Few have thrived in the heat of Ashes battle more than Stuart Broad. Here the former England paceman relives his most epic scraps with the old enemy… and some quirky customs
- Stuart Broad took career-changing figures of five for 37 in 2009 Ashes
- England bowler stepped up in 2018 following injury to Jimmy Anderson
- His final act on a cricket field was inducing another nick behind the stumps
2023, THE OVAL
Broad is told by captain Ben Stokes that this will be his last over as England close in on a series-levelling win. He superstitiously switches the bails round at the bowler’s end, seeking a change of luck ahead of what is destined to be his final ball, and Australia tail-ender Todd Murphy promptly edges behind.
If I write my own scripts, as has been claimed many times, this career-ending chapter was destined to be the most sensational yet. Few had been aware of the twist in the plot.
Surrounded by jubilant team-mates, my face told the story. The widest of eyes demanded: Did you see that? Murphy’s disappointed trudge from the field left Australia 329 for nine. England required one more wicket to claim victory and seal the 2-2 draw our efforts deserved. The fairytale was on.
Crucially, I had also preserved the chance to finish on the highest of highs. From playground to Test arena, it is accepted cricket etiquette not to take a bowler off when they have just taken a wicket so, in the knowledge Stokesy would allow me the opportunity to separate Australia’s last pair of Alex Carey and Josh Hazlewood, I gave those bails a thank-you tap on my way to take my fielding position at mid-on for Moeen Ali’s over from the Vauxhall End.
Stuart Broad superstitiously switches the bails round at the bowler’s end at The Oval
When I got the ball back in my hand at the Pavilion End once more, Carey was on strike, and our field setting highlighted the predicament Australia’s wicketkeeper-batter found himself in. We had men posted on the boundary edge to limit his chances of whittling down the required runs quickly.
With the ball swinging, it was also important to keep two slips in place, and I brought the outside edge into play with the fifth delivery of my next over. The ball flew at heel height towards Zak Crawley at second slip and, despite a great improvised effort, he couldn’t hold what was a really difficult chance.
As it was, my final act on a cricket field was inducing another nick behind the stumps in my next over at 6.25pm on July 31, 2023, when England’s 49-run win concluded in exactly the way Jonny Bairstow had predicted the evening before.
Most of my deliveries to the left-handers had been leaving the bat through the air, but in the mayhem of the moment — with this brilliant England team coming back from 2-0 down to deny Australia a first series win on British soil since 2001, and me enjoying a fairytale finale — it went relatively unnoticed that the 604th of my Test match wickets was an in-swinger.
I had been bowling pretty wide of the crease, but on this occasion I got nearer to the stumps and tried to shape the ball back, aiming for a chop-on or bowled. The ball moved back slightly and Carey poked at it, managing to nick it through to Jonny, who took a smart catch.
Wicketkeepers see the angles best and he had followed the ball’s trajectory all the way into his gloves. Funnily enough, he’d also had a pretty clear vision of this particular kind of dismissal a little under 24 hours earlier.
Milling about in the foyer of the team hotel, I bumped into Jonny returning from a bite to eat with his family. ‘You know what’s going to happen, tomorrow? This match is going to finish with a caught Bairstow, bowled Broad,’ he beamed. Now, as we hugged, and soaked in another electric atmosphere at the Oval, I reminded him: ‘You called it!’ It was the most satisfying feeling, not only to end a Test match, but to say goodbye to my playing days. I felt fully content.
His final act on a cricket field was inducing another nick behind the stumps to seal victory
2009, THE OVAL
At lunch on day two of the fifth and final Test, Australia are 61 without loss and Broad is told by captain Andrew Strauss that he will have his first bowl of the match when play resumes.
In those days, if I knew I was bowling at the start of a session, I would go out to the middle five minutes before the bell and warm up. The idea being that it exponentially improved the chances of my first ball being right on the money. I used to like to be sweating at the top of my mark.
On this occasion, I planned to go out with our bowling coach Ottis Gibson, and I was in a frame of mind that this was my time to shine. I was intent on having an impact.
