?
“I was struggling a little bit with my alignment, so I got Gemma—the team’s performance analyst—to look up my wicket for the past three years rolling on my iPad, and I could see my position at the crease changing. From there I worked out a technical issue which has helped me bowl better since.
“I’ve always been a cricket geek—I love the side of analysis and stats. And there are no niggles between me and Gemma, who has been involved with England even before I was picked for the team. It’s nice that we can go out for dinner when we are away on tour for 10 weeks. She is really good, she knows how a sporting team works, respects the guys’ privacy and doesn’t hang around the changing room a huge amount.”
Do you have any superstitions or rituals you have to do before you play?
“I always hang my England cap on the peg above where I am going to sit. On the field I have a routine to get me ready to go, too. I have to scratch my mark three times, bowl three balls to mid on, do three jumps and then tie my trousers and away I go.
Where do see this Ashes series being won or lost?
“I think this Ashes will be won on the catching. In the past year we have been really poor at catching—it’s something like 50 per cent. When we were in our pomp a couple of years ago we were catching everything. We are aware of that, and we are doing our best to improve. But there have been big changes in the team, and in the slips. It will be a very close contest this summer, and I can’t wait to get going and defend the urn.”