Close your eyes and try to imagine some of the great Stuart Broad spells and chances are you’re hearing as well as seeing. The Oval in 2009, the hat-trick against India in 2011, the first morning at Trent Bridge in 2015, Johannesburg in 2016: these are memories built not just on images of floundering batsmen and flailing celebrations, but the noise of a capacity crowd.
Test cricket is a game of soundwaves and Broad surfs them as well as anyone. So what happens when you take the noise away? In the lead-up to the first Test against West Indies, a week on Wednesday, England fans will be reassured to know Broad has been giving the matter plenty of thought.
“It’s a worry for me,” he said on Sundayat England’s biosecure training camp at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. “I perform at my best when the game is most exciting. Put me in an Ashes game or a pre-season friendly and 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 match.”
Since the start of the month Broad has been working with the team psychologist, David Young, on strategies for coping with the emotional dead air of a Test with no crowds. “It’s about finding little things that give you that competitive edge,” he said. “It might involve doing even more research into the opposition batsmen’s strengths and weaknesses, so I’m focused on getting into a competitive battle with the batsman instead of relying on the crowd. We have to make sure we’re as engaged as possible.”
Great cricketers of all eras have often sought out a scrap with the opposition in order to get them ticking and if Broad fancies a verbal duel he will find no shortage of takers in Jason Holder’s composed, but aggressive West Indies side. “Maybe I have to pick more of a battle with the opposition, bring my dad into things a bit more,” Broad said, wryly. His father, Chris, is likely to serve as the International Cricket Council’s match referee for the series, although disciplinary hearings will be dealt with by a neutral ICC official over video link.
Above all, Broad said, this is an ongoing process. To an extent nobody can really be certain how they will feel stepping out shortly before 11am on 8 July to be greeted by pure silence. The experience of playing county cricket in front of a handful of spectators will help to an extent. But Test cricket is a different beast entirely and for decades England have been extremely fortunate to enjoy a sizeable and boisterous support wherever they play.
For now, Broad is simply enthused by the prospect of playing again. He turned 34 last Wednesday and with younger quicker bowlers snapping at his heels the days when he could plot out his career with a draughtsman’s precision are long gone. Assuming he gets a fair crack, it is no exaggeration to suggest these six Tests against West Indies and Pakistan will tell us whether Broad still has a viable future in the international game.
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t look too far ahead. If we get it wrong in these six or seven weeks, then we could lose these series. It’s probably the strongest West Indies side I would have played against. Certainly the bowling attack.”
There are milestones on the horizon – 500 Test wickets (he has 485) and potentially one final Ashes tour in 2021-22 – but Broad knows unless he continues to prove his worth this summer, there are no guarantees of a next. Crowd or no crowd, for this most competitive of animals you suspect that will be motivation enough.