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Feature

Veteran ringmaster Stuart Broad still 'loving the Ashes circus'

Senior England quick on competitive "addiction", pre-series goading and his plans for David Warner

Stuart Broad says he still has the hunger to play for England  •  Getty Images

Stuart Broad says he still has the hunger to play for England  •  Getty Images

The "addiction" of Bazball. The competitive fire within still burning bright. The hunger he still has even at "the arse end" of his career. All reasons why Stuart Broad sees no reason why this summer should be his last in Test cricket.
Into his 17th year of international cricket, it was reasonable to wonder if a man who turns 37 next month is on his last lap of the track. The 16th year came close; Broad left wondering whether Test cricket had been moved beyond his reach after his axing from the squad for the Caribbean tour that followed a 4-0 Ashes loss. But here we are, Ashes series number nine on the horizon and Broad champing at the bit to get going.
That energy comes primarily from a dressing room that under Ben Stokes's captaincy and Brendon McCullum's guidance have decided to live a little and thrill a lot. The 10 wins in 12 since this all started last summer speaks of success, but Broad's revitalised nature is a by-product of the cohesion of a previously disjointed group, and a move towards having a lot more fun.
Just a few days ago Broad bumped into newly appointed Test vice-captain Ollie Pope on the golf course and the pair could not contain their excitement at getting the gang back together. That comes this weekend, as part of a camp ahead of a four-day Test against Ireland - starting June 1 at Lord's - that acts as the taster before five Tests in six weeks against Australia.
With James Anderson (groin) and Ollie Robinson (ankle) set to miss the Ireland match to keep them fresh, Broad will lead the attack at Lord's. Even if he was given the option of sitting it out to stay primed for what lies ahead, he would not take it. He might have 161 caps and 576 Test wickets to his name, but he doesn't want to miss a thing
"I am 36 turning 37 but I have always said if my competitive burn goes then I won't be the cricketer I am. But my competitive burn is alive.
"What do they call it, the twilight? It's sort of the arse end of your career, isn't it. I've still got a great hunger. Ultimately I play sport and cricket for the competitive side. I love that competitive drive that bowling at a batter gives you. You beat the outside edge and there's no win in that, but you nip one back and it goes through the gate. Those sort of feelings are so addictive to me."
Over the last two weeks, it is fair to say Broad has also indulged in another addiction - operating as something of a wind-up merchant. Whether discussing how he has voided the 4-0 defeat in the 2021-22 Ashes because of the impact of Covid-19, or how much he'd enjoy Steve Smith trying to mimic England's style of play and getting out to an uncharacteristic shot, he has reprised his role as agitator-in-chief with aplomb.
Australian cricketers past and present have had their say on his musings, to varying degrees of anger and satire. All part of the Ashes fun, as far as Broad is concerned.
"I'm loving the circus, the to and fro between the players," he said. "It's a bit like a boxing match building up to Edgbaston.
"I said that line that Fox News tagged me in on a thousand times on social media - 'I hope Smith charges down and cloths Leachy in the air'. Which I do! I can't disagree with that quote. Ultimately any time you get Smithy out you're buzzing. For us to get them out copying what we have done would be a great thrill.
"Just feels like there's been a nice build-up. I remember seeing Glenn McGrath saying Australia would win 5-0. I used to think why is he saying that for? But now I get it. Get what he was saying. Nathan Lyon used to come out and say he's turning it the other way. I find it a really nice side of Ashes cricket and I hope it continues."
As part of that shtick comes the one individual battle that has acted as a neat subplot during the last two Ashes series: Broad against Warner. And as with any good subplot, this one has heft to it.
Here are two larger-than-life personalities, over a century of caps to their names, regarded as totems of their own country's approach to this rivalry. An opening bowler and opening batter who have locked horns across 45 innings will be heading into a summer that marks 10 years since they first met on this stage.
"We've had incredible battles," Broad reflected, wistfully. During the last Ashes in Australia, the pair shared a drink to commemorate what they thought was their last battle. "We shared a glass of red and didn't know if we would play against each other again." He is hopeful of at least one more duel.
That should be on the cards, though there are no guarantees. Much like the other quick bowlers, Broad is only expected to play three of the five Ashes Tests. With Warner, however, there is a greater degree of uncertainty.
Since the start of 2021, he averages 29.48 across 19 Tests, with just five scores above 50 - one a double-hundred against South Africa in the recent Boxing Day Test, his 100th. Warner will likely get the World Test Championship final against India at the Kia Oval on June 7, with any further involvement in the rest of the English summer reportedly dependent on how he performs.
