Broad ready to live up to expectations
It's not Michael Vaughan, not Andrew Flintoff, nor even the ubiquitous Kevin Pietersen. Instead it is a 21-year-old seamer with a mere three Tests and nine wickets under his belt. Stuart Broad, says Fletcher, is the key. "He has serious potential," Fletcher wrote in The Guardian, "not just as a bowler whose height is a crucial extra dimension on what might be another flat Lord's pitch, but as a No. 8 capable of scoring fifties. I've said on numerous occasions that people underestimate the importance of a strong tail. If your Nos. 7-9 can bat, it can be the difference between winning or drawing a series."
In his short career, Broad has already demonstrated both facets of his allround game. At Napier during the decisive Test of England's tour of New Zealand in March, he marched to the crease with a career tally of 19 Test runs, with England staring at humiliation on 147 for 6. By the close, he was still standing on 42 not out, having revived the innings, first in partnership with the centurion Pietersen, then with a few lusty blows of his own. He added 31 more unbeaten runs in the second innings and, as a vital foil to Ryan Sidebottom, muscled in with five critical wickets in 49 back-bending overs. Performances rarely get much fuller.
"I did take great confidence from that performance, because when you're batting with someone like Kev, it's important to stay with him and support him," Broad told Cricinfo in the run-up to the Lord's Test. "It's very important in international cricket to be able to hold a bat, not just hold up an end, but have the ability to score runs. I've worked hard on my game, and my aim is to become a Test No. 8. There are some good ones out there, Daniel Vettori has turned himself into a high-class batsman, and really the Brett Lees and Vettoris are the examples I'd like to follow."
As a note of caution in his optimistic assessment of Broad's potential, Fletcher warned that he would find it hard to concentrate on both disciplines of his game. But the languid attitude he's so far displayed in his career suggests that Broad will be more than capable of balancing the demands of bat and ball. "Batting doesn't come around as often, but it's a great buzz hitting a cover drive," he said. "I enjoy the battle between batsman and bowler, whatever side I'm on, and it's great having Andy Flower in the England set-up. He's a former world No. 1 and a fellow left-hander, and I've enjoyed working hard with him. Every run is vital, and there's nothing worse as a bowling side than a tailender hanging round scoring runs."
The excitement about his allround potential, however, disguises the fact that Broad is a bowler who'd be worth his place even if his skills extended no further than New Zealand's uber-bunny, Chris Martin. Vaughan, no less, has said that he is "the most intelligent bowler" he has ever worked with, adding that he has "a great head on his shoulders". Broad's response was understandably modest. "I don't think intelligent is a word that has been pointed at me too often," he said. "But it's obviously a great compliment. I do try to assess the pitch quite quickly and see which areas work, and see if the offcutter or the legcutter is working."
|I don't think intelligent is a word that has been pointed at me too often. But it's obviously a great compliment. I do try to assess the pitch quite quickly and see which areas work, and see if the offcutter or the legcutter is workingStuart Broad on how he goes about his role|
He's also intelligent enough to back his own ability, even when things start to go wrong. At Durban last September, he was on the receiving end of one of the great feats of batting thuggery, when India's Yuvraj Singh smashed him for six sixes in a single frenzied, floodlit over. Such an indignation has destroyed lesser men - notably Ravi Shastri's victim, Tilak Raj - while the last man to suffer in such a way, Daan van Bunge, bowled seven more balls in his international career before retiring abruptly after the last World Cup.
Broad, however, remained utterly unfazed by the experience. "It was something that happened," he said. "It was a poor over and it got hit, but I didn't evaluate it too much. I'm the sort of bloke who doesn't get too high when I do well or too low when I do badly. We went straight to Sri Lanka after that match, and as soon as I flew away from South Africa it was gone. I was of the view that one over doesn't make me a bad bowler. It's something that might stick with me, but it doesn't affect me at all really, I can laugh about it with anyone."
And now Broad is back at Lord's, the venue where he came within an ace of making his debut against India last summer. In the end the selectors, recognising the asset at their disposal and fearing exposing him to too much too soon, held him back in favour of Chris Tremlett. But Tremlett's stock fell away in an injury-hit winter, and after three exacting Tests in the heat of Colombo, and the pressure of Wellington and Napier, England no longer have any doubts about Broad's staying power. He knows the job is his for keeps.
"I'm a bowler who likes rhythm and long spells, because it gives me a chance to figure out a batsman, and target the areas where he's weaker," he said. "I just run in and bowl. I'm only 21, so I'll get my head down and go for it. It's an absolute pleasure to be bowling for England, whether it's a three-over spell or a 20-over spell, I'll just do whatever the captain wants."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo