As a staunch supporter of Indian cricket, the prospect of meeting Stuart Broad, part of the bowling attack that have tormented India so successfully in recent times, was indeed an exciting one. I could ask him, for instance, what it was like to be hit for six sixes by Yuvraj Singh in the inaugural World T20 tournament, or why Kevin Pietersen was not on the plane headed for Sri Lanka last month: a move that would surely have improved England’s stock in the last few matches.
But my attitude changed when I finally did meet him. Stuart has been on tour, but not of the kind we, as cricket fans are used to. Instead of taking wickets he has been writing about them in his new book My World In Cricket out this week.
As I sat down to interview him, I was immediately struck by the humility and professionalism of his demeanour. There was no arrogance or ego that sadly attaches itself to many international sportsmen these days. Instead, he was very approachable and willingly giving out autographs.
Hi Stuart, so first of all congratulations on the book, I read a few sections this morning. What inspired you to get involved with cricket in the first place?
I was born into a cricketing family. My old man played for England, Gloucestershire and Nottinghamshire, so I was always around on the cricketing grounds when I was younger. That’s where my enthusiasm for the game started. I was lucky to meet some incredible professionals when I was younger, like Courtney Walsh. It just developed in my back garden. I watched it on TV and it was always just a hobby. I just played it for enjoyment; I never took it too seriously or felt under pressure. My family were brilliant with that. My mum just took me to games and watched: it was never an examination or evaluation: we enjoyed it and that was it. It was a relaxed environment to grow up in.
When you were playing domestic cricket, and got the call up to play for England, did you find that a big step up, especially when considered the pressure put on international players today?
I was still only 19 at the time. I went from playing crowds of 5,000 at Grace Road, Leicestershire to the 50,000 that winter. It was definitely a big step, but I learnt pretty quickly that you simply don’t build it up too much in your mind. At the end of the day whether you’re playing for England in Australia in front of 100,000 or playing for your league side on a Saturday morning, it doesn’t change which ball you bowl, it doesn’t change the skill you have to deliver. So ultimately, it’s about getting yourself in the mental place where you feel comfortable.
So how do you get to that zone where you can feel focused?
I have a lot of routines which I go through every match. They make me feel like I’m at home whether I’m in front of an Australian crowd screaming to kill me or in front of a home crowd; it just makes me feel ready to deliver my skill every time. That’s what’s important to a cricketer.
You talk about this idea in your book, particularly during your time on the India tour of 2009. The crowds over there can often be passionate and intense; what was your experience of this?
It really is a big test as a cricketer to keep your mind clear when you are playing on the sub-continent. The crowds are so passionate about their own players: I’ll never forget when I bowled Sachin Tendulkar out at Bangalore in front of a crowd of 40,000 people. Before that ball, I couldn’t even think straight and when I went back down to fine leg, I saw the crowd were booing and hissing me, because I had bowled their hero out! I was only 21 at the time and that was quite a realisation to me. I thought “Wow, these crowds are so impassioned by their cricket”, and that’s why India is always an exciting place for me to tour. We are hugely fortunate that we have 12 weeks coming up out there with the Test series coming up.
What was it like out in Sri Lanka for the T20 World Cup and how would you evaluate your performance there?
We are obviously disappointed that we weren’t able to retain our crown from the 2010 World Cup as it was something we really wanted to do. But if you don’t learn from your experiences, you get nothing from them. We did have a young side while playing the tournament, mostly 22 to 23 year olds, so the next time we do go to a World Cup they will be 26 and 27 year olds ready to exhibit their skills on the world stage. We had some fantastic individual performances during the Cup, and we made some basic errors which cost us. But it given the format of T20, it was such a tight tournament with about six teams that could have won it on their day. So it was really hard to pick a favourite and I actually think that made it more exciting.
As captain of a T20 team, did you find it particularly difficult to lead the team given the fluidity of the format?
You can’t plan for it. You have to always think on your feet, so if one bowler gets hit around the park you have to switch it around and understand what the batsman is feeling. This is why I love captaining the format and I am sure all captains regardless of level will enjoy the format.
Given your upcoming tour in India, where pitches will play very differently from here in England, how is the team looking to adapt to the conditions?
We are very fortunate to have a month of practice matches in India before the official tour starts, so we have a lot of time to get use the conditions. But I think we as individuals have to take responsibility for our actions. For instance, we will look at how we play the spin bowling, and how we are going to bowl. Obviously if we do all these things, we will be in a strong position going into the series. We know the wickets are going to turn in India but we still have to put runs on the boards and we have the talent to do that.
As I left the book-signing, I couldn’t help but think that Stuart was very much what more sportsmen should be like today: passionate and fiery on the pitch, but thoughtful, dignified and articulate. With the India series fast approaching, England have a serious challenge ahead of them, namely, adapting to the slow turning wickets of the subcontinent: a problem for England in the past which Stuart alluded to. Having said that, with adequate preparation and men like Stuart Broad in the changing room, India will certainly have a challenge on their hands in the months to come.