Stuart Broad is the Nicholas Cage of bowling. Cage will take risks, perform erratically, pick terrible films, choose the wrong way to perform a role, overact and then occasionally perform so brilliantly that he makes an entire film. While doing all this he also divides opinion.
Smack in the middle of Stuart Broad’s cluster bomb that made New Zealand look like they’re a club side who’d walked into Lord’s by accident, I received a link to a blog about Broad. Broad comes a close third to Sachin and Shahid in the most-blogged-about stakes. It is almost without doubt something about whether he’s a good or bad bloke, and a good or bad cricketer. This blog was in that vein.
I’ve never met Stuart Broad, and up until he does something to me personally that offends, I won’t really worry about it. But working out whether Broad is a good cricketer is more interesting.
Stuart Broad wins Test matches. That is not something that most humans do, and neither do most cricketers. Broad can change the game with the bat or the ball. Yet again, it’s a small club. When Stuart Broad does something good, he does something spectacular. Most people’s good is still kind of just better than okay.
Yet, there are still doubts. And I’m not talking about the doubts that people who refer to him as Barbie have.
Broad’s bowling average is over 31. Even after his 7-for today. 32 is the average of all the bowlers in the history of cricket. It means that as a bowler he is barely better than average.
After 55 Tests Broad averages 25 with the bat. It’s good, but his hundred was against two bowlers who ended up in jail because of that summer. It’s not the average of a Test allrounder, more a handy bowler who either fails to deliver at all, or takes the game away quickly. It’s this batting pattern than haunts his bowling.
Broad is hit for six sixes. Broad can’t finish a match against Netherlands. Broad helps England win the 2009 Ashes. Broad struggles against South Africa. Broad goes missing against Sri Lanka. Broad takes a hat-trick and wins England the world No. 1 Test Spot. Broad disappoints against South Africa. Broad takes no wickets in two Indian Tests. Then Broad takes 7 for 44 as his team give New Zealand a statistically gettable chase.
It is all a simplification of Broad’s career. But it’s also based on how he has performed. Broad is either a monumental force of destruction, or a puppy lost in the wrong backyard. He has very little in-between.
That sort of great-or-garbage cricketer is the one who will always get the most abuse from fans. Their fans fall in love for the magical moments. Their detractors hate every single moment in-between, and also hate that they are successful at all, keeping them in the team for more long periods of failure before only popping up for enough success to keep them around for longer.
This Broad rampage comes just as, not for the first time, his place was being discussed by the fans and media – the people who despise him as if he’s doing it on purpose; like he wants to toy with their emotions.
Then they point to the less important things. Broad’s blonde hair seems to annoy more people than a natural hair colour should. The stroppy behavior when a ball is misfielded from his bowling. The way he forces captains to refer to him almost every delivery where he beats the bat. That it seems like he gets a better deal from the match referees. That his girlfriends are sometimes celebrities. That his father played Test cricket. Very little of that really affects how good, or not, he is as a cricketer.
He has not performed as consistently as his amazing performances hint he can. There are probably many reasons. One is that it isn’t easy to perform consistently like he did today, because few mortals ever have.
Even at only 26, Broad is a veteran. He’s been in the game long enough to block out the angry fans and ignore the press he doesn’t like. He’s well-travelled, world-weary and England’s T20 captain.
It’s the difference between his best and worst that he needs to narrow. Broad should be an automatic selection for this side. He should average under 30 with the ball, and he should average over 30 with the bat. Broad should be vice-captain of this Test side.
The same Stuart Broad who annihilated New Zealand today has never averaged under 30 with the ball. That is far more annoying than his hair colour, genealogy or his girlfriends.
When you bowl as fast as Stuart Broad, are as clever as Stuart Broad and can strike the ball like Stuart Broad you deserve to be a national treasure, not compared to a man who overacted in a film called National Treasure.