WI TOUR OF ENGLAND, 2020
“International cricket certainly will be more of a mental test to make sure each player is right up for the battle.” – Broad © AFP
Stuart Broad is worried. Not about his place in the England team or about his form or fitness or when he’s next going to be able to get a haircut. No, Broad is concerned about something else. He’s worried about playing in front of rows upon rows of empty seats during England’s bio-secure Test series with West Indies next month. So much so, he has spoken to a psychologist about it.
But this is not some irrational fear about having to climb into the stands to fetch the ball when it goes for a boundary or concern over not being able to get friends and family tickets for the three Tests. For Broad, one of England’s most competitive cricketers, the concern is simple. How will he replicate the buzz and atmosphere of a packed house during a crucial spell?
“It is a worry for me because I know that I perform at my best as a player when the game is at its most exiting and when the game needs changing,” he said. “I also know that there are certain scenarios that bring the worst out of me as a cricketer and that is when I feel the game is just floating along and there is nothing on it.
“International cricket certainly will be more of a mental test to make sure each player is right up for the battle. And I’m very aware of that. I’ve already spoken to our sports psychologist about creating a bit of a mindset around making sure I can get my emotions up to where they need to be at my best.
“If you put me in an Ashes game or a pre-season friendly, I know which one I’ll perform better in. So I’ve got to make sure my emotions are where they need to be for an international Test match. And that’s something I started working on in early June.”
Of course, Broad is no stranger to playing in front of sparse crowds. When he plays county cricket for Nottinghamshire, he does so in front of a handful of spectators. As anyone who has watched him play for Notts will understand, he hardly lacks for motivation then.
Broad was also part of two England tours to the UAE for series against Pakistan during which the stands were largely empty. From six Tests across the 2012 and 2015 tours, he picked up 20 wickets at an average of 22.85.
But clearly, playing Test match cricket in England without any spectators will be strange. Usually, the grounds are full to the brim and many of them, with the exception perhaps of Lord’s, can be boisterous and vociferous in their support of the home team. Broad says it is important that he and the rest of the squad prepares for what will be a very different experience come the first Test at the Ageas Bowl.
“I’ve got to make sure that I train my brain to not get into that mindset of, ‘nothing is happening here, I can’t see anyone'” he said. “I’ve got to be able to make sure my brain is in Test match mode. I’m not saying I’ve got that right yet, I’m still working on that in training. Training has been intense as it always is but that is because this is how we always train, without crowds.
“It will be that match day that will feel the strangest and that is why we have to make the most of the three day warm-up to get our minds and bodies up to match intensity there so it doesn’t feel strange on July 8th. The last thing we want is to be walking out on July 8th and all of us feeling like a group that ‘this doesn’t feel normal’ we have to get it out of our system in the warm up game to make sure we hit the ground running and that applies to all of us.
“I do know that I thrive off the energy of something happening in the game or a bit of excitement going on, or with a big battle going on. Maybe I have to pick more of a battle with the opposition and bring my Dad into things a bit more!
“It might involve doing even more research into the opposition batsmen’s strengths and weaknesses so I’m very focused on getting in a competitive battle with the batsman instead of sometimes relying on the crowd to get your emotions going to be able to bowl at your best.”
According to Broad, the intensity of the first three days’ training at England’s pre-series camp in Southampton has been so high the coaches have had to reign the players back in so they don’t risk getting injured. It is an indication of the level of competition within the 30-man group, all of whom are vying for a place in the first Test squad which will be named after the three-day practice game on Wednesday (July 1).
Perhaps the biggest area of strength is in the fast-bowling attack with every leading Test candidate fit and firing. “From the training I’ve seen it is pretty impressive what is going around,” Broad said. “I bowled with Mark Wood a couple of days ago and he is bowling beautifully, great control and pace. There is certainly no panic over the strength in depth of English fast bowling. We’ve all come here fit and fresh which is rare for a fast bowling group.”
Whether Broad and James Anderson, or any of the fast-bowlers, play all three of the back-to-back Test matches against West Indies remains to be seen. But with the depth in England’s fast-bowling ranks arguably the strongest it has been since Andrew Strauss took the side to number one in the world a decade ago, it certainly gives the coaches and captain scope to rest and rotate. “It is always going to be hard and frustrating if you’re told you’re not playing in a Test, but there is a bigger picture for them looking after us,” Broad said.
Ahead of next winter’s Ashes series in Australia, a medium term objective that Chris Silverwood has openly targeted, it is a good position to be in. “The dream ticket is to board a flight for Brisbane and having this lot of fast bowlers all ready to go. That is the aim for English cricket,” Broad said. “Can we have Olly Stone, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, these sort of pace guys, [Chris] Woakes, [Sam] Curran, Broad, Anderson, all fit, fresh and ready to go. If we can we’ve got a chance of winning there.”
For now, though, Broad is focused on the upcoming series against West Indies and Pakistan, who arrive in the UK on Sunday (June 28), and adapting to the unprecedented nature of this summer. “We’ve got to make sure as a group of players that we don’t look too far ahead at future series, we get it right now,” he said. “If we get this wrong in these six, seven weeks then we could lose these series against two very good teams.
“We’ve almost got to forget about the long term right now. We’ve got to make sure we get our bubble right to be able to perform at Test match level because mentally if you switch off at all at this level, it gets you. We’ve got to adjust to the conditions we’re living in to be able to perform at our best.”
© Fame Dubai