- in Science
Stuart Broad is the premature baby who grew up to become a fearsome fast bowler.
In taking his 500th Test wicket for England against West Indies on Tuesday, Broad joined an exclusive club: only the fourth paceman, the seventh bowler of any kind.
These are the stories of those who know Broad best. Son of a Test batsman, Nottingham Forest fan, bad rapper and prolific wicket-taker.
‘He weighed 2lbs 2oz’
Broad was born 12 weeks premature on 24 June, 1986 at the City Hospital in Nottingham. His mother, Carole, was a school teacher and his father Chris played 25 Tests as an opening batsman for England.
He weighed 2lbs 2oz. He was tiny, immediately put into an incubator and we were informed of the slight deficiencies he had. He stayed in hospital for a month and as he grew everything seemed to right itself.
We were a sporting family. There was an awful lot of sport played and talked about. It was always football in the winter, maybe a bit of hockey or rugby, then cricket in the summer.
When he was four or five, when I was playing at Nottinghamshire, he would come along to Trent Bridge.
There were always a number of kids who wanted to play. There was a sandpit near to the scoreboard, or they’d put some stumps down and play cricket.
When I moved on to Gloucestershire, Courtney Walsh was a favourite with Stuart and his sister Gemma. Courtney was happy to bowl at Stuart and Gemma would be fielding. He holds a very special place in both their hearts.
I’ve often tried to start up a conversation about cricket with him, but he tends to ignore those comments, which I can understand.
It is frustrating, certainly over the past couple of years when he’s had batting issues. I’ve asked if he wanted to talk about it and he’s said “I’m a bowler, dad”.
He was such a frail child. For him to become this 6ft 5in fast bowler, breaking records… I’m absolutely amazed and extremely proud.
‘The pads were past his waist’
The young Broad was taken to watch cricket at Egerton Park CC, where John Bailey is a former chairman.
He was a small lad to start with and he wore a cricket jumper that must have been his dad’s. The sleeves were long and it hung past his backside. When he put his pads on, they must have been over his waist and the bat was too big for him.
Stuart was a batsman, a really good batsman. Our ground is on an island, surrounded by rivers, and he liked to hit the ball into the water.
It was incredible how he changed into a bowler as he grew. You would see him at the end of one season, then you wouldn’t recognise him at the start of the next season because of how quickly he was growing.
The one thing about his bowling was that when he started his run-up, he shuffled a lot. His feet were doing 10 to the dozen on the spot, and we tried to get him to stop that by just walking up and bowling.
He always complained about having to collect the boundary flags, or having to put the heavy board back in front of the scorebox at the end of the game. I know that he liked to be in the clubhouse where the players were having a drink. He probably sneaked a swift half.
You could see there was something. We never expected him to play for England, but you could tell he was going to play county cricket.
‘He is a professor of the game’
Broad’s first taste of county cricket was at Leicestershire. Two years after his professional bow, he was playing for England at the 2007 T20 World Cup, where he was smashed for six sixes by India’s Yuvraj Singh. A team-mate at county and international level was Jeremy Snape, now the director of Sporting Edge.
It was pre-season. He came in fresh from Oakham School as a tall, gangly, keen youngster. It was blowing a gale at the time but Stuart bowled for two hours solid, with good pace. As senior players, we were looking across and thinking he had something. He then ran off to put his pads on and we extended practice to bowl at him.
He came through and played in Twenty20 finals day in 2006 and in the semi-final had a duel with Ronnie Irani. Broady was haring in, sharing a few words, going chest to chest and wanting to show he was a top young player. He looked so comfortable at that level.
A year after that was the six sixes. How does anyone possibly deal with being put through that in a global tournament? That would be the end for 50% of players, another 45% would fade away and 5% would come out even stronger. That is what Stuart did.
Even in the early days, he was technically aware. People will not know that he is incredibly analytical.
He also wants to know the data, the science, the footage or the pitch map. I interviewed him for my own research and he told me he was presented with statistics that showed his average against left-handers was not particularly good when compared to right-handers.
After that, he went away and worked on bowling to left-handers for six months solid.
That data-driven approach wasn’t something I had seen in his early years, but he has become a professor of the game.
