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October 28, 2013
Stuart Broad, who has been presented as Australia's "public enemy No. 1" since his refusal to walk in the Trent Bridge Test proved a pivotal point in the last Ashes series, has wasted no time in informing his critics that if the circumstances were repeated he might do the same again.
England have indicated that Broad will have an extra security presence if there are signs of lingering aggression among the Australian public, but despite the personal pressures that puts him under, nearly four months later he is still determinedly standing his ground.
It was never likely that Broad would attempt to mollify his critics with a tactical expression of regret for the fateful moment when he nicked the teenage Australian spinner Ashton Agar off the gloves of wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to first slip and indulged in some red-faced gardening while the umpire Aleem Dar, seemingly confused by the deflection, adjudged him not out.
He will simply try to win them over with a searingly honest cricket assessment: he has never been a walker, he is not about to start now and, in that, he is no different to the vast majority who play the game.
The issue of whether Broad had any regrets was raised by a former England captain, Michael Vaughan, on BBC Five Live. It was a question he would have been expecting. "No, we would have lost the game," he responded. "I've never been a walker so why would I walk when the umpire's given me not out?
"I could name you 18 or 19 players who played in an Ashes series who nicked it and didn't walk. We could be here all day if I named players from the past. I am trying to think of someone in the modern game who is consistently a walker.
"It's a really interesting debate and something that got blown so out of proportion maybe because the Australians were frustrated they had wasted two referrals. It was an important moment in the game because, let's be honest, if Belly and I hadn't put on those runs, we wouldn't have won the Test match so we would only have won 3-1 or something."
As the debate raged about whether Broad had offended the Spirit of Cricket, England sneaked the Trent Bridge Test by 14 runs, the 138-run stand between Broad and Ian Bell proving decisive. Broad was pilloried by the media for his lack of moral self-policing but he was widely defended by those in the game.
On the surface, as he showed in that split-second at Trent Bridge, he is blessed with the ability to look a picture of serenity, but until Manchester gets its act together and drills bore holes into the underground Cheshire Basin reservoir he remains Britain's major source of geothermal energy with copious amounts of steam liable to bubble to the surface at any moment. His only sensible choice is to tell it as it is.
He would be encouraged to know of a poll taken in the Melbourne Age back in mid-July when Australia's resentment was at its highest. The case for Broad to walk was argued eruditely by the Age's respected columnist, Greg Baum, who termed his decision "unconscionable", but 40 per cent of respondents to a poll - presumably, even in this global age, predominantly Australian - supported his decision to await the umpire's decision. As anger has a habit of gradually subsiding, Broad can safely assume that as the first Test in Brisbane nears at least half of the Australian cricketing public has no issue whatsoever with what he did.
As it happened, he did walk later in the Ashes series, but that should not be regarded as a change of policy. "It happens in a split second," he said. "There are times when you nick it and you're so frustrated with yourself you get your head down and you storm off because you're annoyed."
Australia's coach Darren Lehmann later accused Broad of "blatant cheating" and in a laddish, none-too-serious interview on the Triple M radio station, exhorted the Australian public to "get stuck into him when he comes to Australia". The England team, and the ECB, were incensed with Lehmann's truculence and he was fined 20 per cent of his match fee for "inappropriate comments".
Broad revealed more details of his peace-making chat with Lehmann after the series as well as suggesting that Australia's players had also rebuked their coach for overstepping the line.
"Ryan Harris came over to me and apologised," Broad said. "First of all he said from the players we have given him a hard time and his comments were unacceptable. Then Lehmann came across and said: 'I meant it in jest'. I said that in black and white it doesn't look like jest to me. He said something along the lines of: 'Listen to the interview', and I said: 'I have far better things to do with my time', and that was about it. We shared a nice beer and I said: 'See you in November'."
But if Broad is relying on honest-to-goodness debate on to see him through the Test series unscathed, it is by no means certain that a section of the Australian media feels the same way. That has been interpreted by one Australian newspaper as a refusal to accept Lehmann's apology and described as "fanning the flames". When he asked for some interesting Australians to follow on Twitter, his attempt at bridge building was reported, quite outlandishly, as him "baiting" Australia fans on social media.
Australia has its public enemy No. 1 and they intend him to top the charts until the New Year. That he will receive a hostile welcome at The Gabba in little more than three weeks' time can be taken for granted.
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