Stuart Broad studio portrait
© Getty Images
10

Hate to Love

A touch of Pakistani mayhem

Stuart Broad is easy to hate - until he conjures up one of his cathartic spells of fast bowling

Ahmer Naqvi |

When I was deciding whom to write this essay on and considered what it was that I hated about them, I was reminded of my childhood, and specifically the biases and world views we assembled then. When we had no choice but to accept the world for what it was and learn to work our way around it.

It struck me that we are aware of social hierarchies before we can even speak, and so are quick to take a spot on the ladder of society when we enter it. As a child, what this means is that those on top of the ladder among your peers are the kids who can run the fastest or are the biggest or can ride the merry-go-round very quickly without throwing up. I was terrible at all of these things, and thus was accepting of my status near the base of the ladder.

When we enter our teenage years, a new consideration appears - our looks. Suddenly, right when the majority of us are going through largely ugly metamorphoses both emotional and physical, our looks become a new way to climb up the social ladder. Sometimes, the kids who were already the fastest and biggest also turned out to be good-looking, retaining their status at the top. The rest of us had little choice but to accept it.

What is more unsettling, especially for boys who are unquestioning of the demands of masculinity, is when someone rises based purely on their looks. As a kid on the lower rungs of the ladder, you seem to resent their good fortune that much more. It is also a symptom of finding your notions of masculinity being threatened, since unlike the jock, whose qualities tend to appeal to other men, the good-looking guy can do without any approval. Perhaps it was just me, but I especially harboured a dislike for the type derided as "pretty boys". It seemed as if those boys didn't have to cope with any awkward stage during the horrors of puberty, as if they escaped the scars from the wars we all endured.

As much as I hate typing out this sentence, Stuart Broad achieves just about all the requirements of the platonic ideal of Pakistani fast bowling

As you advance in your teen years, you also develop a sense of (often misdirected) rebellion, when proximity to authority is seen as a betrayal. Anyone at school with a parent who taught there, or was part of the administration, was always viewed with caution and hesitancy. You always suspected their achievements were an outcome of nepotism. Not all children of teachers face this ostracism, though - some rebel so outrageously that no one can accuse them of any compromises, while others have strong enough personalities to win people over. The very worst, however, are the type who act all entitled, prone to petulance when things don't go their way. They are the reason the stereotype exists, and you feel nothing but derision for them.

When I got to university, I learnt to expand my mind and question the biases and hierarchies that I had previously accepted. I learnt to get over my prejudices, and to stop labelling and stereotyping people. I was now interested in politics and institutions, railing against privilege and entrenched elites, against archaic systems and their exploitation.

It was around this time that Stuart Broad first emerged, a composite that provoked just about all the biases I had acquired over my life till then: a petulant, privileged son of a cricketer-turned match referee, with a face like a Victorian-era version of Adonis. His effeminate, lovely looks triggered the most base of my heteronormative prejudices; his poor sportsmanship and habit of sulking at umpiring decisions inflamed my hatred for entitled brats. When Yuvraj Singh hit him for six sixes, I felt a most resplendent joy - each of my past selves sharing in the delight, lapping up the cosmic sense of justice.

Aussie basher: Broad takes a wicket in his spell at The Oval in 2009 that helped England seal the Ashes

Aussie basher: Broad takes a wicket in his spell at The Oval in 2009 that helped England seal the Ashes © Getty Images

In the years since, Broad has done nothing to change my view about his personality. He took a stand against chucking but said nothing about the Big Three shenanigans that took place at the same time, marking him out as a hypocrite in my eyes. Then in early 2015 he delivered patronising advice to Britain's working poor (before deleting the tweet and putting out an apology).

So why am I writing this article? Because of those spells.

At the height of his late-career revival, I had dismissed Mitchell Johnson's style as not as exciting or skilful as Pakistan's - fast, low and aiming for the stumps. There has been a lot written about what makes Pakistani fast bowling great, but one of its defining features is how a great spell seems to tear apart notions of time and rationality, existing in an unbearable immediacy of reverse swing and crashing stumps.

And as much as I hate typing out this sentence - and I will probably renounce it later - Stuart Broad achieves just about all the requirements of the platonic ideal of Pakistani fast bowling. He doesn't do it all the time - he is naturally a back-of-the-length bowler, and when he is in that mode I don't care much for him. But there is another mode he operates in, where he seems to exist in brief yet transcendental moments of ecstasy.

His poor sportsmanship and habit of sulking at umpiring decisions inflamed my hatred for entitled brats

That Broad has ripped through entire teams within a session, or even a single spell. It is in those moments that he changes his length and line, getting far fuller. He doesn't always get reverse, but he seems to create that Pakistani sense of visceral excitement, that same feeling of impending annihilation. In these moments, Broad takes wickets not because he scares the batsmen or outsmarts them - he takes wickets because he is simply better than them. Like the great Pakistani bowlers I continue to adore, he has the ability to make batsmen question the very point of their task - a frequent response of a rational mind in the face of genius.

Most importantly, he has the sense of occasion, having chosen to inflict these spells most often during decisive moments of Ashes series. It is one thing to compose highlight reels against lesser opposition or in low-consequence matches, another to do so in matches that matter most to your side.

