I feel a little bit sorry for Stuart Broad. So many of the big moments in his career have been overshadowed by something else or someone else.
Take his highest test score: that brilliant 169 against Pakistan at Lord’s. He played superbly in tandem with Jonathan Trott and unleashed a plethora of fluent and elegant drives. He was rapidly becoming one of the most attractive players to watch in the entire team, and people were talking about him becoming a genuine world-class all-rounder.
And then Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir had to go and ruin his moment.
It was a similar story last week in many ways. Broad didn’t take a hatful of wickets but managed to pass Sir Ian Botham’s 383 test scalps – thus becoming England’s second leading wicket taker of all time. It’s one hell of an achievement.
But instead of focusing on Broad, most observers focused on Alastair Cook’s runs, the West Indies’ ineptitude, and whether pink balls and day-night cricket were worth all the hype.
I’m not denying that Broad has had his moments. His 8-15 at Nottingham against Australia will live long in the memory (even though the pitch was a bit of a green top). Similarly I’ll never forget his 5-37 at The Oval back in 2009 – a brilliant performance that all but won the Ashes and really announced his arrival on the world stage. It was the first of many magical spells that Broad seems to produce from time to time.
The inescapable truth, however, is that Broad often doesn’t get the plaudits he deserves. Even though he’s taken nearly 400 wickets and played 107 test matches – an absolutely awesome achievement for any fast bowler – his milestones seem less special because his friend and teammate Jimmy Anderson got there first.
There’s also a lingering perception that Broad hasn’t been quite as consistent as he might. He’s obviously a world-class operator when on song, but there have also been times been he’s struggled for rhythm, hasn’t looked fully fit, and his pace has been down.
During England’s defeat to South Africa in 2012, Broad bowled 34 wicketless overs, conceded 118 runs, and looked like nothing more than a tall medium-pacer as Smith, Amla and Kallis amassed 637-2. There was little aggression, no movement, and no shortage of uncalled for snarling at fielders.
Broad’s batting, of course, has also become a big disappointment and a source of some disgruntlement amongst fans. Seeing a man who made 3 half-centuries in his first 9 tests (not to mention that glorious 169) backing away to leg with fear in his eyes is hard to watch.
Fans reach for their favourite betting app – the ladbrokes android app is one of the best out there – as soon as Broad walks to the crease these days. They know all too well that the next short ball is likely to bring a wicket.
Although that nasty blow to the head he suffered a couple of years ago would rattle most batsmen, it’s hard not to think what Broad the batsman could have been. In his early years he played just as attractively as his father at times. It seems such a waste.
Then there’s Broad’s limited overs career to consider. Although he hasn’t done badly at all in white ball cricket, 178 ODI wickets at 30 doesn’t quite do his considerable talents justice.
Some might think that England don’t pick Stuart in 50-over cricket because they’re saving him for test matches, but I’m not so sure. After all, he’s made it clear on several occasions that he wants to be part of Eoin Morgan’s squad.
What’s more, many people in India will always remember Broad for the savaging he once received from Yuvraj Singh. Being hit for six 6s in an over so publicly must have been humiliating. For all his achievements in red ball cricket, Broad will always have to bear this badge of dishonour.
And yet once again it wasn’t really his fault. Not for the first time Stuart was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yuvraj was so brilliant that day he might have taken Malcolm Marshall to the cleaners.
Broad the person has also split opinion. Even though he was England’s best performer on the disastrous Ashes tour of 2013/14, taking a highly creditable 21 wickets at 27.5 (and also making 155 runs), all everyone remembers is the bloody Brisbane Courier Mail and the Gabba boo boys.
What’s more, the tour was such a disaster from start to finish – with the aftermath also reaching farcical proportions – that Broad’s admirable performances have been completely forgotten. If you ask supporters to name one bright spot from that series they’ll invariably point to Ben Stokes’ hundred at Perth.
Our Stuart also managed to alienate some of his own supporters during the Pietersen ‘KP Genius’ affair. According to Alec Stewart, Broad was one of three players (alongside Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan) who had access to the notorious Twitter account. Allegedly the main perpetrator, a fan called Richard Bailey, was a mate of Broad’s. How awkward.
Despite all this, however, it’s indisputable that Broad has had an extremely fine career. He has been a fantastic cricketer for England and I suspect the team will miss him terribly when he hangs up his boots – which might not be for another two or three years if he’s managed properly and stays injury free.
Although he’ll probably never catch Anderson in the all-time leading wicket-taking table, I can see Broad finishing his career with something approaching 475 wickets. After all, he’s only just turned 31 years of age.
To put this in perspective, Darren Gough (who is one of my all time favourite England players) finished with 229 wickets. Andy Caddick, who was also a very good bowler for England, took 234. All three have similar averages for what it’s worth.
It will be interesting to see how Broad will go down English cricketing history. Will he be remembered as an all time England great? Personally I suspect not. Broad is a very good bowler – let’s not forget that he was briefly ranked No.1 in the world – but he doesn’t quite have the aura of an Anderson, a Botham, a Willis, or even a Gough.
If this really does become his legacy it would be typically unfortunate and harsh. After all, Broad has played in an era where bat has tended to dominate ball. Picking up test wickets at a price of 28 runs apiece is nothing to be sniffed at in modern times.
Perhaps, a bit like the aforementioned Kevin Pietersen, Broady will be remember as a cricketer who produced great performances rather than a truly great cricketer.
And given the allegedly acrimonious relationship between these two fine England players, wouldn’t that be deliciously ironic?
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