Reflecting on the history between them, Broad was refreshingly magnanimous when discussing someone he has enjoyed a good amount of recent success over. Broad has dismissed Warner nine times in the last four years - seven times in the 2019 home series alone - at a remarkable average of 7.22.
"The biggest praise I can give Davey [Warner] is the fact I had to completely study him and change my style of bowling because of the success he had against me. He's been a great competitor, someone I've really enjoyed playing against"
The previous six-year period, according to Broad, spurred the recent shift his way. Warner averaged 64.80 against Broad prior to 2019, with centuries at Brisbane and the Gabba during the 2013-14 series, and one in Melbourne in 2017-18. It led to some self-reflection from Broad. The kind Warner is going through at present.
"He had the better of me for quite a long period," Broad said. "Ultimately, the biggest praise I can give Davey is the fact I had to completely study him and change my style of bowling because of the success he had against me. He's been a great competitor, someone I've really enjoyed playing against. He's fiery, he's pretty ferociously competitive. And those sorts of characters bring out the best in me as well.
"Langer made a couple of comments after the '19 Ashes that he felt he [Warner] had got to the stage in his netting that he was almost too focused on my style of bowling I think. But he's coming off IPL cricket, a very different format, and having played that for a long time, and got a double-hundred on Boxing Day against a fantastic South African bowling attack. He's going to have confidence from that. It'll just be interesting to see."
Though form is on Broad's side in this face-off, he admitted only so many cues could be taken from 2019's "seven-for". The nature of the schedule this time - five Tests sandwiched in a month and a half up to the end of July - means ground conditions will not be the same.
"I bowled particularly well against him in conditions that suited me that will be very different this year. The 2019 wickets were tired from the World Cup so they were dry, so the new ball seamed off the dryness.
"Whereas now we're playing in June and July, you expect the pitches not to have that tiredness to them. It might be a slightly different style of bowling on them. I look back to '19, thinking of the second innings dismissal at Old Trafford, heavy length skidded on and got him LBW. I wouldn't imagine the English pitches will do that as early on as June. And if they don't, I've got to adjust my length and change. The fact is you can't bowl width to David Warner, so my line won't be changing."
There are other players to focus on, of course. Namely the No. 1- and No. 3-ranked Test batters in the world in Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith, who average 45.86 and 59.68 against England respectively. Between stirring the Ashes pot, Broad has been cooking up a few things to use against them, channelling that diligent approach to Warner.
Last month, for instance, he mentioned an outswinger in the works. By no means revolutionary, it reflects a desire to tweak an action that hasn't gone too badly over the best part of two decades.
"I'd be wrong if I'd not researched what I want to do against different players, because that was one of my greatest strengths against David Warner. I did so much research against him that I realised, I've got to miss leg side not off side, because he doesn't hit it through midwicket.
"I've done those numbers on Smudge and Labuschagne, and my numbers are high against them in recent series, so I need to do something different. If that means moving on the crease more, or getting tight on the stumps and swinging it to catch the outside edge. I'm a wobble-seam bowler that nips the ball back. If my average is higher against Smith and Labuschagne, it means they're not getting out lbw a huge amount, so I've got to bring the outside edge in. There might be some other things I do that are a bit outside the box that I might try on the odd occasion, but we'll wait and see what pitches I get."
Away from his own musings, he senses this series has all the ingredients to match 2005 for excitement and resonance. All the ingredients are there for a generational summer.
England have not been in possession of the urn since 2015, and Australia have not won an away series since 2001. "They outplayed us, I would say, in '19," Broad said of the 2-2 draw. The gap between the teams in English conditions has since closed. With both tracking well, a crescendo awaits.
"I think it feels like the biggest build-up I can remember for an Ashes series. I mean '05 was arguably one of the most famous Ashes series. I was only just starting my professional journey then. But this feels on a par with that type of build-up.
"As a fan it feels like this series is building nicely because Australia have an undoubted belief within their camp that they'll come and win here. And we've got an undoubted belief that we're going to win.
"I can't think of that many series - certainly through the nineties with me growing up that wasn't the case, was it? - where both teams genuinely feel like they're favourites. I think that's a really cool place for the game to be."
Marmite & The Barmy Army have composed a new song for Stuart Broad ahead of the summer. Follow @Marmite on Instagram & TikTok to see the results #SpreadTheLove.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo