Stuart Broad is blushing a vivid scarlet. For the first time in our lengthy interview England cricket’s chief aggressor is stumped. As the quick bowler is being repositioned for Square Mile’s cover shot, a playful snipe from the slips enquiring about his rumoured assignations with The Saturdays’ singer Mollie King, whose previous boyfriend was British supermodel David Gandy, has rendered him momentarily flustered. A wolfish grin curls on his lips before he regains his cool and replies: “You read the gossip pages, then?”
With his statuesque physique combined with his sky-blue eyes, flaxen hair and charming bonhomie, it’s easy to see why Broad is venerated like a pop star by a legion of female admirers. He is regularly sent postcards from fans telling him about their holidays – “quite interesting, really” – and on Twitter there are two appreciation accounts following his every tweet and turn: @TheBroadettes8 (1,500 followers and counting) and @Broady4evafans. Gamely, he even agreed to meet founder of The Broadettes, a 20-something Canadian named Jay Geeganage, at Lord’s last summer. “She was overcome by nerves,” smiles Broad – you suppose he gets that a lot.
Those who don’t become giddy when talking to the 6ft 6in Broad would find him to be charismatic and urbane, with an epicurean enthusiasm for food, wine, fast cars and luxury timepieces. “I have a weakness for watches,” he reveals. “I buy myself them as treats, when I think I deserve it. I’ve been given a £35,000 gold watch by my sponsors, Jean-Mairet & Gillman, and I bought a Franck Muller when we won the Ashes in 2009, but I’ve always dreamt of having an Audemars.”
After turning 27 last month, Broad is in the prime of his cricketing life, and with Australia visiting this summer England need their paceman running like clockwork and dialling up the pressure on the pitch as they attempt to retain the precious Ashes urn. Earlier in his career he earned the moniker ‘The Enforcer’, thanks to his rough-house bowling tactics, and even now he admits he finds it hard to shy away from confrontation.
“It’s a competitive mindset I’ve always had, even at school,” he says. “As soon as I cross the white line I change. That nickname – ‘The Enforcer’ – was coined by the media, and it was a time when I was thrown the ball to try and rough batsmen up. I like to have that string to my bow. I’d like to think that I’m more of a line and length bowler now, but there will still be occasions when I’m tossed the ball and told: ‘Right, let’s hit this guy on the head for 20 minutes.’
“I’m not a verbal bowler, but I think you always have to have a presence: stand tall and look the batsman in the eye, let him know you are coming for him. A look can be more dangerous than a word.”
Sometimes Broad’s aggression has boiled over, and twice it has cost him half of his match fee. He claims to be able to control himself now, though, with the guidance of England team psychologist Mark Bawden. “Up to the age of about 24 I had a few disciplinary issues where I got a bit too hot headed,” he continues. “So now I work with Mark on what I call a ‘warrior’ mode.
“On a graph you have one side where you are not in the battle enough, you are not fired up enough and not bowling well enough. In warrior mode, in the middle, you are perfect. You find the right emotional level and you are in the batsman’s face but in full control. And then there is the other side where your emotions have taken over from logic.”
England supporters will hope that the Nottinghamshire bowler can harness and master his inner warrior against Australia, from the moment the five-Test Ashes series begins on July 10 at his home ground, Trent Bridge. One of sport’s most-celebrated battles, the loosely biennial contest has been fought between England and the Baggy Greens since 1882, and for Broad the Ashes punctuates his life more than most. Indeed, it’s in his blood.
“Six months after I was born my old man went Down Under and won there,” he says proudly. His father, Chris, opened the batting for England in 25 Tests, and that 1986-7 campaign he was at the very pinnacle of his powers. In the five matches he managed 487 runs and was named man of the series. Following that defeat Australia enjoyed an 18-year dominance over England, until 2005. A year later Broad Jr. made his international bow, for the Twenty20 team – which he now captains and with whom he won the World Cup in 2010 – aged just 20.
His Test debut followed in late 2007, but it was a spell of bowling in the 2009 Ashes which catapulted him cricketing stardom. On the second day in the decisive fifth Test at The Oval Broad took five wickets for 37 runs and was later named man of the match, following England’s victory. Looking back at the game which launched his international career he says now: “It’s scary that it’s four years ago. I remember the next morning, walking down the players’ steps, I was asked to sign the front page of a newspaper which had a picture of me on it. I knew then that it was pretty special.”
In August 2010 Broad knocked a century on the hallowed Lord’s wicket – a feat which his father never achieved. “It was a great feeling to score a ton at that special ground, but it was more that I surpassed my dad’s best-ever score for England, 162,” he smiles, remembering his 169 against Pakistan.
