Stuart Broad, Virat Kohli and the subtle art of annoying the hell out of your opponents
Plus, the BCCI - who have no opposition
Some bowlers, when they get into the latter stage of their careers, pare down their repertoire and focus simply on executing their best skill again and again. Others keep looking to develop new tricks, real or imagined, and push themselves to engage with the opposition in innovative - perhaps even puerile - ways.
Which brings us, as you've no doubt already guessed, to Stuart Broad's reinvention as a teenage internet troll, a 36-year-old headband-wearing provocateur, shitposting his way through the summer. The England team's Outside-Edgelord, if you will.
Broad was always a prime candidate for this sort of thing, given the way he lapped up all the "smug Pommie cheat" banter that came his way during the 2013-14 Ashes. His very presence as a blond, pouting, celebrappealing member of the English establishment is enough to wind up some people, and that's before you begin to factor in the 500-plus Test wickets.
Now, at the start of another Ashes summer, he has decided to put down the Call of Duty controller and get fired up for the time-honoured phoney war that precedes any England-Australia skirmish. The first salvo came a few weeks ago during an outing for Nottinghamshire, when he revealed that he had been working on - wait for it, wait for it - an outswinger. "It's designed, to be honest, for Marnus and Smith," he said with a committed poker face.
That's Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith, the ICC's No. 1 and No. 3-ranked Test batters. Who you suspect might have faced a bit of RFM away swing in their time. Perhaps for his next move, Broad will reveal that he has been working with Darren Stevens and plans to bowl 65mph with the keeper stood up to the stumps this summer. (Although given Labuschagne's experiences on the "Stevo's gonna get ya" circuit, that might not actually be such a bad idea.)
Anyway, Broad then added in a newspaper interview that he considered the previous Ashes in Australia, which took place under pandemic restrictions in 2021-22, "a void series" - a calculated dangling of bait that was swallowed by more than a few down under. "The definition of Ashes cricket is elite sport with lots of passion and players at the top of their game," Broad said, by which measure England didn't actually contest the urn at all in the 1990s.
By now, with the comment threads fizzing and empty bottles of Prime all over his bedroom floor, Broad was ready for a full-on flame war against anyone and everyone. Despite his semi-mythical status as the Bazball Nighthawk, he came out to bat against Lancashire - facing up to his old England mucker James Anderson - and flicked the Vs at the new orthodoxy, blocking his way to 3 off 50 balls to nick a draw for Notts. Stuuuuart Brooooad, he does what he wants.
One famous mischief-maker who would surely look on approvingly is the late Shane Warne, a man for whom teenage rebellion was a way of life. This will be the first Ashes without any involvement from the Australian in over 30 years but the Light Roller likes to think that, while Broad stirs the pot in the physical realm, Warnie is up there in the windowless basement in the sky, teaching Loki and Beelzebub exactly how to grip the Zooter.
Over in the IPL, meanwhile, another of the game's great competitors was going back to basics. "If you can give it, you got to take it," growled Virat Kohli after a typically feisty display in Royal Challengers Bangalore's win over Lucknow Super Giants earlier this month. "Otherwise don't give it." Valuable lessons there in the immutable laws of playground pointing-and-shoving, following some beef between Kohli and his former India team-mate, now Lucknow mentor, Gautam Gambhir. Or was it with Kyle Mayers, whom Gambhir had gone to rescue? Maybe Naveen-ul-Haq, who had words with Kohli during the Lucknow innings? Whatever, whoever, Kohli is always up for a bit of give and take. Anyone who says otherwise can meet him round the back of the bike sheds in ten.
While administrators in England and Australia can still afford themselves some hearty backslapping when they eye up space for another Ashes series on the FTP, the rest of the calendar for bilateral cricket isn't in quite such fine fettle. But don't worry, the BCCI has come up with a solution. Essentially, because most of the great piles of sweaty media rights cashola heading for the ICC coffers comes from the Indian market, they reckon most of it should come straight back to them, too. Who cares if cricket is still being played in Papua New Guinea/ Afghanistan/England, so long as India gets its (increasingly large) slice of pie? Call it equality, "Big One" style.
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick