Angry. Frustrated. Gutted. This was how Stuart Broad, in his own words, felt after being snubbed for the first Test of the recently concluded three-match series between England and the West Indies—which marked the resumption of international cricket since the COVID-19-induced lockdown in March. He had reason to be frustrated—Broad took 48 wickets at an average of 23.52 in Tests in the past year, a record bettered only by Australia's Pat Cummins.
Stand-in captain Ben Stokes surprised many by leaving the pacer out of the playing XI. The move, in a way, backfired, too, with the Windies winning the opener at Southampton by four wickets. Though Stokes, after the match, said he did not regret the decision to drop England's second-highest wicket-taker in Tests, he lauded Broad's burning desire to play for England, as evident from his 'angry' remarks in the Sky Sports interview.
Picked for the second and the third Test, Broad showed what England missed in the opener. Three wickets in each innings in the 113-run win in the second Test was followed up with a match-winning 10-wicket haul and a crucial 45-ball 62 in the decider. He walked away with the Player of the Match and Player of the Series (which he shared with West Indian Roston Chase) awards.
That's Stuart Christopher John Broad for you. Never one to hold back, be it on the field or off it. And always bouncing back when critics have all but written him off. He might not fill you with awe as a Glenn McGrath or a Courtney Walsh or a Wasim Akram or a Dale Steyn would, but, for ardent followers of the game, the 34-year-old is right up there with the best in whites. With 501 wickets in 140 Tests, he is seventh on the all-time list of Test wicket-takers. Only his bowling partner James Anderson, with 589 wickets in 153 Tests, is above him in the list of English bowlers; one that includes legends like Ian Botham and Bob Willis.
In fact, Anderson and Broad complement each other well. While 38-year-old Anderson relies more on swing and gets the ball to skid, the latter is a seamer and hits the pitch hard, from 6 feet 5 inches and higher. Between them, they have taken 894 wickets in 117 Tests they have featured together for England since 2008. Surprisingly, or not, Broad is ahead of Anderson when it comes to Ashes—he has 118 wickets compared to his senior partner's 104 scalps. Only Botham (128) and Willis (123) have more. Interestingly, Broad's 500th Test wicket was Kraigg Brathwaite—the same batsman who Anderson dismissed at Lord's three years ago for his 500th Test victim.
That Broad has been able to make a mark under the shadow of Anderson, and in a team which had a steady crop of good fast bowlers, is an achievement in itself. More so, for a player who started off as an opening batsman—like his father Chris—who could bowl fast. While starting off with Leicestershire, he saw himself as a batting all-rounder, but gradually, his bowling prowess took over. Even then, he was hungry to learn and improve himself, as former West Indies player and former England bowling coach Ottis Gibson once said.
He made his Test debut in 2007 against Sri Lanka in Colombo. Earlier that year, his name was etched in the record books, thanks to the ignominy of being carted for six sixes in an over, by Yuvraj Singh in the inaugural T20 World Cup. After a relatively silent first two years in whites, Broad came off age in the final and decisive Test of the 2009 Ashes series, at The Oval. He took five wickets in four overs, to set up a famous England victory.
Such brilliant bursts, which would swing the game decisively in England's favour, soon became Broad's hallmark in Tests. After a side injury layoff in 2010-11, he returned stronger with some memorable performances—5/5, including a hat-trick against India in 2011; 7/72 against the West Indies at Lord's in 2012; 7/44 against New Zealand at the same venue; 6/22 in an Ashes Test in 2013; the epic 8/15 against Australia at Trent Bridge in 2015, helping England bowl out the Aussies for 60 in only 18.3 overs, before lunch; and the 6/17 against South Africa at the Wanderers in 2016.
Broad had his share of struggles too, with side and heel injuries and occasional dip in form and confidence, like the tour of India in 2012. Between 2016 and 2018, Broad went 26 Tests without a five-wicket haul, an aberration for the talented pacer. But, the fighter that he is, since the forgettable 2017-18 Ashes series, Broad has taken 86 wickets in 24 Tests.
His passion for the game is also evident in his unique “celebrappeal”, where he starts celebrating without waiting for the umpire's decision if he is sure he has got his man. It has become part of his flamboyant persona now, complete with his blond hair and boyish charm. But don't let his good looks lull you into a sense of false security, as many an opponent have found out at their own peril. With age, he has mellowed down a bit, and has cut down on his run-up and has quite a few tricks up his sleeve with the ball. Even today, after 100-odd Tests, Broad takes feedback from players he faces in the nets. When individual training resumed after the lockdown, Broad and Chris Woakes were the first cricketers to hit the ground running.
Soon after the final Test against the West Indies, Broad said he still feels fresh and is raring to have a go when England take on Pakistan in the first of their three-match series at Old Trafford from August 5-9.
If that's not passion and love for the game, we don't know what is.