Stuart Broad mentions Tom Brady and volunteers that Monday is Brady’s birthday. He knows the greatest quarterback in the history of American football is 42 and that he is about to turn 43.
He knows he played in four Super Bowls for the New England Patriots since he turned 37 and won three of them. He knows he won the Super Bowl when he was 41.
And he knows that even though Brady has now moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, America is still rooting for him.
England’s Stuart Broad has revealed he thought about quitting after being left out last month
However, the paceman went on to take his 500th wicket on his return, a top milestone
In England, Broad thinks, we do things differently. We treat age differently. In sport, we treat age as a criminal and we try to banish the player it is accosting. And it does not matter whether the player is bowling better than he has ever bowled before and with more hunger than he has ever had and is fitter than he has ever been and whose numbers keep getting better and who wins and wins and wins.
The sub-text here is the first Test against the West Indies last month when Broad, who is 34, was startled and upset when he was dropped. The sub-text here is that when he was recalled, he responded with 16 wickets in two matches at an average of just over 10. In the course of those match-winning performances, he became only the fourth seam bowler in history to take 500 Test wickets.
Shane Warne, the great Australian spinner who is one of only six bowlers to have taken more Test wickets than Broad, mused publicly that Broad could go on to take 700 wickets and not settle for 500 or 600.
And so it is hardly surprising that Broad is becoming exasperated by the juxtaposition of his greatness with the selectors’ willingness to jettison him and the recurring question: ‘Is this the beginning of the end for Broad?’
It is not that he feels his numbers entitle him to a place in the team. Broad does not get carried away with what he has achieved. He says that being among the top seven wicket-takers ever to have played the game does not put him even in the top 20 bowlers in the sport’s history.
He talks about watching his great bowling partner, Jimmy Anderson, in the nets, open-mouthed in admiration for Anderson’s control and skill.
‘I watch Jimmy in training sometimes and I think “Wow”,’ says Broad. ‘He has got it on a piece of string. I can’t do that. My biggest strength is internal. I am competitive. I have a steel about me that will never give up in any way shape or form and I think you can win from any position. I like to think I can cause momentum shifts in matches. There is something in that mindset that keeps me going.’
He is right to be exasperated by being dropped. Why else would you treat a bowler like Broad, indisputably one of England’s all-time greats, who has just returned his best fitness results ever, who played a leading role in the series win in South Africa last winter, whose cold, hard statistics say he is bowling better than ever, and leave him in his bio-secure hotel room at the Ageas Bowl while you pick what you say is your strongest team without him?
‘Maybe this was another reset,’ says Broad from the study of his home near Trent Bridge, a photograph of Newlands in Cape Town hanging on the wall behind him. ‘I just don’t want another one in 18 months time. Maybe I am just a bit fed up of them. I am not an arrogant person but I would be disappointed if this discussion came up in the next two years again but maybe you just have to keep proving people wrong.
‘Maybe that’s what I need. Actually, no, it’s not. Because it’s exhausting having to do it all the time. Do I think I’m in England’s best XI? Absolutely. Do I think Jimmy Anderson is in England’s best XI? Absolutely. Did last week probably prove that? I’ll leave that up to you.’
Again, it is hard to argue against him. ‘Into the gallery of greats he goes,’ said Michael Atherton on Sky as Broad trapped Kraigg Brathwaite lbw in the third Test at Old Trafford for the landmark dismissal.
And yet even as Broad walked through the doorway into the pantheon of the greatest bowlers, he was still smarting from the impression there are those who cannot wait to pension off him and Anderson, who is four years older than him and 11 shy of 600 wickets, to cricket’s retirement home.
‘The one thing that does really interest me,’ says Broad, ‘is we are a natural partnership but we do get put in the same bracket all the time. People say: “When Anderson goes, Broad will go.” I mean, I am four years younger than him. He is 38, I am 34. That’s quite a big difference in sport. If someone is 23 and 27, you are writing or saying completely different things about them.
‘I feel like sometimes I get written off very quickly, which was highlighted at the start of this summer. There was a lot more of the “This is the beginning of the end of Broad” stuff. This isn’t me comparing myself or Jimmy to Tom Brady but if Tom Brady was English, do you think he would still be playing and do you think he would be lauded like he is at 42, nearly 43?
