Stuart Broad has no regrets: he is fulfilled by a cricket career that marks him as one of the greatest Test bowlers of all time, happy with his decision to retire (though he doesn’t like the R-word) near the peak of his powers, and to have gone out with a six, a wicket and a win over Australia. He doesn’t keep much memorabilia, but he took home his last bat and that final ball.
Broad is content. And yet, there is a moment in that Ashes series that makes him feel embarrassed just thinking about it.
Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey had just stumped an unsuspecting Jonny Bairstow at Lord’s, in a piece of gamesmanship so barbaric it had turned the home of cricket’s dignified crowd into a baying mob. “It was definitely the fiercest atmosphere I’ve ever heard at Lord’s,” remembers Broad. “People were ferociously angry.” The Long Room briefly forgot itself as MCC members confronted Australian players. Out in the middle, Broad spent the next two hours sledging anyone in earshot.
He sarcastically placed his bat in his crease at the end of each over. He goaded Carey, saying, “that’s all you’ll ever be remembered for”. He told captain Pat Cummins “you’re an absolute disgrace,” and “all these boos are for you”. Broad kept chirping away while Ben Stokes smashed sixes into the stands and, for a brief while, England threatened to pull off one of the great Ashes comebacks.
“It unsettled the Aussies,” Broad says of his verbal frenzy. “But I do feel in years to come I’ll be like – and I’ve sensed this a little bit already – why did I do that? Why did I say that to Alex Carey? Why did I say those things to Pat Cummins? I wasn’t in full control of what was going on. I was 37 at the time, I feel like I should have known better.”
Broad is talking to The Independent before the release of his autobiography, Broadly Speaking, which charts his life and career from the boy who proudly watched his dad wearing the family name on his shirt, to the teenager whose talent exploded during a winter in Australia, to the cricketer who used his lowest ebbs – getting hit for six sixes and being sent home from the 2010/11 Ashes injured and heartbroken – to become a better player.
He took 604 Test wickets, fifth on the all-time list, yet it is the Ashes that came to define him. Australia brought out his fierce competitive spirit and beating them at The Oval was a fitting end. It was a surprise, too: here was England’s top wicket-taker of the series with perhaps another 100 scalps to take if he really wanted them. And ultimately, he didn’t. Fast bowling is hard on the body and Broad needed a reason to grind away through the winter. Next summer’s schedule against the West Indies and Pakistan didn’t excite him.
It would be easy to yearn for more. All sportspeople are addicts, and when they walk away, they give up many pleasures all at once: in Broad’s case the dopamine hit of taking wickets, the serotonin of team camaraderie, the endorphins of training, the clear purpose of an Ashes on the horizon. He says he is content, but does contentment even exist for someone like that?
“Currently I’m not chasing that feeling of wickets and chasing that feeling of crowds cheering and that feeling of winning, because I feel very lucky to have had as many of those feelings as I did. I knew that it wasn’t going to last forever. How do I replace that? Maybe I don’t need to replace that. Maybe I don’t need to chase that feeling of that pure adulation. Maybe the feeling of spending more time with my family takes over the need to chase those other feelings.”
Four months on from The Oval, Broad’s new life is a world away from the heat of an Ashes series. His mornings start around 5.45am when his baby daughter, Annabella, decides it’s time to begin the day. He gives her breakfast, makes himself a coffee and they take a walk around south London. “The joy of waking up at that sort of time with my daughter is probably the biggest bonus of walking away from the game. Although if we could make that time start with a six…”
He has had plenty of time to reflect and describes writing his book as “therapeutic”, though reflection is not always a cathartic process. You may have seen the recent video on social media showing Australian players sniggering at the memory of Bairstow’s infamous stumping at Lord’s: Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and Mitchell Marsh are in hysterics as they recall the tension in the lunchroom an hour later. Broad has certainly watched the clip.
“I saw it, and I didn’t watch it with any happiness. I didn’t smile and laugh like they did. But ultimately it’s in the past and it created a great story for the series.”
There were times in my 20s where I used to put on a tin hat and take the grenades
I suggest England’s players might have seen the funny side if the boot had been on the other foot. “I don’t think so,” Broad says, pondering the idea for a moment. “I don’t know. I do know that Stokesy wouldn’t have upheld the appeal.”
Bairstow’s dismissal is one of a number of incidents detailed in Broad’s book, in which a couple of themes shine through. He was very superstitious, pouring a drop of champagne on his cap with every series win, and meticulous too, constantly making little notes telling himself to “relax, smile, stick to your process”. He wishes he could have told an 18-year-old Broad to write down his emotions.
“In my 30s I’d write down, ‘I’m feeling nervous this morning’. That’s fine, I’m allowed to feel nervous. What am I going to do to counteract that? Well, I’m going to say to Jimmy [Anderson], ‘I’m feeling a bit nervous and my legs feel heavy’, and he would come back and probably say ‘yeah, I feel the same’. Then you feel normal. There were times in my 20s where I used to put on a tin hat and take the grenades, just duck away and take the criticism and keep it in my brain.”
The other theme is his deep love of Bazball, although out of respect for Brendon McCullum the phrase itself is barely mentioned, because Baz hates ‘Bazball’. Broad was – is – a fully fledged disciple of McCullum’s ideals, of putting on a show before obsessing over results. Throughout his childhood, rain or shine, Broad’s mother would ask him the same question in the car on the way home: did you enjoy it? It became a core trait, alongside his famous competitive edge – finding joy.
“I wanted my memories of the game to always be happy and joyful, and I think the last 15 months of my career playing under Stokesy and Baz have guaranteed that I’ll always love the game of cricket.”
Such is the strength of that love that Broad knows his future lies in the game, somewhere. He is not retired, he insists, just embarking on an uncertain new beginning.
“Whether that means punditry, coaching, management, director of cricket, I don’t know. But cricket, I love everything about it. One thing I’ve found in punditry, you still get that big-game feel. You still get to walk on the pitch and see the crowd and be inside the ropes. When I’ve done England-Australia games as a pundit, I still get that same buzz, but without the pressure.”
Articulate and honest, Broad would make a compelling pundit. “I would never criticise someone if I don’t think they deserve it. I’m not just going to do it to make headlines. And I’ll always front up like I did as a player: if someone upset me I’d call them or want to speak to them face to face, and I’d always do that and apologise if I felt like I got it wrong.”
Will it be hard to pass judgement on close friends like Stokes, Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson? “Definitely, because you know exactly what they’re going through.”
Broad shares a story in his book of the morning after he had told Stokes he was retiring, when he tried to find a quiet moment to tell Anderson before the rest of the team. Broad lured his friend on a coffee run to Starbucks opposite their Kensington hotel, but they were accosted by two eager England fans who latched on so tightly that Broad couldn’t say the words. Eventually, he had to drag Anderson onto the team bus to find some privacy.
Now he is enjoying watching Anderson slugging away in winter training on social media with a touch of schadenfreude, enough to cement Broad’s belief that he picked the perfect moment to walk away.
“I did want to finish at the top, I didn’t want to become a declining player. I certainly have had no regrets as of yet. I haven’t had that feeling of the team walking on the field yet without me, so that might come and hit me quite hard at some stage, but it also might not. I’m prepared for that. I knew I could have carried on, I still felt like I was bowling well, I still felt fresh. I played six back-to-back Test matches in the summer which I never expected to play, so I still felt like I had some miles left in the tank. But ultimately in sport, very rarely do you get to choose your ending.”
Broadly Speaking by Stuart Broad is published on 9th November (Hodder & Stoughton, Hardback)