English international cricketers are rarely well-liked. They are representatives of the former colonial power, the inventors of the game and the team that everyone wants to beat. Even the really nice ones, the ones you would be delighted to see your daughter (or son) bring home to meet the family, are seen as uppity and entitled.
Then there is Stuart Broad. A bowler that is so disliked that one Brisbane-based tabloid newspaper refused to name him. A man who upset Australians enough for them to have T-shirts printed with “STUART BROAD IS A SH*T BLOKE” emblazoned across them. A guy who has a Twitter feed that must be like him walking into a room where everyone hates him.
You can understand why he isn’t a fan favourite. Broad regularly appeals for dismissals that are laughably optimistic. When his team were battling to save a draw, Broad asked to excused from the field while batting so he could go to the toilet. At the Trent Bridge Test match against Australia he obviously edged the ball, was given not out and stood his ground. Broad can be petulant and unsporting. When opposition fans, and even England supporters, say they don’t like Broad, it makes sense. There is no one better at generating boiled piss than Stuart.
But Broad is a fine bowler, one that is rapidly approaching 400 wickets in Test matches. It is amazing to think that Broad has played for England for almost a decade, but it is also difficult to think of them without him in the line-up. Since his Test debut in December 2007, Broad has taken 360 wickets. Only James Anderson has taken more wickets over that period.
It took a long while for Broad to fulfil his undoubted potential in Test cricket. He showed glimpses of brilliance over the first two years of his Test career, but it wasn’t until late 2009 that his bowling average dipped below 40. It wasn’t until 2014 that he brought his average below 30. Currently those 360 wickets come at 28.48 runs a piece. In the context of Test cricket in the 21st century, this is absolutely world class.
While Broad maybe best known as the enfant terrible of English cricket, his next most talked of quality is his ability to put together remarkable spells where he blasts through teams. On seven separate occasions Broad has taken five or more wickets in a single spell. The first of those was in 2009 where he claimed five wickets for 37 runs in a spell of 12 overs at the Oval against Australia. His most recent was his five wickets for 14 runs against South Africa in Johannesburg in January this year.
The most famous, of course, was on the first morning of the Trent Bridge Test in 2015. Australia were the opponents and Broad bowled 9.3 overs in which he took eight wickets for 15 runs. It was painful viewing for Australia but joyful for those that were supporting England or as a neutral. It was just the perfect spell of fast-medium swing bowling. The perfect line, the perfect length, just enough movement and no one dropped a catch. It was Broad’s mercurial talent in microcosm.
Contrasted with those brilliant spells, where Broad takes hatfuls of wickets in rapid succession for hardly any runs, there are long swathes of Broad’s career where he looks massively off the pace and seems to be floating the ball up for the batsman to help themselves. It is an enigma so big that even military code-breakers would find themselves at a complete loss.
Broad has an excellent record against India. He has 46 wickets in 12 Tests against them at an average of 23.34. But 44 of those wickets have come in England. He has played three Tests in India and has claimed just two wickets. On the 2012 tour, where England emerged victorious, Broad played two Tests and bowled 36 wicket-less overs that cost him 157 runs.
In this tour of India there is no Anderson, and Broad will be the leader of this attack. Conditions will not suit him and he still needs to succeed. England’s strength is their seam bowlers, and if they are going to come close to challenging India in this series, Broad will have to put together a few of those miracle spells.