Stuart Broad’s ability to produce moments of high drama is well documented: six wickets in 45 balls to win the Fourth Test at Durham and the Ashes series; and three wickets for two runs in six balls last Saturday to give Nottinghamshire their first Cup in 24 years are just two from a long list.
But I was not expecting drama off the field when I met him at Lord’s. As the PR man reassured me I could ask Broad any question I liked, he was called away by an England and Wales Cricket Board official. He returned after almost a quarter of an hour to tell me in very hushed tones that there was one subject I could not raise with Broad: that of the England players urinating on the Kia Oval pitch while celebrating their Ashes win. If I did, I was warned, Broad would be instructed not to answer.
Just to make sure, the ECB official sat in on the interview, her eyes glued to me. Fearful the interview might end before it started, I waited almost until the end to ask Broad how England planned to celebrate next January in Sydney should they retain the Ashes?
The minder’s eyes bore down on me as the England bowler said: “We don’t look as far ahead as that. Sydney’s miles away, isn’t it? We’ve got a lot of hard work to do preparation-wise before we get there. We know Australia’s an amazing place to tour but also a tough place. To enjoy lifting the urn in January means working very hard, so that’s what the players are very focused on.”
He could well have been reading from an ECB vetted script. What was more convincing and characteristic of this remarkable player was the conversation that preceded particularly the way he spelt out his goals for the Ashes battle. “I’ve never been a man to set wicket targets or run targets,” said Broad, who was named in the 17-man squad yesterday. “Having come home early with a side strain in 2010, I’d obviously like to be there for the whole tour. And win.
Heroics: Stuart Broad’s six wickets in 45 balls sealed victory for England in the Fourth Test“That first Test [at Brisbane] is vital. We’ve not performed overly well in first Tests away from home recently [losing in 2006 in Australia and then India, twice, Sri Lanka, twice, West Indies, New Zealand and Pakistan], so that’s where we’ll have to take responsibility. We get pressure on us from the management to be good in the first Tests of big series, and we haven’t been. So the gap is a huge one for us.”
And, while many feel the series Down Under is coming too soon, with the First Test just over two months away, Broad said: “That’s exciting. The needle, the aggressiveness will continue into that series with it being so close. If it’s two years apart, players can sort of forget what happened in the last series and it’s a clean slate. At The Oval, we were talking about making statements for Brisbane, so there will be scars from the English series that the Australians will carry in Australia. And there’ll be some personal battles that won’t be forgotten.”
Certainly fresh in everyone’s mind is Broad’s clash with Darren Lehmann, the Australia coach. Angered by Broad’s refusal to walk in the First Test at Nottingham after he had edged to slip via Brad Haddin’s gloves, Lehmann called on Aussies to “make Broad cry, so much so that he will want to return home”.
But, if Lehmann hoped to frighten Broad, he has failed. “If any opposition coach is talking about you it’s a positive,” said Broad. “It means that they obviously respect you enough to talk about you. I’d expect Australian crowds to give English players a hard time.
“So, no, it’ll be interesting. Obviously Lehmann apologised for his comments [he was fined by the ICC]. He realised they were a bit of an error of judgement meant in banter. It’s part and parcel [of the game]. Professional sportsmen can put up with that. Premier League footballers go to grounds each weekend and get booed for 90 minutes.”
As for fears the row may trigger problems, Broad said: “No. Australia’s a fantastic place to tour. Lovely restaurants, great golf courses, a great place to socialise. Every tour we go on, we have high levels of security, and it will be the same in Australia.”
Broad’s critics are not confined to Australian losers. The day we met, a red-top columnist called Broad a cheat, claiming his action was no different to Ashley Young’s dive in Manchester United’s match against Crystal Palace.
Flashpoint: Stuart Broad edges into the gloves of Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke waits to take the catch.
However, while Young was criticised by his manager, David Moyes, cricket did not condemn Broad. When put to the England star, he responded dismissively: “Not interested. Don’t read the papers.”
Despite not reading the newspapers, he is sure the media misrepresented the incident. “You’ve had some cricket writers who are professionals at their job saying I nicked it to slip. It’s wrong. I edged it to [Brad] Haddin’s gloves. It wasn’t a particularly huge edge. He dropped it and it ended up in slip.
“I’ve never been a walker, 99 per cent of professional cricketers aren’t. It was made a big thing because Australia had wasted their two DRS decisions. I can probably name eight or nine Australians, six or seven Englishmen, who nicked it and didn’t walk throughout the series. There were four in that Test. There’s been no respect or anything lost between the sides because of that. The players and the coaches know how the game works. It’s people who have written about it who don’t understand it.”
But then this summer, said Broad, England have got used to media critics not praising the team. “If, at the start of the summer, you’d offered me the position we are in: having beaten New Zealand; in the final of the Champions Trophy (which we should have won), and a three-nil Ashes series, I’d have bitten your hand off. It’s been a very special summer and to be the leading wicket-taker in Test matches in the world is extremely pleasing.
“The media has been slightly less positive but the public have got such delight out of us beating Australia three-nil. Everyone I’ve spoken to on the street, when you bump into people in restaurants, has been absolutely delighted. And that’s what we do it for — to make people happy.”
What should make the public even happier is that Broad does not read much into Australia’s improved performance in the one-day matches following the Test series. “Very different teams,” he said. “You can’t compare Twenty20 cricket with Test cricket.”
And he is also confident that England’s batting which over the summer — Ian Bell excepted — did not reach the heights of recent series, will come good.
“The wickets were quite hard to score on, designed for slow, low spin. It won’t be the same in Australia. The ball comes on, the ball bounces. There’s no concerns over our batting line-up. We’ve consistently churned out runs for four or five years now. I’m sure we’ll do the same in Australia.
“We’ve shown we’re ruthless and that’s a very good trait for a sporting team. We’ve consistently won games and there’s no doubting that we’re very strong. A lot of countries would be envious of the depth English cricket’s got and we’re proving that with results on the field. We’re honest with each other.”
What a pity the ECB will not allow players to be honest about the moment that did not reflect well on English cricket.