Broad backs England's spirit in adversity
Stuart Broad believes that the off-field issues that he and his England team-mates had to overcome in the course of a tumultuous 2010 season will stand them in good stead as they prepare for the unique pressures of an Ashes tour of Australia. England depart for Perth on Friday morning brimful of confidence following an 18-month run of success at all levels of international cricket, having come through an exacting test of character during the match-fixing furore that marred their home series against Pakistan.
"It's been a tough summer, but when I look back at the cricket side of things, it's been one of my most enjoyable with the England team," Broad told ESPNcricinfo's Switch Hit podcast during a NatWest CricketForce event in Nottingham. "We had to deal with a huge amount of off-the-field controversies, and we showed that when it came to it, we could focus on our cricket and perform well. We know that on a tour of Australia there's going to be a lot of outside interest, and a lot of things going off off the field, but we've shown this summer that we can focus on what we need to do on the pitch when the time comes."
England's new-found will to win was best epitomised by their victory in the final ODI of the summer, at the Rose Bowl in September. Pakistan had come back from 2-0 down to square the series against an England side reeling from the now-discredited claims from the PCB chairman, Ijaz Butt, that they had accepted a bribe to lose the third match at The Oval. In a tense contest, Broad took 3 for 25 in eight overs to help secure a 121-run victory, and cue euphoric scenes at the end of an arduous campaign.
"The memories of that series will help us massively in Australia," said Broad. "We had a lot of conversations and meetings as a team, about the controversies and what the chairman of the PCB had claimed about us. We had a lot going on, so that win was huge in our changing room, and everyone in the country enjoyed it I think, because the atmosphere at the Rose Bowl was one of the best I've played in in England. To have gone the whole summer unbeaten in all the series we've played, off the back of a Twenty20 World Cup win, we couldn't be going to Australia in a better place."
The Pakistan scandal also impinged on what should, by rights, have been one of the proudest achievements of Broad's career - his career-best 169 in the fourth and final Test at Lord's that helped rescue England from the depths of 102 for 7 in the first innings. However, even as he and Jonathan Trott were smashing all manner of records in a 332-run eighth-wicket stand, the News of the World was preparing to publish its allegations against Pakistan's bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. Broad, however, insisted he wasn't bitter at having his moment of glory so overshadowed.
"I don't resent it at all," he said. "One thing [to bear in mind] was that it was accusations of spot-fixing rather than match-fixing so I know they were still trying to get me out. But at the end of the day I see that hundred as a stepping stone for things for the future. Obviously it was a lovely achievement to score a hundred at Lord's, and get on the honours board, and more importantly to help get the team out of a lot of trouble at the time, but I just see that as part of my development towards becoming a better cricketer. I'm not going to look at it as the be-all and end-all, but it gives me confidence for scoring more in the future."
The innings reawakened the prospect of Broad one day developing into a genuine allrounder in the mould of Ian Botham or Andrew Flintoff, but for the time being England look set to put their faith in a four-man attack with the wicketkeeper Matt Prior balancing the side at No. 7. "When you look at the best Nos. 6 and 7 in the world, they all average above 45, so gone are the days when you could get away with someone at 6 or 7 who's below 40," he said. "You need to have those runs on the board.
That's not to say, however, that his batting prowess will be wasted this winter. "A big strength of our team has been our strength in depth in lower-order batting," Broad added. "Jimmy [Anderson]'s come on well, Graeme Swann scores useful runs and having Matt Prior at 7 who averages almost 50 has been a huge advantage. Having those extra runs has been like having an extra bowler, because more first-innings runs creates pressure to get more wickets."
England's last visit to Australia four years ago culminated in a 5-0 whitewash, but Broad has plenty reasons to approach the return trip with optimism. On the one hand, his father Chris was the hero of England's last victory Down Under in 1986-87 with three centuries in the five-match series; on the other, Broad himself secured the spoils in his last Test against the Aussies at The Oval last summer, when his five-wicket burst on the second afternoon set England up for their decisive 197-run victory.
"I look back with great fondness on that Oval Test, and it gives me great confidence that I can perform against Australia," said Broad. "I enjoy playing against them, I love the competitive side of the game and I think they play sport in a fantastic way. It's always a battle, it's always very tough and they never give up. I love the battle that playing against them provides, and I learnt a huge amount from the last Ashes series. We'll be ready to go, and ready to throw the first punch."
"I was only a couple of months old when we last won the Ashes in Australia," he added. "It's a very long time ago and we've not won that many Tests in Australia since then, but of course we believe we can win. We have huge confidence in each other's abilities within the changing room, and we are massively excited about the opportunity we have. Every player is dying to get out there into the sunshine and start practising, and with three first-class warm-up games before the first Test, we'll have no excuses not to be firing on that first morning at Brisbane.
"One thing that's shown over the last 18 months is that different players have stood up at different times," he said. "We're not relying on anyone in particular, we've got players in the squad who can all step up on different days, and that's a real advantage that we have. But one thing we're not doing is looking ahead to Sydney in January and thinking about lifting the Ashes. We're focusing on the first hour in Brisbane, whether we bat or bowl, and making sure we get ourselves in a strong position, and set the tone for the series. We've been good at that recently, and it's important we get that right in Australia."
Stuart Broad is an ambassador for NatWest CricketForce 2011. Clubs can register at firstname.lastname@example.org and find further information at www.ecb.co.uk/natwestcricketforce
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.