Australia v England: Broad’s shoulders prove big enough to take heat

Australian supporters hold a banner as England's Stuart Broad fields on the boundary
Australian supporters hold a banner as England's Stuart Broad fields on the boundary
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“STUART BROAD . . . I Know What You Did Last Summer”.

The banner in the Brisbane crowd said it all on the opening day of the Ashes series.

What Broad did last summer was fail to walk during the Trent Bridge Test against Australia.

For the benefit of those who have just come back from Mars, he edged a ball from spinner Ashton Agar to Michael Clarke at slip and unashamedly stood his ground – a craven act of bad sportsmanship after umpire Aleem Dar inexplicably failed to notice the edge.

Since then, Broad has become Australia’s public enemy No 1, a target for disdain and derision even more disgraceful than his decision not to walk.

The Brisbane Courier-Mail, which apparently makes our own tabloid press look like pussycats, whipped up a hate campaign masquerading as banter by calling him “a smug Pommie cheat” and calling on the crowd to give him the silent treatment, while also refusing to refer to him by his name in their puerile publication.

“We will implement a Broad Ban during this Test – referring to him only as “a 27-year-old English medium pace bowler” screamed a scarcely believable front page story.

The paper had earlier called him “Stuart Fraud” and a “Hometown Bully”, citing the disparity between his good home record and poor away record in Test cricket, and there was no nicer touch after Broad went some way to addressing the discrepancy with a five-wicket haul yesterday than when he walked into the close-of-play press conference clutching a copy of the repugnant rag.

The abuse did not inspire him, he explained, because “you don’t need any more inspiration than playing for your country”.

Broad said he had “braced myself” for a hostile reception, which included a chorus of “Broad is a w*****” when he came on to bowl and the sight of people wearing yellow T-shirts bearing the touching message “Stuart Broad is a sh*t bloke”.

“I actually really enjoyed it if I’m honest,” he claimed, adding that he was “singing along at one stage” to the doltish ditties.

Broad also said he was one of three players the England team psychologist had identified as likely to thrive on crowd abuse, along with Matt Prior and Kevin Pietersen, who could hardly boast a Test average of just under 50 were that not the case.

Yes, Ashes cricket, folks, has descended to this.

A proud tradition that began with a chap called Alfred Shaw bowling to another chap called Charles Bannerman at Melbourne in 1877, and which has continued through such legends of the game as Don Bradman and Len Hutton, has been reduced to the sort of antics more commonly associated with pre-fight boxing.

Somewhere within it, however, remains a game, a glorious game that still retains the ability to inspire and entertain.

And it was England who did the inspiring and entertaining yesterday as Broad’s 5-65 reduced Australia to 273-8 on what looked a typically belting Brisbane surface.

Not that Broad’s day began auspiciously.

On the contrary, barely had the boos and brickbats subsided after he took the new ball when his opening delivery to David Warner was met with a sweet left hook (what else?) to the square-leg boundary and an outstretched arm from the umpire to signal a no ball.

Things could only get better for the Nottinghamshire man – and they did.

Broad had Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke and Warner all caught playing what could only be described as “nothing shots”, ones which immediately raised further question marks against an Australian top-order that collapsed for a pastime in England.

Broad, who later conceded he had “bowled better”, saved his best for last, swinging a beautiful delivery through the gate of Mitchell Johnson that ended a seventh-wicket stand of 114 with Brad Haddin that hoisted Australia from 132-6.

It was Broad’s fifth wicket of the innings and his 50th in Test cricket this year, making him the first player to reach that landmark.

As is the grating custom, Broad proudly raised the ball aloft to the crowd, one that was now indeed silent as the Courier-Mail had demanded.

As two-fingered ripostes go, it was a pretty damn fine one by the “27-year-old English medium pace bowler”.

Broad, of course, is somewhat speedier than medium pace.

He is capable of bowling a very challenging short ball, as the Australians discovered yesterday.

Of course, he can be frustratingly enigmatic too – not unlike Johnson.

But his record last night stood at 222 Test wickets in 63 games at an average of 30.18 and he should now be approaching something like his peak.

Not that the Brisbane Courier-Mail were inclined to give him credit.

Their front page headline after play was ‘Phantom Menace: English medium pace bowler skittles Aussies’, with the accompanying photograph showing only an outline of Broad – who had been airbrushed out of shot – being congratulated by team-mates.

Earlier, the paper’s online version had embarrassingly broken its own ban with a report that began, “Stuart Broad has hit back at the boo boys in the best way possible, claiming a five-wicket haul to propel England into a strong position”, before the ‘mistake’ was corrected.

All of which simply proved that yesterday you could insult Broad as much as you wanted – but you could not ignore the “27-year-old English medium pace bowler”.