Broad is often compared to team-mate James Anderson, who is four years his senior
‘I feel like he would have been under pressure to go eight years ago. The Americans are like “Yeah, come on Brady, keep going”, whereas in England people say “Let’s have the next generation, move them on, move them on”. There is no doubt that Jimmy and I have got better. No doubt. The stats don’t lie on that.
‘I am a much better cricketer now at 34 than I was at 24. I might have been more exciting when I was 24 or have been more unpredictable so a bit more interesting to watch, but there is no doubt that a captain would rather have me bowling for him now than when I was 24.
‘I have seen a lot of numbers over the past week since I took my 500th wicket. The last 18 months, I have been averaging 20.5 per wicket in Test cricket. Take age out of that. If anyone were doing that at any age, you would want to keep them around the team for a bit and not look past it.
‘I don’t know if it’s a culture thing, always looking to the next thing. In English cricket, we are always planning for an Ashes cycle. That’s the goal but sometimes we forget about winning right now. There’s a balance. I believe I can perform in Australia in 18 months’ time and my record is suggesting I can. I have got a huge, burning desire to go and win in Australia and generally when I have got a burning desire like that, I can drive things forward.’
The fact that the pain of being dropped is still jostling with the satisfaction of being anointed one of the greats tells you everything you need to know about Broad. He is intensely driven.
Broad says that England’s view on sport focuses a lot more on young players than in the USA
He is sad that cricket is playing to empty stadiums. He misses the crowds. He knows how important the fans can be to the momentum of a match. But, ultimately, he says, the hunger comes from within. The fans are important but it is the contest that consumes him.
But being in England’s bio-secure bubble at the Ageas Bowl in Hampshire for the first Test made his bewilderment at being left out worse. There was no sanctuary. He could not go home to spend time with his girlfriend, Mollie, or with family.
He was staying in a hotel at the ground. He had come back from lockdown fitter and hungrier than ever and now he was trapped in cricket when he felt that cricket had rejected him.
‘I have not really told anyone this but I was so down that week of the first Test,’ says Broad. ‘I was really low. I was stuck in that hotel. I couldn’t go anywhere. It wasn’t like I could go back to Mollie and have a barbeque and chill out and reassess. I wasn’t playing, I was staying in a single room. I didn’t sleep for two days. I was nowhere. A different decision could definitely have been made with my emotions of how I was feeling.
‘But because I have got such a good support network around me, my mum, dad, sister, Mollie, that helped me through. And Stokesy was brilliant. Stokesy knocked on my door on the Thursday night and stayed in the corridor to talk to me. He said: “This isn’t about cricket, but how are you, mate?” That was very impressive for him to do.
Broad revealed that he received a lot of report from Ben Stokes after he was omitted
‘In this modern world, sometimes face-to-face comfort can get lost. I have always had a huge amount of respect for Stokes and I will be friends with him for life, but what he did almost added to that. He is captain of the game, he has got a hell of a lot going on this week but he has taken the time to come and see how I am, which almost lifted me out of a bit of a rut.
‘Were there thoughts of retirement going round my head? One hundred per cent. Because I was so down. I was expecting to play, which is always a bit of a dangerous thing in sport but I felt I deserved to play. If I had had a different conversation with the coach the day after and the coach had said you are not in our plans… well if you are not in England’s plans when you are bowling as well as you can, you are pretty screwed.
‘It’s not like I can move from Man United to LA Galaxy. If you are not playing for England, you are not playing for England. You always catastrophise when you are in a hotel room on your own. You are sat alone in a room and it feels worse than it is. The cold facts were I had been left out of one game and I would probably play the next but my mind wasn’t thinking like that.
‘I can’t think of many times I have been down like that. When I have been dropped before, I can go “Fair enough, good decision, can’t really argue with that”. This time, when Stokesy told me I wasn’t playing, I felt my body go into shakes. I could barely speak. It was a different situation.
Broad’s bowling figures have actually improved in recent years compared to his early career
‘When you have disappointments in your career, my mum has a 24-hour rule where you are allowed to feel sorry for yourself for 24 hours. You can come home, put the barbeque on and have a nice glass of red and you realise cricket is not life. It is very important to separate those two. Just because you have a bad day on the cricket field doesn’t make you a bad person.
‘But when you are in the bio-secure bubble and you are in a room in a hotel that is on the cricket ground, you wake up and the cricket ground is there and you are surrounded by cricketers the whole time and everything is crickety, then cricket is life. I felt a bit energy-less. Every person in the world will have gone through moments where they have felt like that.
‘It is about how you pick yourself up and come out the other end. I felt a bit bitter with the game for a day or two but as soon as you come out of that, you have built up an energy to fire yourself up.
‘If my support network had been saying “You are not in their plans, maybe it’s time to find a new chapter”, things might have been different but everyone around me was saying “Don’t be so ridiculous”. They turned that frustration into a burning desire. So I feel more hungry now at 34 than I did when I was 23.
‘I feel so focused. It’s nothing about proving people wrong. It is about proving me right. This is about me knowing I am bowling well, I am almost at the peak of my powers because I have learned so much over the last 13 years and I can put it together so let’s go and perform when I get the opportunity.
Broad took his 500th wicket for England in the third Test against West Indies recently
‘To be able to go on to the field with Jimmy again and us bowl so well as a partnership together again just dampened down a few more flames. In these last two games, people actually sat back and thought “Oh, yeah, Broad can bowl actually, he’s worth having in the team” and “Oh, Broad and Anderson are worth watching together actually because they put batters under pressure”. I grabbed everything I could from a negative and turned it into a ball of fire.’
Broad, one assumes, will be in the England side that plays the first Test of a three-match series against Pakistan, beginning at Old Trafford on Wednesday. It will be the start of his drive for 600, part of a determination to play in the next Ashes series in Australia at the end of next year, part of a hunger to keep playing and keep improving and keep excelling.
‘When I had just got Tom Latham out for my 400th wicket in Auckland in 2018,’ says Broad, ‘Richard Hadlee gave me a copy of his book and he wrote in it “Now go and get 500” and I remember reading it and thinking “Blimey, I can’t even see that far ahead” but here we are and it has come round pretty quickly.
‘I have never set particular targets but I have always been someone who tries to have short-term goals that make me better. In lockdown, I said I was going to work on a particular wrist position and get aerobically fit, so I used my hour a day to run. I came back and got my best fitness test result. That was a tick.
‘Could I get 600? Absolutely I think I could. Jimmy was 35 and one month when he got 500. I was 34 and one month. Jimmy is now within touching distance of 600. So stats wise, absolutely. I’m actually more concerned with how to try to wrap a bubble around this rhythm and momentum I have got as a cricketer right now.
Broad celebrates with his England team-mates after yet another West Indies dismissal
‘I judge myself now on how much I make a batsman play in a day. That came from Peter Moores. Then I feel like I’m bowling at the batsman and I’m in the game. You only have to look at my lbw percentage in the last two or three years and it is outrageously different to what it was.
‘If I am bowling badly, my leave percentage will be 30 per cent — I am getting left 30 per cent of the time. If I am bowling brilliantly, it will be 16 per cent or 17 per cent so it is about how close can I get to 16 per cent on a daily basis.
‘If I do that, I’ll get wickets. That side of the game excites me, that continuous improvement. While it still excites me, I want to keep playing. The minute that doesn’t excite me, I’m done.
‘It’s funny, when we were all in lockdown, if you had said to me: “If your career was to end now how would you feel?” I would have said: “I’m good, I’ve loved it, I’ve had some great memories, I could walk away really content and happy, I’m very fortunate to have got where I’ve got to”.
‘Then, when that became reality before the first Test and I get told I’m not playing and theoretically I might never bowl another ball for England, I was angry. It made me think: “I’m not happy to finish now, I’m not ready to leave the game”.
‘Am I happy with my life? Absolutely. Am I happy for my career to finish now? Absolutely not.
‘I feel a burning desire to keep winning Test matches, keep getting that feeling and hopefully I will burn that out. Because I think it’s a dangerous thing as a sportsperson to leave the sport you love with that burning desire still there. That’s when things can go the wrong way. For now, though, let’s keep that fire burning.’