When we think of Stuart Broad, we usually think of his trademark virtues, how he goads the batters into driving a ball that they could have left alone, how he finds just enough in-ward movement to beat the willow, or how he could stick to his line and length all day, waiting for things to happen rather than making things happen. For his 600th wicket though, he actually made things happen. He banged in short and into the body of Travis Head, who, unconvincingly, went for a pull, but only to find Joe Root at long-leg. Not the most classic of Broad’s dismissals, but surely the most special one. With this, he joined the rarefied league of only the second most active pacer with 600 Test wickets. The only other member of this league is his good friend and bowling partner James Anderson. Fittingly, Broad’s 600th came from James Anderson End.
With the proliferation of T20s, we might never see another fast bowler reaching 600 wickets in Test cricket. In that sense, Broad is the endpoint of this specific breed of fast bowling, a pure red-ball specimen who has prolonged his Test career by meticulously stripping his craft to bare essentials. There’s no shivering pace, no knuckle-ball or hundreds of other trickeries you see in white-ball cricket. Broad’s main weapon is his impeccable consistency. Everyone knows what he brings but knowing is one thing and playing is entirely different. Ask David Warner. He knows the ball will either come onto him or leave him, and yet he has been unable to solve the riddle, getting out to him on 17 occasions.
Broad turned 37 last month. There’s a sense of melancholy now every time Broad comes to bowl. His brilliant, other-worldly spells carrying a constant undertone that his days are numbered. Relish him, savour him, appreciate him, and of course, mock him for his idiosyncrasies and shithousery before time’s up. There will never be another Broad. There have been better pacers before Broad and there will be better ones after him. The talent keeps replenishing. But that’s not the point.
What makes watching Broad so captivating is not just his extraordinary skills, but also the chutzpah he brings to the game. It’s not that Broad doesn’t understand the potential pitfalls of his trademark celebratory appeal. When it backfires – as it did a couple of times in the ongoing Ashes – it makes him look stupid in front of gazillions of viewers, a sort of human form of premature ejaculation. But Broad has always carried unapologetic indifference to such embarrassments. It’s not that he didn’t preempt the humiliation he would undergo after standing his ground despite nicking the ball in broad daylight. But Broad is comfortable embracing the role of a pantomime villain in public eyes. Broad barely makes sense when he speaks on anything, but that doesn’t stop him from putting out his unfiltered thoughts.
These flaws only add to his brilliance, perfectly encapsulating the complexity of a sporting career, which we often tend to judge in pure black and white. If you’re a master in your chosen profession, these flaws will only add to your folklore. Broad is currently the leading wicket-taker in the Ashes series, picking up 18 at an average of just a shade over 25. He is playing his fourth consecutive Test currently, and there are no visible signs of weariness. He is addicted to the rhythm of Test cricket and feels that this has been “the most enjoyable year” of his whole career.
“I have definitely got an addiction to Test cricket and the competitive side of it. Baz [coach Brendon McCullum] and Stokesy [Ben Stokes] have given me a new lease of life in a way. It’s such a free changing room. There’s no fear of failure there, there’s no judgment, and it’s all about moving the game forward—and I think that suits my style of play,” said Broad after Day 1 of the Manchester Test.