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Feature

Stuart Broad relishing latest reinvention after brush with Test mortality

Veteran seamer leaning on psychology and data in bid for self-improvement as Lord's recall awaits

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
31-May-2022
There have been so many Stuart Broad reinventions that you'd be forgiven for failing to keep up. Never mind Broad 2.0, we must be on to the seventh or eighth iteration by now.
In the early days he was "Golden Bowls", before a brief, less-successful period as the "Enforcer". There was the youthful Broad of red-hot streaks - seven times taking five wickets in a single spell - and the older, wiser version who cut down his run up, reduced his leave percentage and became the stuff of David Warner's nightmares.
Having had a brush with his mortality as a Test cricketer over the winter, unceremoniously jettisoned alongside long-time new-ball confrère James Anderson for England's tour to the Caribbean, it should be no surprise that Broad has resolved to throw himself wholeheartedly into the challenge once again after being recalled at the start of a new era for the side, under the coach-captaincy combo of Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes.
Broad's enthusiasm for the game is well known, and he was in garrulous mood two days out from the start of the Lord's Test - not just because his football team, Nottingham Forest, had won a return to the Premier League after a 23-year absence. He said he was planning to approach the match as if it was his first (rather than his 153rd), and would pour his "heart and soul" into performing, without concern about trying to manage a pathway towards future commitments.
He also spoke about the philosophy that McCullum will expect his players to adopt, based around taking positive options and looking to move the game forward at every juncture. For the bowlers, that boils down to a simple message: "Don't focus too much on economy rates, I want wickets." It is a gauntlet Broad is keen to pick up, despite occasionally being accused in the past of conservatism and the success that he and Anderson have had - in yet another incarnation - with the tactic of "bowling dry".
"The forefront of the mindset is wickets," Broad said. "It is, let's look at the opposition players and what's our best chance of taking wickets. If we turn up and the pitch is slow and slips aren't in the game, catching covers and midwickets. In the past it was two an over, pressure will see the batsman make a mistake.
"The mindset [now] is how we get the batter to make a mistake quicker: how do we apply pressure quicker? If we can bowl a team out in 85 overs going at 3.3 an over, compared to 120 at 2.5 ... that's a better option as it speeds the game up for our batters. I suppose it's the balance of protecting economy or risk it by going fuller. Yes, you might get driven but you've got more chance of taking wickets. If I go at 8 an over on Thursday, just be calm.
"I'd like to think that I have quite an attacking mindset and he [McCullum] has got a very relaxed, free feel to him and the way he talks with his players. I'm sure that there's certain things that he has a very clear direction on, but it is very much seems that, as long as you're taking the positive option here, I'll back you. I'm really looking forward to working with him and I think Stokes will be a fantastic leader."
In his bid to seize the moment once more, Broad has focused on two areas: psychology and data. He revealed that he has worked extensively with Chris Marshall, Nottinghamshire's team psychologist, with a view to prioritising the next challenge rather than worrying about managing his body for commitments further down the line - an approach which chimes with the strident comments he made about England's rotation policy during the winter's Ashes.
"I think rather than view the summer as 'I hope I'm fit for the second Test against South Africa' - well life doesn't work like that," he said. "It very much is, be very grateful for what I've got this week, and give my heart and soul for this week. Then if I'm a bit stiff and sore next week we'll approach that then, and if I don't play next week or they want to give a new bowler some experience, great. And if I've not set a target to play that game then everything is rosy - so give everything, train hard, if I get in the team everything is going to be left on that field.
"I said to Jimmy today, whether we get 0 for 100 or 5 for 30, actually, the performance doesn't matter right now. It's just all about us giving everything to the England shirt and the environment and we're good for the results to look after themselves in the long run anyway."
He was also enthusiastic about the potential for data analysis to help give him and Anderson - England's two lions in winter - an extra cutting edge. Having benefited from the suggestion a few seasons ago, from Peter Moores and Kunal Manek at Notts, that he should be looking to make batters play more, Broad has been drilling down into his extensive Test record at different grounds in order to pick out favourable match-ups.
"I think every sportsperson has to prove their worth all the time, [and that's] as much to do with my mindset and drive to keep improving," he said. "When I was 20 coming into international cricket, my mindset was that I had to keep improving all the time: white-ball cricket, new slower ball; red-ball, what can I do differently to the past?
"Two years ago I came up with the idea that the lower I could get my leave percentage, the better my spells would be. I will continue to do that, but this summer I will be even more specific. Because I've played so much cricket in the UK when I arrive at Lord's, I go through the data of ends, spells, left- [and] right-handers, age of ball: when is my strike rate the lowest? Get those match-ups with batters at different times. [So I can be] saying to the captain that my record from the Pavilion End to left-handers between 10 and 20 overs is very good. Maybe I have a crack then."
The headline number around Broad's record at Lord's is that he needs five more wickets to become only the second bowler (after Anderson) to take 100 Test wickets on the ground. That he will likely get that chance, almost four months after being dropped from an England Test squad for the first time in his 15-year career, is testament to the drive that still exists within - ready to go "flying" into battle, this time for McCullum.
"There's no doubt when the team was in the West Indies I missed it," he said. "I wished I was there. It just makes you realise that, yes, these careers don't gone on forever. You've got to get as much out of it as you possibly can and enjoy it. The moment I stop enjoying and lose that competitive spirit then I won't be the fast bowler I am, no doubt about that. I thrive off that competitive spirit and that's why I feel I can change the momentum of games pretty quickly.
"So yes, I loved it yesterday [in the nets], I loved charging in. It was great to see the coaches again who I'd not seen for a long time and it was just a really good, vibrant feel around the changing-room as it should be before the first Test of the summer. We should all be flying and have amazing energy.
"Brendon said one basic thing for his mindset is - you chase every ball to the boundary as hard as you can until it's at the boundary edge. That is just a mindset of positivity all the time that you are going to give everything to this game and then we'll reflect on whatever happens."

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick