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March 25, 2008
Stuart Broad is big. He's bad. And he's better than his dad. The Barmy Army has always been an organisation for bold statements, but on this occasion they might just have a point. Broad's father, Chris, has been many things in his eventful career - Ashes-dominating batsman, enfant terrible, and the closest thing to an effective ICC match referee among them. But in 25 Tests in the mid-1980s, he bowled nothing more than a solitary over of ropey medium-pace - and that, as it happens, only occurred after Mike Gatting's row with Shakoor Rana had condemned the 1987-88 Faisalabad Test to a draw. As a potential Test-class allrounder, then, Broad senior never threatened to cut the mustard.
His son, on the other hand, might one day prove to be the real deal. For understated determination and genuine skill, his performance on the fourth day in Napier matched his efforts on the first and second, and the net result is that England are just five wickets away from a very memorable and satisfying series win.
You won't notice Broad's efforts in the scorebook, however. In a game marked by Himalayan personal peaks, they come across as mere foothills - 42 in the first innings, 3 for 54 in the second, 31 in the third, 2 for 40 in the fourth. But he's been a presence and a menace throughout, and if justice is served tomorrow, his final analysis will tell a truer tale of his contribution.
"I'll need my icebath and massage tonight, I'll tell you that," said Broad. He'll need it almost as much as England needed him today. Regardless of the match situation, this was not an easy day at all. The pitch was flat and so too were Broad's fast-bowling colleagues. James Anderson was bludgeoned out of the attack for the second innings running, while Ryan Sidebottom's long and incredible tour seemed finally to have caught up with him, as he toiled to the crease without the nip and momentum he had found in his epic first-innings stint.
It was a day that required a hero, and Broad was eager to oblige. The bulk of his work was done in arduous bursts of nine and 14 overs, spells that - as recently as two years ago - he would have been forbidden by the ECB from undertaking, because Under-19 cricketers are only allowed to keep going for seven overs at a time. There was no danger of such red tape colouring England's strategy today, however. As Stephen Fleming dryly observed, Michael Vaughan tends to let his bowlers "bowl until they are exhausted", but Broad - at the age of 21, and with an attitude as fresh as his face - simply refused to fade.
"It is an important Test match, not only for the team but for me personally," he said. "My aim is to try and get a spot for the summer. I don't really mind bowling long spells, because the good thing about them is that when you hit a rhythm, you can just keep going in that rhythm. I used to find it a bit frustrating - you'd have a batsman under the cosh and you wouldn't be allowed to bowl any more. I like doing it and I'll do anything. Whatever the captain tells me."
He is, as the saying goes, a captain's dream. England have been watching him carefully for many months now, wary of heaping too much, too soon onto the shoulders of such a thoroughbred cricketer. There have been no qualms about him gambolling in the paddock of one-day cricket - he even went to the World Cup last winter - but Tests have been a different matter entirely. He came within hours of his first appearance at Lord's last July, only to be usurped at the last minute by Chris Tremlett. And then, when that debut did come in Colombo in December, the management were so alarmed by his workload on a brutally flat pitch, they eased him gently out of the side.
There's no question that he'll need more meat on his bones to survive the full-time grind of the Test calendar, but there is no questioning his appetite for the battle. That much was demonstrated in a tasty contretemps on the stroke of tea, when Vaughan and Fleming clashed over something that Broad may or may not have said to the not-out batsman, Matthew Bell. "I'm not really a talker, I just have a stare, and batsmen seem to not like it much, and chunter away," said Broad. "It's part of being a bowler. You've got to make the batsmen uncomfortable because you're not just there to give them a hit. You've got to get them out of their bubble. A little stare here and there can't go astray."
Somewhere, out of earshot of his ICC employers, Broad senior will doubtless allow himself a quiet "go on, my son" at those sentiments. And Vaughan will also be beaming for that matter. It is an attitude to make captains purr with contentment, especially when they are backed up by the type of brutality that prised Mathew Sinclair from the crease in the evening session. There was nothing in the pitch, but Broad found it anyway with a thuggish lifter that rapped the glove and lobbed to Tim Ambrose behind the stumps.
"That was a big wicket for us, because it left us two away from the tail," said Broad. "The pitch was slower, so I needed to vary my length, and keep the batsmen a bit unhappy or a bit awkward. I tried a few slower balls and varied my width on the crease. We needed ten wickets to win the Test match, so I really tried to mix it up, but the bouncers went through okay, and when there's a bit of bounce, I'm not shy of banging it in."
Behind Broad's choirboy features, there lurks a serious competitor who will only get hungrier with time. He has an attitude that England have lacked in their fast-bowling ranks. Anderson, for all his skill, can still be bullied off a length, while Tremlett, who England would dearly love to pick on a regular basis, managed half a warm-up match in Dunedin before becoming a dim and distant memory on this tour.
The man that Broad replaced, Steve Harmison, is also fading from the picture with every arrow-straight bouncer. He certainly doesn't feature in Broad's own gameplan. "I don't think so," he shrugged, when asked if he felt pressure to fill that tricky role. "I just need to go out and bowl. I'm not trying to be anyone else or copy anyone. I just run in and hit my lengths, and hit them hard."
And then there's his batting, overshadowed by three memorable hundreds, but whetting the appetite of England's selectors, who sense the end of a long quest is nearing. "My aim is cricket is to become a No. 8 at Test level," said Broad. "Gilo [Ashley Giles] did that fantastically, but now he's gone they are shoes that need filling. I've worked hard with Andy [Flower] on balance at the crease, both before and during the series. To be someone who's awkward to get out and can support the batsmen is an aim of mine."
"It was nice to come in and contribute," he said of his vital first-day role, when Kevin Pietersen had been let down by the top-order and simply needed someone, anyone, to stick around. "It was a difficult situation, being six-down on the first day, and I just needed to hold up an end. It was important and obviously that was pleasing. But we're in a good position now, needing five wickets to win a Test and the series. We'd have bought that, and we'll come back tomorrow fresh and strong."