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Stuart Broad: 'The Gabba holds the key to the Ashes'

England seamer expects to be fit and fresh for Australia after calf tear during India series

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Stuart Broad has not bowled a ball in anger since tearing his calf ahead of the Lord's Test in August, and he does not expect to face a batter in the nets until England touch down in Australia next month. Nevertheless, as he savours the "mental freshness" that two months away from the international treadmill has afforded him, he believes that his preparation for this winter's Ashes could yet prove to be better than that of his opponents.
Australia, after all, will have not played a Test for almost 11 months by the time the teams convene at Brisbane on December 8 - the same venue at which India overturned them in January to claim a famous 2-1 series win, and in the process inflict a first defeat at the Gabba for 33 years.
And given the competing demands of the T20 World Cup, which gets underway this week, Broad is confident that the experience he has gleaned from his 145-Test, 14-year career will compensate for a lack of game-time as a "fascinating" and "unpredictable" series gets underway.
"The old sports saying is try and find the positive in everything," Broad said during a #Funds4Runs event in Leyton. "My positive is that this has allowed me to have a training period where I'm not constantly thinking 'I've got to bowl in three days' time'. I can actually train, and adapt my body really well.
"The Aussies haven't played for a great deal of time, a lot of our guys are playing T20 cricket, some guys haven't played since September, so I don't feel like I'm behind the eight-ball at all. I actually feel like I'm approaching the series mentally fresh, and ready to hit the ground running."
Broad returned to light training two weeks ago, working at his local club in Wimbledon as well as at Loughborough University to get "13 or 14" overs under his belt, all the while monitored by GPS to ensure he's not over-exerting himself before his body is ready.
"I wish I'd had all this GPS stuff when I was 18," he said. "I can control the intensity, run-up speed and pace I'm bowling at, so that when they want me to do a session at 80%, we actually can judge that I'm bowling 80%, which is quite cool.
"The rehab team at the ECB have been great, and got me back feeling really strong and fit," he added. "I knew it was a bad calf tear but it was a clean one. It took at least two weeks to be able to put any sort of weight through my foot, and it was probably harder for my fiancée Molly than me because I couldn't even get a cup of tea. But I did 7000 steps a day in the pool, listening to Stephen Fry talk about Sherlock Holmes on an audio book, and it's got my muscle moving again, and new soft tissue growing, which I'm training to be as robust as it possibly can."
"I'm not going to bowl at a batter until we land in Australia, because I can't control my competitive instincts," he added. "If I get whacked through the covers, I might try a bit hard and put myself in some sort of danger, so I'm just going to control that until early November, or whenever we get out of quarantine, and then build up for Brisbane."
The final arrangements for the series remain shrouded in some uncertainty, even though England named a 17-man squad last week, and have since backed that up with 14 further names in a strong Lions party that will shadow the main tour. But Broad insisted that the players would leave the higher-ups at the ECB and CA to thrash out the finer details. All that matters to the squad, he said, was to channel their energies into that first Test at Brisbane.
"We need our sole focus to be exceptional for Brisbane," Broad said. "The Gabba holds the key to the series, because they've got a good record there. Admittedly they lost to India, but we need to start the series well, and make sure that we're 100% on the money at Brisbane, because we can put this Australia team under pressure on the field, and off the field, if we do our job really well to start. We'll be very well prepared for that."
One of the key match-ups will potentially be the resumption of Broad's rivalry with David Warner - a man who has scored 18 centuries in 45 home Tests, but who was picked apart by Broad in the 2019 away series, averaging 9.50 in the five matches, and falling to his nemesis in seven innings out of ten.
And while Broad did not deny that, as a new-ball bowler, Warner would once again be firmly in his sights, he insisted that the strange circumstances of the series meant that no-one would be able to come into the series with any real form to fall back on - not even England's captain, Joe Root, who has racked up 1455 runs in a stellar year to date, but who won't have batted competitively for three months by the start of the series.
"As an opening bowler you're always targeting the opening batters and the top four, and Warner is a key part of that in Australia," Broad said. "But it's going to be a fascinating series, in the fact that no-one's really played any cricket. I don't see how anyone will be going into it in great form, so that means that, as a bowler, we should be really positive about exposing weaknesses if we're relentless."
With that in mind, Broad believes that England's attack can take heart from the methods that won England their last series Down Under in 2010-11. In his injury down-time, he says he has been examining footage of every wicket taken by right-arm seamers in Australia in the past six years - over the wicket to right-handers, and round the wicket to left-handers, as per his preferred methods.
And while England's original plan for the series had been to hit Australia with express pace, with the likes of Jofra Archer and Olly Stone complementing their last quick standing, Mark Wood, Broad's reassured that a more forensic approach can yet pay dividends.
"We often talk in England about express pace, but that's not what I'm seeing," Broad said. "It's about relentlessness with the ball, being McGrath-like … not bowling bad balls and releasing the pressure. Kyle Abbott and [Vernon] Philander have brilliant records there by bringing the stumps into play, and as a whole bowling unit, repeating it and repeating it for long periods of time. That's how you get success in Australia.
"It's no good saying we're going to blast everyone out, because realistically we've only got Mark Wood who bowls over 90 miles an hour. So we have to use what's in our armoury and that is now world class relentlessness from guys who move the ball consistently. Both teams have strengths and weaknesses, and our job as the bowling unit is to stare at the Australian weaknesses."
Stuart Broad was speaking at the LV= Insurance "In With Heart" Tour, showcasing recipients of #Funds4Runs grants, a £1 million joint initiative between the ECB and LV= Insurance to support grassroots cricket.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket