Stuart Broad’s key role in helping England win their second home Ashes series in a row last summer took his standing among English fast bowlers to a new heights, which was good for the personal prestige of the Nottinghamshire star but brought with it also an elevated level of responsibility within the team.
His five-wicket performance in Australia’s first innings in the final Test at The Brit Oval set up the decisive victory, earning Broad the Man of the Match award and confirming him as a player who could deliver under pressure on the biggest of occasions.
But having demonstrated that quality once, of course, the pressure is on him -- at least from the pundits and the public -- to reach the same standards every time he steps on to the field.
Back on his home ground at Trent Bridge, Broad returns to Test cricket for the first time in more than four months for the opener against Pakistan, having missed the home series against Bangladesh to undergo strength and conditioning work.
I asked him how he feels about the expectations he will carry both in this series and when England attempt to defend the Ashes on Australian soil this winter, how he feels about his own game with the challenges to come and about this England team’s opportunity to become the first since 1986-87 -- when his father, Chris Broad, was the key figure with the bat -- to win an Ashes series in Australia. Here’s how he answered those questions, and quite a few others…
Your performance at the Oval means people will expect more of the same from now on. Do you feel under more pressure as a result or are you happy to shoulder more responsibility?
"We have to focus in this series on getting 400 runs on the board every time, then bowling with pressure and creating that intensity on the field." - Stuart Broad
There is always pressure. You are always under pressure to perform, always under pressure for your place in the team and the best players thrive on that. The biggest pressure comes from yourself.
But I feel happy with the level of responsibility on the field. The key thing is communication within your team. If you know your role and the team knows what you are trying to do, then if it goes wrong it can be accepted as something that can happen and everyone is behind you. We have a great dressing room where everyone talks to everyone else, whether they have played one Test or 100 Tests. That’s why we progress so well.
I feel like a more mature member of that dressing room now, definitely not the new boy anymore. It is a sign of maturity when you start to come off the field more often than not feeling you have executed the plans you set out with and I managed to do that on most occasions in the one-day games against Australia and Bangladesh, where I was pleased with my consistency.
You missed the two home Tests against Bangladesh after the England hierarchy decided you should spend time in the gym instead. Why was that necessary at this time?
I would have rather been on the field, but it is very positive from my point of view that England chose to look after me in that way. I have played consistently for England since I was 19, and while I have been fortunate in that I’ve not been injured in that time, it obviously takes it toll.
I was in the gym at Loughborough every day for three weeks with my own fitness trainer. I did weights and running pretty much every day, which was not what I was used to. The work was mainly on the lower body. Although the ball comes out of your hand, you bowl from the legs. They need to be strong, as do your hips. So I did a lot of squatting, a lot of lunges, a lot of calf raises.
It has paid off. My legs have got stronger and my performances have been stronger. I’ve been getting a bit more zip off the wicket and been able to bowl 12 or 15-over spells, as I did for Nottinghamshire in the Warwickshire game last week.
You use nutritional supplements from Maximuscle. How important are these in your fitness regime?
They play a huge part. The food you eat, the fuel you take in, is very important. I especially found that on the sub Continent, where you don’t necessarily want a curry after bowling 10 overs, you don’t want it sitting heavy on you. You find little snacks all the time a lot better than having a big meal at lunchtime or tea.
The Maximuscle products are protein-based. They help your body grow and, more importanly, help your body recover so you can go out and bowl again the next day or do another weights session the next day.
From a personal point of view, how much of a benefit was it to play for Nottinghamshire against Warwickshire last week, and to come out of it with career-best figures of 8-52?
Physically, I needed the game. It was only the second red-ball game I had played since January. I don’t see that as a negative necessarily because I had played nine one-day internationals on the bounce and felt in good rhythm. But there is a different stamina to Test match cricket.
In one-day cricket you have three and a half hours of blitzing it and then you are off, whereas in Tests you can be on your feet all day. The only way to be used to that, no matter how much training you do, is to be out there in the field. You have to be in a certain physical shape to cope with that, and that’s why I needed that Championship game last week.
After first day, when I bowled 20 overs and was in the field all day, I was stiff the next morning but after the second innings I didn’t pull up stiff at all. It is just getting the body used to it and as a result I feel fresh and ready for the challenge.
As far as how I bowled is concerned, I felt my wrist position was good and the ball was coming out of the hand well. Swanny said from the slips that he hadn’t seen me swing it so much all year. So confidence wise, it was a good week.
How much are you looking forward to the series against Pakistan?
I’m very excited. Some people may have thought they would not be such a difficult opponent after all they have been through recently but we always knew they would be a tough challenge. They have a bowling line-up whose skills are impeccable and who can put any batsmen in the world under pressure. We saw that in the Australia series that when the ball swung around they were very dangerous.
A bowler I always watch very closely is Mohammad Asif, who hits an amazing length where he has people driving at him but the ball is not there to be driven. That is what as a bowler you are searching for all the time and that is why his record is so good.
How important is this series in terms of preparation for the Ashes?
It is hugely important. We have been going in a good direction as a Test match team. We learned a hell of a lot in South Africa, which has got to be one of the toughest tours because they have amazing batsmen and world class bowlers. We can out of the series with a 1-1 draw and while the last game was very disappointing we had fought hard to go one-nil up in the series.
Winning all four games against Bangladesh was good for confidence. This series will be a better measure of where we are and Australia will be looking at it closely too having tested their skills against Pakistan in two Test matches.
We have to focus in this series on getting 400 runs on the board every time, then bowling with pressure and creating that intensity on the field and if we do that we will be in a really strong place getting on the plane to Australia.
Shane Warne has said recently that England have their best chance in years to win the Ashes in Australia next winter. How do you assess the Aussies now?
Any team who loses Warne, McGrath, Hayden, Langer, Gilchrist in the space of two years is not going to be as strong as when these boys were in their pomp. It is going to set you back a little bit. Yet they are still a world class side. There are some hugely talented people and Australians always have a hunger and a drive to succeed. You only have to look at David Hussey here -- he is as hungry and fearsome playing for Notts as he is about playing for Australia. It is there whenever they step on the field.
What was notable about Australia in the second match against Pakistan is that even when they were bowled out for 88 and you expected them to get a bit of a hammering, they came back. With another 30 or 40 runs, they could have won the game.
What we must not do is concentrate too much on the Ashes and take our eye off the ball in this series, though, and in that respect the good thing is that we don’t really know what the Australian side will look like.
Hilfenhaus has been out, Siddle has been out and he was one of the strongest bowlers in the Ashes last year. Bollinger has come in and done really well and there are two different types of spinners in Hauritz and Smith. That helps us because we can’t really prepare mentally for the Ashes while we don’t know what the team is going to be.
It could also be a strength of this England team that there are not many players who have been to Australia and had the heartache of not winning there for 20-odd years. I think off the top of my head of only three or four players in the side who were part of that 5-0 drubbing four years ago. We will be going there fearless of what is about to come.
You were only four months old when your father went off to the 1986-87 tour. He came back as the player of the series after hitting three centuries and no touring England side has won there since. How much do you know about his part in that triumph?
Plenty. I remember we had a video titled On Top Down Under, which was about the 1986-87 series and I watched it many times. With pride, too, because of my dad’s role in the series.
I was born in June of that year and my dad told me I was his lucky mascot, seeing as he got runs there and was player of the series.
Growing up, I was always been a cricket fan. At the age of 10 or 12, I remember staying up to watch the first hour or so from Australia. I enjoyed watching Goughy, who always had a smile on his face and gave 110 per cent. I remember Alan Mullally and Caddick and Ramprakash, all these guys.
But it was a tough era to grow up in because we didn’t win. The other memory is listening to Aggers on the radio saying Australia had won again, which I suppose gives me a bigger hunger and a bigger drive to try to put the record straight.
Because of my dad I used to imagine myself playing in the Ashes. He always spoke so highly of the experience of being there, not just the cricket but the other things around it. Watching then, I found it exciting because of the rivalry and the fans and to be part of it now would be fantastic.
Jon Culley writes for The Independent newspaper and edit’s the Sports Bookshelf website.
First npower Test - England V Pakistan at Trent Bridge
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