Peter Hayter pays trib­ute to the man who turned Stu­art Broad from a strug­gling seamer into a world-beat­ing speed­ster

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

There were many fa­mil­iar faces Stu­art Broad might have searched for in the mo­ment of cel­e­brat­ing his achieve­ment in over­tak­ing Sir Ian Botham to be­come Eng­land’s se­cond high­est Test wick­et­taker last week.

As he raised the pink ball to mark the dis­missal of West Indies wicket-keeper Shane Dowrich – his 384th in his 107th match – he could have pointed it at his dad, former Test bats­man Chris, wrapped up against the cold like the rest of the Edg­bas­ton day-night crowd, who first in­tro­duced him to the dream of play­ing for Eng­land by mak­ing him watch the video of his own suc­cess on Mike Gat­ting’s 1986-87 tour to Aus­tralia,

On Top Down Un­der, un­til the tape wore through.

He could have pointed it to­wards Botham, that tour’s hero and his, to whom he paid ful­some trib­ute af­ter­wards and who ex­pressed his real de­light that he had now been rel­e­gated to third on the list of Eng­land’s all-timers be­hind Broad and the run­away leader James An­der­son.

But it was to his men­tor and former county col­league Ot­tis Gib­son that he of­fered this spe­cial ges­ture of thanks and, if ro­mance has a part to play in whether Eng­land’s bowl­ing coach takes up the post of se­nior coach with South Africa at the end of this sum­mer, or stays where he is to try and help his present charges purge the dire mem­o­ries of go­ing down Down Un­der four years ago, the mo­ment might turn out to have car­ried even more sig­nif­i­cance.

As it was, when later re­flect­ing on Eng­land’s crush­ing vic­tory in the first (mis)-match of the In­vestec se­ries, Broad made his po­si­tion crys­tal clear over who he owes most for his stel­lar ca­reer.

And he may also have re­flected in­wardly that, in another ex­am­ple of cricket’s pen­chant for cos­mic sym­me­try, the spot from where he was ac­knowl­edg­ing his debt was al­most ex­actly the same one where, thanks to Gib­son’s in­ter­ven­tion the best part of a decade pre­vi­ously, it had finally started to go right. “Ot­tis has been a huge in­flu­ence on me,” said Broad af­ter­wards. “I opened the bowl­ing with him at Le­ices­ter­shire and he knows my ac­tion bet­ter than I do.

“He has been a huge help to me along the way and that was for him.”

A huge in­flu­ence? For sure, ever since the 18-year-old Broad took the field along­side Gib­son in his Cham­pi­onship de­but against Som­er­set at his old school, Oakham, in June 2005, but never more so than at the first cri­sis point in Broad’s early ca­reer when, half-way through the 2009 Ashes se­ries, he was fac­ing calls for his head.

Thanks to Paul Colling­wood’s Bri­gadier Block, fol­lowed by An­der­son and Monty Pane­sar’s dra­matic rear­guard in Cardiff and the bat­ting of skip­per An­drew Strauss and the bowl­ing of ev­ery­one – mainly An­drew Flintoff and Graeme Swann – in the se­cond at Lord’s, Eng­land ar­rived at Edg­bas­ton for the third Test 1-0 up.

But, 18 months into a Test ca­reer in which he had taken 49 wick­ets at 41.06 and moved down the peck­ing or­der from new ball bowler to fourth seamer, Broad was strug­gling so badly for form, for con­fi­dence and for a clearly de­fined role that he feared the drop was im­mi­nent.

On a rainy fourth morn­ing in

Gibbo said, ‘It’s not what the ball does, it’s where it does it from that mat­ters,’ which made per­fect sense to me

Birm­ing­ham, all that was about to change, for the bet­ter.

In the book Eng­land’s Ashes, Broad ex­plained what hap­pened next.

“I hadn’t bowled well in the se­ries but my poor per­for­mance had been masked by the bril­liance of (Gra­ham Onions) and An­der­son,” said Broad.

“At the half-way stage I sat down with Ot­tis and we came to the con­clu­sion that maybe I had been try­ing to do too many dif­fer­ent things with the ball, search­ing too much for per­fect de­liv­er­ies, try­ing to buy wick­ets with bounc­ers and york­ers and slower balls. I had been try­ing to bowl in an ag­gres­sive role, but that led me to end up los­ing my nat­u­ral length and I wasn’t look­ing dan­ger­ous. We both felt it was time to get back to real ba­sics.

“Through­out my first-class ca­reer, I’d aimed to hit the same spot – top of off stump – and let the ball do some­thing, not try and swing it, not try to seam it ev­ery­where, just to get the ball in the right area and see what it does.

“And Gibbo said, ‘It’s not what the ball does, it’s where it does it from that mat­ters,’ which made per­fect sense to me. I put a cone down in prac­tice where my best length is, 16 feet away from the stumps, just out­side off stump. When I’m in rhythm and bowl­ing at my best, my nat­u­ral shape makes the ball swing slightly away from that an­gle so I can at­tack the stumps or out­side edge.

“I con­cen­trated on try­ing to hit the cone every ball. And I did the same from then on every day in warm-ups right through to the end of the se­ries.”

The im­prove­ment was im­me­di­ate and dra­matic. Af­ter hav­ing man­aged just four wick­ets in the se­ries thus far, he took 2-38 in the se­cond dig there and fol­lowed that with 6-91 in Aus­tralia’s only in­nings in the fourth Test at Head­in­g­ley as Ricky Ponting’s side caught Eng­land cold to square the se­ries.

And then came the break­through – the spell that turned the 2009 Ashes de­ci­sively in Eng­land’s favour, the first of the hot streaks that have de­fined Broad as a world-class per­former, four pre­mium Aussie wick­ets for eight runs in 21 balls.

Shane Wat­son, Ponting, Mike Hussey and Michael Clarke came and went as their side slumped from 73-0 to 93-4.

By the time they had sub­sided to 160 all out, Broad had the first of his six five­fors against Aus­tralia, (5-37).

De­spite Jonathan Trott’s bril­liant cen­tury on de­but, when Eng­land com­pleted the 197-run win with which they re­gained the urn, there could only be one win­ner of man-of-the-match award, and the 23-year-old ended what could have been the sum­mer when he went back­wards as an Eng­land bowler as their lead­ing wicket-taker and top of their av­er­ages.

It may not have been com­plete co­in­ci­dence, ei­ther, that Broad’s great­est bowl­ing per­for­mance, the 8-15 with which he de­stroyed the Aussies at Trent Bridge in 2015, came dur­ing the sum­mer of Gib­son’s reap­point­ment af­ter five years’ ab­sence. He thanked Gib­son for his help then too.

So while the fact that Broad should sig­nal out Eng­land’s bowl­ing coach for that spe­cial hon­our last week at Edg­bas­ton might have come as a sur­prise to some, no-one de­served it more than his men­tor, who, when­ever the op­por­tu­nity arises, he con­tin­ues to credit for push­ing him to carry keep im­prov­ing.

Broad’s dad and his hero would surely have ap­proved as well.

Guru: Ot­tis Gib­son passes on more ad­vice

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Thanks, coach: Stu­art Broad ac­knowl­edges Ot­tis Gib­son af­ter claim­ing the wicket of Dor­wich

Oh my! Broad takes another Aus­tralian wicket at Trent Bridge in 2015

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