November 16, 2008

Ripe young age

England's most promising new fast bowler may be just 22 but he's quite a seasoned campaigner already

The first five-for: Broad leads England off the field against South Africa at Trent Bridge earlier this year © Getty Images

Stuart Broad declares an important aim. "I want people to call my dad Stuart," he says, flashing his pin-up's smile. "I still get called Chris more than Stuart, which is a bit of a shame."

Broad is sitting in the middle of a group of Indian journalists at England's meet-and-greet session with the media on their India tour. He is still recovering from a 40-minute training session in the heat. In between answers he takes sips of what looks like a chocolate drink from the corner of his mouth.

Broad is 22 and looks about that. Tall, 6'5", he has a slender frame that is steadily filling out, and blond hair cut short. He likes designer gear and sportscars. He blushes when you bring up his appearing nude in Cosmopolitan in the UK (Broad, James Anderson and Alastair Cook did it for a charity). Some of his England mates call him "Westlife", after the boyband ("more for my looks than for my singing skills") to get his wind up, he says.

He may be the youngest member of the England squad, but over the last year Broad has fast-tracked himself to become one of the key members of the side, with ball and bat. Along with that other tall young fast bowler Ishant Sharma, Broad has been among the bowling finds of the recent past.

His match-winning record partnership with Ravi Bopara earned England a tight victory against India last summer at Old Trafford in the NatWest Series. He followed that up with an impressive 11 wickets in the 3-2 series win in Sri Lanka.

When injury kept Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison out, Broad didn't let the opportunity go to waste, grabbing at his chance to become a permanent member of the Test side - he played six of England's seven home Tests this year. His unbeaten 67 at Headingley against South Africa helped England avoid an innings defeat and earned a plaudit from no less than Geoff Boycott, who said he saw "a little bit of Sobers" in Broad.

Broad is modest about the acclaim. "I'm in a lucky position. I'm 22 and I've played close to 40 ODIs for England and I'm gaining in experience. I was delighted to climb to No.4 in the ICC ODI bowling rankings, which was pleasing for me because it involved my first five-for and played a role in England's 4-0 defeat of South Africa," he says.

That performance against South Africa, his best to date, came at his home ground in Nottingham, where he moved at the end of 2007, after starting his career with Leicestershire. "To get batsmen like [Herschelle] Gibbs, [Graeme] Smith, [Jacques] Kallis was definitely pleasing. That would be one of my highlights."

Broad displays a maturity beyond his years that has impressed insiders. "The amazing thing for me was his concentration level and his professionalism for a guy of 16, when I saw him for the first time," Paul Nixon, the former England wicketkeeper, who captained Broad at Leicestershire, says. "Everything about him was organised. Stuart knows his mind and knows what direction he is heading. Nothing surprises me with Stuart."

Ryan Sidebottom is a bit of a fan too. "He doesn't get frustrated if he is not taking wickets and he can bat, too. Obviously his father gives him good advice."

A few days later Broad's father Chris arrives in Mumbai from Nagpur, where he was match referee for the Australia series. "Hello, mate. How're you doing?" Chris asks his son. Broad smiles, but he isn't happy about the twisted knee he suffered in England's first warm-up a couple of days ago.

We are at the Brabourne Stadium, where England are playing their second warm-up. The Broads exchange notes on their peripatetic lives. Chris recommends a couple of Indian culinary delights he thinks Stuart ought to try.

Broad's parents split up when he was six, but both played singular roles in his development. Chris, a no-nonsense match referee, used to be known for his volatile temper during his playing days. For Broad his father has been a "great advantage".

"He is a role model and I can talk to him as he knows so much about the game. He is always at the end of the phone if I need him." As for his mother, Carole, he couldn't be more indebted to her. She was the one who took him to all his matches, drove him home, and then talked about the game, he told the Wisden Cricketer recently. "I'd be in the back garden playing and I'd want 50 catches thrown at me, so she'd be out there throwing catches. She was the key in letting me enjoy my cricket."

Broad senior shares some thoughts from the Australia series with his son and some members of the England coaching staff. He talks about how vital the seam position is when it comes to reverse swing. Stuart soaks it all in. "You need different skills," he says of the challenge of bowling in India. "The more you can keep your action and your mind and the ball you are delivering as simple as you can nothing can go wrong."

Top Curve
Stuart's stats
  • Broad's ODI strike-rate of 34 is the third-best among England bowlers who have at least 20 wickets.
  • His ODI bowling average of 27.56 places him at No. 6 on the list of the leading England bowlers (who have taken 50 wickets or more) in ODIs.
  • He is the leading ODI wicket-taker in the world over the last year and a half, with 50 wickets from 32 games.
  • With 370 runs in Tests this year at 41.11, he is at No. 2 on the list of top run-makers among tailenders.
Bottom Curve

During the World Twenty20 last year Broad was unforgettably hit for six sixes by Yuvraj Singh. Broad says he is pleased with how he has bounced back from that ignominy - though the Indian media are trying their best to get the wound open again .

When asked what he has learned from the likes of Andrew Flintoff, he launches into smooth team-management talk. "The major thing is to bowl as a unit. What we do well as a unit is to focus on bowling certain lengths on certain pitches along with certain deliveries, which has helped keep the opposition from running away from us.

"Fred always talks about the consistency of the bowling - hitting the top of off stump every ball and not over-complicating things. Harmy is the same. 'Keep your natural flair and ability,' that's what they say," Broad says.

He has looked at the figures of the great English allrounders of the past and realises he could well join their ranks with his more than handy batting at No.7 or No. 8. "I've got three half-centuries in my first nine Tests, which is very good."

It has been a swift rise, from schoolboy cricket to second-team, first-team, and international cricket. He hasn't had the usual long apprenticeship that many players undergo before they get to represent England. "He respects the game. That's why he has moved forward quickly," Nixon says.

Broad's sense of direction and clarity about his goals come to the fore when he talks about taking the current India series as a stepping stone for the World Cup in 2011. "To have 100 games behind me by the time the World Cup comes along will help me."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo. Stats by Mathew Varghese