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Rubbished and ridiculed, Stuart Broad revelled in the abuse and delivered a performance of a skilful, experienced Test bowler
George Dobell in Brisbane
November 21, 2013
A phenomenal effort from Stuart Broad
Stuart Broad could have been forgiven for producing - a la Denesh Ramdin - a "Talk nah, Australia" sign as he walked off the pitch at the end of the first day of this Ashes series.
Rubbished, ridiculed and reduced - the front page of one Australian tabloid dubbed Broad a "smug pommy cheat" on the morning of the game - England, and Broad in particular, arrived with abuse ringing in their ears.
Broad, it was claimed by an Australian media stoked by their national coach, was little more than a medium-pacer whose disregard for the rules shamed him, while England's batsmen were running scared of Australia's pace attack.
But instead of wilting in the cauldron of the "Gabbatoir", Broad appeared to revel in the occasion. Indeed, he even admitted he found himself whistling along as a large section of the crowd chanted "Broad is a w*****."
This may be no surprise to the England camp. As part of their exhaustive preparation process - a process that was ridiculed at the start of the tour when sections of the Australian media were leaked details of England's nutrition plans - England's players were analysed by a psychologist and Broad was one of three who, in his words, "thrive properly on getting abuse".
"It's me, KP and Matt Prior," Broad said. "So they picked good men to go at.
"It was good fun out there. I think I coped with it okay. It's all good banter. Fans like to come, have a beer with their mates and sing along. I'm pleased my mum wasn't here, but to be honest I was singing along at one stage. It gets in your head and you find yourself whistling it at the end of your mark. I'd braced myself to expect it and actually it was good fun. I enjoyed it."
Bearing in mind the pre-series propaganda - not least David Warner suggesting England "feared" Australia - there was an irony in seeing Australia's top-order dismissed by short deliveries after they had won the toss on a blameless pitch. While Australia had done the talking, England had gone about their preparation relatively quietly and produced a professional performance when it mattered. Actions spoke louder than words.
"We've felt like silent assassins on this trip," Broad said. "We've gone under the radar and just focused on what we had to do. All the attention had been on the Australians which has been perfect for us."
The simplistic explanation would be that Broad, infuriated by the goading, expressed his fury with a spell of hostile bowling. And it is true he has attracted the level of abuse usually reserved for those who have eaten their own children.
At one stage the police even arrested a man who attempted to smuggle a piglet into the ground in a pram. In a reprise of a gag first aimed 31 years ago against Ian Botham and the England offspinner at the time, Eddie Hemmings, the aim was apparently to release the piglet onto the field with "Broad" painted on its side. The man was later charged with animal cruelty which might, depending on your view, be seen as even greater insult to Broad.
But it does Broad a disservice to diminish his performance to that of a furious brute. This was the performance of a skilful, experienced Test bowler. The aggression was channelled and controlled; the short ball - though it claimed his first four wickets - was used as variation and, though conditions offered little, he found just enough movement in the air and off the pitch to damage a brittle top-order. It was a performance that would not have shamed Glenn McGrath.
Broad may be cast in the role of pantomime villain in Australia, but his record is beginning to deserve rather more respect. The wicket of Mitchell Johnson, bowled by a fine inswinger to end an excellent seventh-wicket stand, gave Broad not only his fifth five-wicket haul of the Test year, but also made him the first man to take 50 Test wickets in 2013. While it is true that England tend to play more Tests than most nations, an average of 24.16 underlines his increasingly value.
Broad's problem is that the jury declared its verdict too early. Thrown into international cricket as a 20-year-old, he has learned his trade in the unforgiving public eye. So, instead of enduring those inevitable tough days in the relative anonymity of county cricket, he instead had to suffer Yuvraj Singh thrashing him for six sixes in an over on the biggest stage of all. Some will never shed the image of Broad as the over-promoted starlet who promised rather more than he delivered.
But he is far more than that these days. While his divergent record at home and away - he has taken 147 wickets in 36 Tests at an average of 27.50 at home and 62 wickets in 24 Tests at an average of 38.59 away; an average that rises to 145.50 from three Tests in India - suggests he is still a work in progress, he does seem, at the age of 27, to be finding the consistency and mental strength that characterise the best.
His experience showed in the dismissal of Shane Watson. Replays made the shot look poor - and it is true that Watson could have left the ball - but by going wide on the crease and seeing the ball hold its line, Broad induced a moment of indecision that proved crucial.
Both Chris Rogers and Michael Clarke were the victims of well-directed short balls. After Rogers fended to gully, Clarke popped the first short delivery he faced to one of the two short legs placed in readiness. He has now been dismissed by Broad six times in his last eight completed innings and, perhaps due to his back injury preventing him from leaning away from the short ball, has serious questions to answer against that line of attack.
The mind-games continue. While Mitchell Johnson claimed Australia had a par total, Broad rated the wicket as "fantastic". Time will tell who is correct, but all the indications are that Broad's description is the more accurate.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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