Later that year England travelled Down Under and managed to win their first series there since the heroics of Chris Broad and his teammates 24 years before. For the younger Broad it was deeply disappointing, though, as he was forced to withdraw from the tour following a stomach-muscle tear after only two Tests.
And that was after he became Peter Siddle’s final hat-trick victim in the opening clash at The Gabba in Brisbane. Recalling the intensity Broad says: “There were 42,000 people and the ground was shaking, bouncing. There was a kind of tribal element to it, as though they were shouting ‘kill, kill, kill’. I showed weakness to be intimated by their attempts to disintegrate me mentally, and it provided a learning curve. I’ve never slumped to that mindset since.”
The agony of flying back to England prematurely, shortly afterwards, was the nadir of his career. “While bowling in Adelaide I felt this inner explosion – I could hardly breathe. I walked off, and lifted my shirt off and there was blood underneath the skin. That was the only time I’ve ever cried in sport,” he admits. “My emotions completely overwhelmed me. Test match losses are pretty painful – five days is a long time to work your arse off any get nothing – but injuries are the lowest point as a sportsman.”
Broad used his recuperation time well, however, teaching himself how to cook. He believes that in a special England cricket team edition of Come Dine With Me he would wow the others. “I’d start with prawn cocktail and salmon sashimi, and accompany it with a lovely glass of Cloudy Bay,” he enthuses, hinting at his oenological leanings. Indeed, he’s partial to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, recommends Meerlust Rubicon from Stellenbosch, and – showing a thoughtful benevolence – sets down a decent bottle on every birthday anniversary of England teammate Matthew Prior’s four-year-old boy Jonathan.
“I’d then serve up a slow-cooked lamb shank with a Pinot noir, followed by a hot chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream,” he continues, before adding with a twinkle: “and then I’d bring out a selection of teas before smashing it all out of the way and plonking a big bottle of Jägermeister on the table. That would win some votes, I reckon.”
Prior, the team’s wicketkeeper, would certainly not win any culinary awards, according to Broad. “Once I went round to his house and I was waiting 40 minutes before he handed me oven-cooked cheese on toast, as he couldn’t find the switch for the grill,” he recalls. “It tasted horrible, too. But it just goes to show what can happen to men who are away from home for ages and have their food sorted out for them.”
The team can be abroad for up to 10 weeks at a time, so hobbies and interests are important to ward off homesickness and ennui. Some read – captain Alastair Cook “gets through a lot of books” – others play music. For instance, Joe Root (whose team sobriquet is ‘Wireless’, as in router) is a mean ukulele player while Swann used to take his guitar away but once forgot it when England began an unbeaten streak and now leaves it at home out of superstition.
The competitive edge which has elevated Broad and the rest of the England team to international level is always present, as evidenced by the tense atmosphere during poker games and Jonathan Trott’s behaviour on the Xbox. “He is completely ruthless,” says Broad. “He won’t tell you cheat buttons and he takes great pleasure in absolutely destroying opponents. It’s a bit like the way he bats – he won’t give it up for anything. I’ve been in his room winning 2-0 in a football game after 50 minutes and he will turn it off and tell me to get out.”
While abroad, if Broad is ever missing his life in the UK he goes for dinner with his elder sister, Gemma – the team’s performance analyst. “She was in the England set up before me,” he says, “and there are no niggles.” In fact he credits his sibling for helping improving his bowling in the recent series in New Zealand. “I was struggling a little bit with my alinement, so I got Gemma to look up my wickets for the past three years. I had them rolling on my iPad, and I could see my position at the crease changing,” Broad continues. “From there I worked out a technical issue which has helped me bowl better since. I’ve always been a cricket geek – I love the side of analysis and stats.”
When asked what he would be if he were not a cricketer Broad quickly answers: “A Top Gear presenter. Well, I would like to be a Formula One driver – I’m absolutely fascinated by all the analysis, and I’ve been to a few Grands Prix and met Sebastian Vettel through Red Bull (another sponsor) – but I think I’m too tall, and perhaps not as fearless as those guys.” His ideal car? “It’s got to be a 1963 Aston Martin DB5 – like the one seen in Skyfall,” Broad grins, those blue eyes sparkling.
If England’s enforcer revs up his engine to burn off the Aussies and secure the Ashes urn this summer perhaps he will even treat himself to that dream Audermas watch he has coveted for so long. He certainly won’t be blushing then.
This article first appeared in Square Mile in June 2013