The series was locked at 1–1 and I’d been worried that I wasn’t going to play in this game. I would miss out on the chance to help England reclaim the urn. I’d had a pretty average series, and although I’d got a six-for at Headingley in the previous Test, also scoring a rapid half-century from No 7 in a fun-filled finale alongside Graeme Swann, we lost by an innings. When Freddie Flintoff was declared fit to return after a knee issue, I thought it was me he would come in for.
But I got the nod, and it provided me with one of the routines that would become one of my everyday pre-play rituals. Gibbo was like, ‘Come on, mate, we need to go,’ as I was pulling on a shirt in readiness to have that warm-up bowl. Oh God, I thought, that doesn’t smell the best. Evidently, it was one I had used for batting, and so, wary of the pong, I grabbed the aftershave from my bag and gave myself three sprays before I went out — doosh, doosh, doosh.
I went out and took career-changing figures of five for 37. The three sprays had to stay and so, for every single session of my Test career afterwards, whether we were batting or bowling, whether it was morning, afternoon or evening, I repeated the trick.
From the Paco Rabanne 1 Million of that special day south of the Thames, there was an evolution of aftershaves, with changes coming whenever I felt a bit low on wickets.
First, I flipped to Paco Rabanne’s Invictus, because the bottle looked like a trophy. Then one Christmas, my mum bought me Chanel Bleu and I liked the fact the blue matched my England cap, so that one stayed for about seven years.
Broad took career-changing figures of five for 37 in the final Ashes Test at The Oval in 2009
Then, during the most recent Ashes tour of 2021-22, the late Shane Warne gave me some of his aftershave. If it’s good enough for Shane, a bowler with 700 poles, it’s good enough for me. Many an umpire paid me the compliment of being the best-smelling player on the circuit.
It was a magical session. Walking down to fine leg, doffing my cap in acknowledgement, the stands erupting around me, it hit me that for the first time I was now having to cope with a completely different feeling as an international bowler: the adulation of 25,000 people.
And I realised having a crowd like that, upright and raucous in ovation, brought the best out of me. I wasn’t cagey, shy or embarrassed taking the applause. I was like, ‘Yeah, make this louder, rev me up and I’ll go again’.
Broad is in the victorious 2010-11 England touring party, but it is not an experience he recalls with any fondness…
Dealing with injury is a fast bowler’s lot, but its wicked nature, striking without warning and often at the most inopportune moments, leaves emotions susceptible. This was the case when I tore an abdominal muscle during the Adelaide Test of the historic 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia, when England won 3-1. It was devastating.
We had travelled to Australia with extremely high hopes of becoming the first England team to win an away Ashes since my Dad was Man of the Series in 1986-87, and for good reason. We had a settled, winning team and our coach, Andy Flower, and his staff had planned meticulously.
Australia, in a rebuilding phase and uncertain of their best squad let alone best XI, were there for the taking and here we were in the second Test pushing for the win that would put us into a 1-0 lead.
We had batted brilliantly, Alastair Cook scoring a hundred and Kevin Pietersen a massive 227, helping to open up a 375-run lead on first innings before declaring.
I was bowling at third-wicket pair Michael Clarke and Shane Watson, in what was effectively my second spell following eight overs with the new ball split by a change of ends. In the first few deliveries, it felt like I was developing a stitch, but over the next two overs the discomfort got worse, to the point where it felt as if I had taken a heavyweight’s punch to the ribs.
At the drinks break, with Australia 120 for two and my figures reading 11-3-32-0, I walked off the field feeling over-emotional.
The heat was ferocious. Pouring with sweat, feeling all bowled out and in pain, I lifted my shirt as I walked through the long tunnel to the dressing room that gives Adelaide its unique character. There was already a residue of blood gathering in my side.
When I showed Dr Nick Peirce my bruise moments later, he didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to, his look said it all. His experience told him what it meant. He wrapped me in his arms and I burst into tears. I was 24 years old and I knew this monumental tour was over for me before the obligatory scan confirmed 10 weeks on the sidelines.
But there was despondency for the England bowler in 2010/11 as injury strikes in Adelaide
Back home, I went to Dad’s on Christmas night, staying up to watch the Boxing Day Test, and it was that real throwback-to-childhood feeling. Nottingham, 3˚C outside, but having started the series as one of the 22 players, it didn’t possess the magical allure I felt as a kid.
In fact, it was quite a lonely place now, and although I was excited when I woke up later that week to watch my team-mates celebrating the retention of the Ashes at Sydney, having achieved the collective goal, personally, sitting on my own in pitch-black on the other side of the world, it felt soulless.
BBC News asked me to go on the television to talk about the series win, but I couldn’t. That wasn’t me being selfish. It is what happens. If you have put everything in to be involved and then you’re not, no matter how exciting it is for the team or the country, the achievement loses its lustre.
2015, TRENT BRIDGE
England arrive in Nottingham with a 2-1 lead, but without Jimmy Anderson due to injury. It puts the onus on Broad to step up:
I felt pressure but in a good way. I had played 82 Tests before arriving at Trent Bridge, my home ground, but never before had I bowled the first over. One thing was significant before I embarked on a spell that would deliver my best Test figures of eight for 15. A smattering of rain fell, delaying the start but not lasting long enough to justify getting the covers on. Edgbaston’s pitch had a 12mm grass covering, this one was 8mm, but it felt zingy.
My first over was quite a nervous one, yet featured two wickets. Chris Rogers became my 300th Test victim when he edged one that angled in and nipped away from around the wicket. Then Steve Smith nailed me for four through cover point and I clapped. The ball was going all over the place and when Smith nicked off, Australia were 10 for two.
Mark Wood had David Warner caught off the inside edge two balls later and we were flying. Shaun Marsh had just come into the side, so my plan to him — a very good stroke player — was to make him play as much as possible. If you haven’t played many games, you want to feel bat on ball. He nicked off.
Then came the ‘Did you see that!’ moment when Ben Stokes, at fifth slip, somehow clawed in a one-handed catch when the ball appeared to have gone past him. The image of me, hands over my face in disbelief when Ben took that belter to get rid of Adam Voges is probably one you can easily recall.
Michael Clarke announced his retirement later in the match and he looked shot to bits when he slashed at one to give me figures of five for six. Three lower-order wickets followed.
It was the greatest day of my international career, but it wasn’t my best spell. It seems paradoxical to say, but I didn’t bowl loads of wicket-taking deliveries. I wasn’t nipping the ball back, bowling people through the gate. I just kept the ball up there, looking for movement. Australia’s batters nicked it; we caught it. Everything went to hand.
It also featured a period in the middle when, amid the mayhem, I completely lost my run-up. I could not for the life of me remember what foot I took off on at the start. Imagine having a line in front of you and not knowing which foot to put down first to guarantee staying behind the crease 20 yards away. It was the weirdest feeling when you have bowled thousands upon thousands of balls previously without thinking about it.
I was doing extra steps, shuffling, all sorts. I threw one down the leg-side for four byes, it was awful, and then I remembered something Glenn McGrath said once when it happened to him. He started singing when he got out of rhythm, so I started belting out, ‘Ah, one, two, three, four, five!’
Stuart Broad in disbelief at Ben Stokes’ wonder catch during fourth Test at Trent Bridge in 2015
Reciting Mambo No 5 over and over, the theme tune from the old Channel 4 cricket highlights programme, got me back.
It was a morning of elation, but the best feeling of all was making a cup of tea at 12.50pm, and watching Adam Lyth caress an extra-cover drive off Mitchell Starc for four from the second ball of our innings. I had bowled in an Ashes match and was enjoying a cuppa before lunch.
Jos Buttler said to me that evening, ‘I’ve wanted to be an Ashes winner all my life, and it just happened in an hour and a half.’
Broadly Speaking by Stuart Broad is published on November 9, Hodder & Stoughton, £25
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