Spectator sport

The absurd self-pity of Stuart Broad

15 August 2020

9:00 AM

15 August 2020

9:00 AM

You are, shall we say, a famous commentator, one of a tiny elite in the British media. You are paid hundreds of thousands of pounds, and are hugely admired. Then at a time of some crisis for others, one of your employers suggests you do 50 columns rather than 52. For exactly the same money, status and prominence. How do you react? Do you start shaking with grief? Do your legs turn to jelly and do you consider immediate retirement? No? Well you’re clearly not following the Stuart Broad guide to working practice.

After being ‘rested’ for the first Test against the West Indies, he gave an extraordinary interview to the Mail on Sunday. ‘Were there thoughts of retirement going round my head? 100 per cent. Because I was so down. I felt I deserved to play. When [Ben Stokes] told me I wasn’t playing, I felt my body go into shakes. I could barely speak. I was really low. I couldn’t go anywhere. I didn’t sleep for two days. I was nowhere.’ Oh do come off it, Stuart; you were rested for a game of cricket. And try to spare a thought for the guys bowling in your place.

Any coach or selector with half a brain will be working out how to replace the Broad/Anderson combo. After all, they won’t be opening the bowling together at the Gabba in the 2021-22 Ashes, though you don’t envy anyone who has to have ‘the talk’ with Jimmy. (And cricket’s not like Ronnie O’Sullivan’s view of snooker’s next generation: ‘If you look at the younger players coming through,’ he said, ‘they are not that good really. Most of them would do well as half-decent amateurs, not even amateurs. They are so bad.’ Good old Ronnie.)

English Test cricket is in a cheery place right now. The team has just won a big match against a highly rated young Pakistan side, inside four days, and at times being 8-1 outsiders. Both Jos Buttler and Joe Root came in for some ferocious slagging-off —Root was described as ‘witless’ and one distinguished former England opener said Buttler was ‘running out of time as a Test player’. Really? Only a handful of players in the world could have played the innings Buttler played to win that game in the fourth innings run chase. Probably not as many as a handful: that’s how good he is.

Buttler acknowledged his poor showing as a wicket keeper in a charming and self-effacing interview. (Compare and contrast with Broad’s absurd self-pity.) Don’t forget also that Chris Woakes, the best-liked man in cricket, missed out on the first Test against the West Indies but just gets on with helping England win, while not talking about it.

Woakes and Buttler are, women tell me, the embodiment of the ideal son-in-law. Both are popular, skilled, and pleasingly not prone to scowling. Woakes is also bowling phenomenally fast. Is he the new Ben Stokes? Probably not. But so far, in this truncated cricketing summer, he has given a pretty good impression of someone who could be. And a timely one too, now that Big Ben is going to be otherwise distracted for a month or two with his family in New Zealand. Woakes’s indomitable man-of-the-match award against a mercurial Pakistani side — four top order wickets in addition to his innings — saved the faces of a few more luminous colleagues.

And just as Stokes did last summer, Woakes has again exposed the scandal of BBC TV’s refusal to pay more than lip service (the cold soup of a few Test highlights) to our most venerable team game, which has done such a brilliant job of nourishing our Covid-blighted lives. Before it finally shreds cricket as part of the fabric of Britain, our national broadcaster could think again about its treatment of cricket as a minor sport.

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