One of the things I have loved about Pakistani fast bowlers is their ability to create spells where they pick up wickets not thanks to their brains or brawn but just because they feel like it. And when I think about that, I realise that "just because you feel like it" is one of the greatest delights of childhood, when you can act largely without fear of consequence, or trouble or shame. It offers such a wonderful sense of freedom, and it is perhaps that impulse from my childhood that I love most about a great spell of fast bowling. For all the biases that Broad provokes, this is one joy he regularly revives.

Ahmer Naqvi is a freelance writer who works for the music website Patari. @karachikhatmal

 

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  • POSTED BY sajjad on | July 27, 2016, 13:51 GMT

    Fast bowling is not all about skills, pace variations, swing or line length stuff. It is also about rhythm & feel and the repeatability of the things done from the start of a run-up to the bowling of a delivery. It is very tough to find a fast bowler who has all those things in him. Broad has got most of them that is why he is among the best fast bowlers. Best of wishes for his future, long live fast bowling.

  • POSTED BY paul on | July 27, 2016, 13:08 GMT

    @Hussain Kurawadwala I take it from your comment about Broad going missing when the pitch doesn't suit his bowling, you must have missed England's tour UAE '12. Obviously the batsmen let the bowlers down that tour but imo Broad's series was one of the best from a fast bowler I've seen in the sub Continent in years.. In all 3 Test he had spells that the Pakistani batsman literally didn't know how to play him. Fast, full, swing & reverse swing. That series he took 13 wickets @ 20. Even in the recent tour there he bowled well &averages 22 in the UAE in 6 Tests. The spells he had in the recent SA tour where he took 18 wickets @ 20 weren't exactly wickets made for him, SA wickets can be very flat. In Aus '13 he took 21 @ 27 on that disastrous tour. As you say he's a good bowler who's taken more wickets in world cricket than anyone else the last few years. The last 5 years he's taken 238 wickets in 58 Tests @ 25. You just don't take that many wickets if you go missing on flat pitches.

  • POSTED BY Hussain Kurawadwala on | July 27, 2016, 2:45 GMT

    Broad is a beneficiary of the inability of a number of batsmen who cannot play Test cricket at the highest level . His 8 for 15 vs Aus is a prime example of that. He bowled well but some of those wickets were of balls which should have been left alone. He is a good bowler a very good one definitely one of the better ones today in Test cricket but goes missing when pitch does not suit his bowling. He has had some good spells in Aus and SA and he will be the man to lead Eng once Jimmy is gone but he is not a great like Wasim Imran and the great bowers of yesteryears .

  • POSTED BY Arindom Borah on | July 26, 2016, 10:24 GMT

    Yuvraj Singh has now retired. One test for being a Pakistani type of bowler has gone. That's coz unless Yuvraj hits him for 6 sixes, how do you gauge whether one in annoyed and pleased. Is Ben Stokes 60% Pakistani? Hit for 4 sixes this WC??

  • POSTED BY Alex on | July 26, 2016, 0:03 GMT

    Stuart broad is very average bowler but he has unique skill in that he has pride in england. We need players who has pride in their country to make country vs country competitive with all free agent t20 players who do not care and sell their souls highest bidder.

  • POSTED BY Aubline on | July 25, 2016, 18:43 GMT

    Good analysis of Broad the cricketer. Can't see the point of the rest - you don't know him and are just trotting out tired clichés and unedifying bigotry.

  • POSTED BY J on | July 25, 2016, 17:28 GMT

    Extremely well written article and the author no doubt meant this as a compliment to Broad; however most people would take it otherwise and consider a case for maligning their good name.

  • POSTED BY Deepanjan Datta on | July 25, 2016, 15:01 GMT

    Sums up Broad jnr. quite aptly. Waqar Younis always swears by the fuller length as the wicket-taking one (easy to see why, given his extreme pace and toe-crushing reverse). Broad's best spells are similar, if not in pace, but in intent and outcome it wreaks on batting orders. Those moments of red-mist, when he has regularly reduced New Zealand, Australia, or India into a mangled rubble of batsmen questioning everything from the width of their bat to their off-stump identification technique, are pure joys. And yes, beneath that peppery surface and entitled attitude lies a man who truly has the ability to take the vitriol he invites, and turn it into a rousing passage of cricketing skill. His batting may have receded in the aftermath of copping that Varun Aaron bouncer, but he remains a rather fine cricketer regardless.

  • POSTED BY Daniel Powell on | July 25, 2016, 9:32 GMT

    Stuart Broad is my favourite cricketer precisely because he seems to actually gain a sort of unholy energy from being hated. It's like when the Australian press went after him in the last Ashes series over there and he ended up as our only player other than Stokes to have done anything on the tour. You sledge him at your peril. He's always the one to jump at the chance to employ time-wasting and other gamesmanship tactics because he genuinely enjoys acting as a deflector shield of hatred towards the entire team, and that's a very strangely selfless thing to do.

  • POSTED BY wayne on | July 25, 2016, 7:43 GMT

    Excellent article, and I tend to agree - it's hard to resist liking the lad during "those" spells. I used to dislike him on a personal level for all the reasons you mentioned, but I've grown out of disliking cricketers based on my perception of their personal traits. It's possible that he's poorly behaved off the field, but he's a fine cricketer.. On another note: one wonders how many nationalities Stuart Broad embodies qualities of! Part-Aussie, part-Pakistani, presumably part-English. Waiting for an article about Broad's Caribbean flair!