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Geek god

He knows exactly when his batting average dipped below his dad's, he knows he is England's 638th Test player, and he can swing the ball pretty fast and accurately as well

Edward Craig
Stuart Broad works at the nets, Mohali, December 17, 2008

Broad says he has learned from every single moment in his international career, good and bad  •  Anthony Devlin/PA Photos/Getty Images

Stuart Broad is a science nerd. "He knows more about one area of physics than I did - force and pressure, anything to do with swing. Broady is very clued up on all this." Frank Hayes, one-time England batsman, now physics teacher and cricket master at Oakham School, spills the beans.
Broad, England's freshest face in a young squad (30-year-old Andrew Flintoff was the oldest player in the first one-dayer against South Africa at Headingley), may have appeared naked in Cosmopolitan, have floppy, blond hair, boy-band looks and a love of fast cars, but for all that he is a cricket geek.
He is at Silverstone for a driving day laid on by Volkswagen, one of England's sponsors. He spots a copy of the Wisden Cricketer on the table in the briefing room, and ignoring all the sexy car magazines, starts flicking through, looking at pictures and statistics. He knows his stats.
"I look at Ashley Giles. He averaged just over 20 with four 50s in his Test career, and he was renowned as a good No. 8," he says. "If I can be around that 25-mark, I would certainly be able to do the business with the bat. Freddie [Flintoff] is one of the best bowlers in the world, and he averages 32. Anything near 30 and you are doing your bit for the team."
Numbers are important to him. They measure success. And he is very competitive and very proud. "I am 638. Only 638 people in 100-plus years of Test cricket have played for England. It is not many, so I am in a privileged club. My ODI number is 197."
This competitive streak emerges during his VW driving experience. Not only is he driving off-road in a brand new 4x4. He is also giving an F4 racing car a spin round the Silverstone circuit. The weather is atrocious, so both trips are fraught, but Broad knows only one way: attack. An ashen-faced instructor stumbles out of the 4x4 once Broad has finished his run. "He wanted to see how fast it goes," the instructor explains, "and this is a course for accuracy not speed."
Ravi Bopara overturned a 4x4 during a similar session last year, and Broad has admitted in the past to causing damage to these tough machines. When he gets on the racing circuit the story is the same: "I am more aggressive than others, being a sportsman. I spun the F4 three times and got aggressive on the track. I wanted to test it out. As a sportsman you are always testing your limits."
Broad knows no other way and this trait is genetic. Everyone remembers his father Chris, Ashes winner in 1986-87, as a short-tempered opener who became a match referee. But what is his relationship with his dad like? Stuart says it is good, but it is clearly fiery.
Dad likes to keep son in check: "He was the first to text me when we won at Old Trafford against New Zealand. He played 25 Tests and won two. I had played five and won three, beating him after just five Tests. I think he is happy I scored 1 at The Oval [against South Africa] because now my batting average is below his again. But he's delighted. He loves watching me play, though he gets a bit nervous."
Does Stuart have any of his father's temperament or his temper? "Yes. But I have only kicked down stumps in the back garden. I have his passion for it. I love winning, I love playing to win. You need some of that to be a bowler. You need to have a hatred for the batsman to make sure you have that real fire to perform."
Before Stuart's Test debut Chris said his son would not make it through his career without being fined his entire match fee at least once. And Stuart says he sees the irony of his father's poacher-turned-gamekeeper situation. "He is always on at me about little things I do wrong. He knows all the ins and outs, so if I don't turn round [to the umpire] for an appeal he asks why. He's good at his job because he's not afraid to make decisions. He's not afraid to speak his mind, which got him in trouble in the past. He's not there to sit in the background and let people get away with it. He is there to say, 'Look, you've done wrong. I'm going to fine you.'"
It was Broad's mother Carole who nurtured his young love of the game. His parents split up when he was six and she shipped the eager boy from youth matches to practice and even helped out herself: "My mum was always the one that took me to all the matches, sat there watching in the school holidays - she's a teacher as well - then drove me home and talked about the game. She saw a lot more cricket than my dad. I'd be in the back garden playing and I'd want 50 catches thrown at me, so she'd be out there throwing catches. She was key in letting me enjoy my cricket. I was never forced to play. I just loved the sport and always played."
Big, bad, better than his dad: but his mum played a bigger role in his development as a cricketer
The paternal influence is never far away, though, and when it was deemed that England were messing around with Stuart's bowling action, it was Chris who went public. In November 2006 he said on radio: "I don't believe you should have a whole host of clones playing in an England side so that they don't get injured. Stuart's is a very natural action, it's a very easy action, and it's a wicket-taking action. Injury is part and parcel of any game. A coach should work with the talent he has got in front of him."
Hayes and David Steele, the former England batsman who was Oakham School's professional, as well as numerous coaches at Leicestershire, were frustrated when they saw a new chest-on version of Stuart. Hayes explains: "With England his action was changed so that he was told to bowl chest-on. He is now getting back to how he was a couple of years ago and starting to swing the ball again. He actually lost his ability to swing it." Broad now works closely with Ottis Gibson, England's newish bowling coach and an old Leicestershire colleague.
Hayes says that Broad's most impressive attribute at school, whether in cricket, hockey or physics, was his remarkable ability to absorb information and heed advice. Broad believes he has learned from every single moment in his international career, good and bad. When he was dropped after the Headingley Test this year he did not mope but hurried back to Trent Bridge for a Championship match and took wickets. It made him realise how big a deal being a Test cricketer was. He explains: "When you are involved in the Test you are always doing your thing, preparing, playing. You can get in your own bubble and not realise how much support and love there is for it - but when you are out of the England side, everyone is watching it, everyone is talking about it. You realise how enthralled everyone is by it. Sometimes you forget how massive it is. I really missed it."
His embryonic career has already had its highs - and a historic low when India's Yuvraj Singh hit him for six sixes in one over in a World Twenty20 match. He winces when reminded. Does he have nightmares about it? "No, not at all. I forgot about it quickly. I went straight to Sri Lanka to play. I took 11 wickets at 19 each and enjoyed it. It was a bad over by me, very well punished. I did not get a ball where I wanted to. It is very rare that a player can strike it as well as he did. I can't remember what was going through my mind. I was trying to bowl wide outside off stump and that probably freed his arms. In Twenty20 batsmen can play without pressure or fear and just slog it. Bowlers have to accept they will go for runs sometimes."
And, as ever, he has learned from that moment: "A lot has happened since then. I have made my Test debut, I played 20-odd one-dayers. It has made me a better bowler, the way I practise and go about things. It wouldn't happen again. My stats since then are good."
Broad seems level-headed, neither carried away by success nor despondent at failure. He is only 22, and clearly enjoys the trappings of being an international sportsman, but there is a maturity and intelligence that, fingers crossed, bodes well. He says he seeks not pace but accuracy and movement - more Shaun Pollock, less Shoaib Akhtar. "I am not trying to bowl quicker," he says. "I can improve my pace and bowl in the high-80s but it is important not to chase pace because you can lose what you do well, such as putting the ball in the right areas. It is like driving a car: if you try to drive round corners at 90mph, you are going to crash more times than if you drive at 75mph." Speed is not everything, even for a 22-year-old pin-up.

Edward Craig is deputy editor of the Wisden Cricketer. This interview was first published in the October 2008 issue of the Wisden Cricketer