‘I’ll see his name on my phone and I’ll know what it’s about’
Broad made his Test debut against Sri Lanka in December 2007. The England captain that day was Michael Vaughan, who has since gone into a career in the media.
All the research that I had was that we had a wonderful bowler in the making, a decent batsman and a mentally tough character. He ticked every box.
He was very assured. Not in an arrogant way, but he was very confident. He liked talking about the game. He had been brought up around international cricket, so he knew what the game was about.
With some players you know by the way they come into the dressing room they are going to be around for many years. That first Test in Sri Lanka, we were out in the field for days, but he never shirked and did not stop running in.
He was one of the first young bowlers I had that set his own fields. He asked for my advice, and pretty much all the time everything he asked for he got because I could see what he was trying to achieve.
We got away together during the last Ashes series in Australia. He likes the things I like – wine, gin, golf. He’s good company and he’s got a bit of banter. You can debate most things with him – football, cricket, most aspects of life.
He’ll be great as a pundit. Sometimes, when I have written or said something about him, I’ll see his name come up on my phone and I’ll know what it’s about. I’ll answer straight away.
He will have a bit of a dip at me and I’ll hold the phone away from my ear while he has his rant.
I’ll say “have you finished?” then I’ll explain why I’ve said what I’ve said and we’ll have a nice debate about it. At the end he’ll say “OK”, and we move on.
‘He wanted to bat before the 60 all out at Trent Bridge’
Of Broad’s 140 Tests for England, he has played most matches under the leadership of former captain Alastair Cook.
He’s always had the stubborn streak in him. If you are going to have a discussion with him, you have to be very clear on your argument because if he knows it’s coming he will be very well prepared.
When I was captain, there were times when he could be grumpy, but we’re talking about the single-mindedness that makes him as good as he is. Yes, there were moments that were frustrating, but it was never malicious. As a captain, you would rather have someone who has his own ideas for what is best, rather than a ‘yes’ man.
His golf is good. He’s a brilliant tee-to-green player, as good as they come, but he can’t chip. It’s quite funny watching him try.
I bought him a Phil Mickelson chipping book because I thought he needed to learn from a left-handed maestro. I don’t know how far he’s got into it, because I saw him playing not long ago and he duffed his chip into the water.
He cares about others more than people might give him credit for. He would regularly be checking in on his team-mates. Maybe people don’t see that. They see the headstrong bowler who might get angry at a fielder, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I don’t think anyone could predict when his spells were coming. When it absolutely clicks 100% for him, when he finds the perfect length, he is a handful because he is so skilful.
On the day of the 8-15, he wanted to bat first. James Anderson was injured, but who stepped up to deliver the performance? He owes me one for deciding to bowl when he wanted to bat.
Broady can lie in bed at night and think “when there was a big moment in a high-pressure game, I delivered on more than my fair share of occasions”, and that must be a great feeling.
‘He thinks he can rap’
On the day Broad took his career-defining 8-15 against Australia at Trent Bridge, he shared the new ball with Mark Wood.
I met him before I played for England, at a fast bowlers’ training camp in South Africa. He sat me down to talk about cricket, pass on advice and his thoughts on my bowling. It was really kind of him to go out of his way to do that.
He loves his football. You can never say “Notts Forest” in front on him. It always has to be “Nottingham Forest”.
Unbelievably, he also likes to rap, but he’s got the poshest accent you’ve ever heard. It’s not quite the same as the American hip-hop artists who can put all the rhymes together. It could be in training, or when we have music on in the dressing room, all of a sudden you hear this posh rap, and you have to say to him “that’s not how it goes”.
One of the best times I had with him was during the 2015 Ashes. We’d had a tough first day at Lord’s, Australia had piled on the runs, and on the way to the ground the next day, Broad and Anderson were in front of the car, me and Joe Root were in the back.
We were all singing James Bay’s Hold Back the River at the top of our voices. We even did an extra lap around Regent’s Park so we could play the song again. We must have only arrived five minutes before the team talk, but we were in much better spirits.
He’s brilliant on the field. At mid-on or mid-off, he’ll help me out with plans, or pump my tyres up when I need it. I’ve also really enjoy batting with him – he’s so good to have a laugh and joke with in the middle.
The word ‘legend’ gets used a lot, but in this case it rings true. He is a legend.