Stuart Broad still embracing Ashes villainy

His close resemblance to Harry Potter character Draco Malfoy has only accentuated Stuart Broad's status as the lead English villain for Australian cricket fans in recent Ashes series.

The last time the old enemies fought for the urn in these parts, only a handful of months had passed since his infamous decision not to walk in the first Test of the series played earlier that year in England, which Australian coach Darren Lehmann described as "blatant cheating".

With that moment fresh in the memory, Brisbane's TheCourier Mail tried to antagonise the fast bowler by refusing to mention his name in its pages. Broad duly came out and took 6-81 in Australia's first innings.

Mercurial 1970s VFL star Brent Crosswell once said: "Give me 80,000 people at the MCG and I was Hercules. Give me a grey day at the Western Oval and I wasn't worth a cracker."

Broad is cut from the same cloth. The 109-Test veteran, at 31, has saved much of his best for Australia. His Test bowling average against Australia ranks third best of the Test opponents he has confronted, but his story is about glorious days, not a tally of years. His spells at The Oval in 2009, and Trent Bridge in 2015, arguably won England two Ashes series.

"I love it," Broad said this week of the big occasion.

"I'm probably the worst warm-up game bowler in the world. I need that extra bit of spice in games. I don't think that the worst thing in the world, being a bad net bowler.

"That niggle in games, that competitive spirit, that's what I play for. As soon as that goes, I won't carry on playing, I love that spice. I think that's why I've probably saved some of my best performances for Ashes series because it builds it up.

"I love the extra pressure, I love that feeling the night before of what on earth is going to happen here, the stomach's turning and all that sort of thing."

Broad's true colours are clear, too, when he runs through a list of some of his favourite cricketers: Glenn McGrath, Steve Waugh, Darren Gough.

"People like this, they're always in a battle. They're never just happy with the opposition," he said.

In an English squad with a glut of faces unrecognisable to Australians, and especially given Kevin Pietersen's international exile, Broad remains a likely target of rowdy patrons this summer.

As always, he will embrace it wholly. "I've said to the guys in the change room, it's actually a really exciting prospect that because not often do you walk on a sports field, and when you retire you'll never have a chance to walk out with a really hostile environment, something that you walk out and you look around and go, 'I'm alive here'.

"It's as close as we get to being a Premier League footballer playing away from home, being a Manchester United player at Anfield.

"It's part of the reason why the Ashes is so special. The Aussies come over to our grounds, like Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, and get some stick, and we've got to build ourselves up to get some stick, certainly at the Gabba - but if you can't deal with that then should you be playing top level sport?"

Even as he approaches the twilight of his career, Broad says he is still tweaking his game in the quest for excellence. The latest alteration, he says, stems from an over-correction.

"I did a lot of work to left-handers when the Aussies came in 2015, because they had a lot, and that leaked into my right-hander bowling," he said.

"That's been a great success against left-handers, but I'm tweaking my action to make sure it's strong against the right-handers again, and that's just some technical work with the run-up and making it a bit straighter, make sure my wrist gets right behind the ball."

He has also learnt important lessons about what does and doesn't work in Australia ahead of what is his third away Ashes series. "I don't want to swing it here. I look at all my heroes here like Glenn McGrath, he's not a swing bowler. You've got to hit the pitch hard, like a Josh Hazlewood.

"If I look to swing it, I bowl too full, I bowl floaty and crap."

He even knows what the perfect Gabba length is. "6.1 metres I think the stat is. Or is it 7.1? No I think it's 6.1. We've got a little yellow marker on all our nets that's the perfect length at Brisbane. I think it's 6.1.

"But part of the skill of being a bowler is adjusting to the conditions as quickly as you possibly can. That's something that Jimmy [Anderson] and I have spoken about as an opening bowling group. We have to outsmart the opposition batsmen. Can we find that length that makes them a little bit indecisive? I think at the Gabba and the WACA you can bowl too short, and it can look pretty but not overly effective, but also if you get too full on length it's quite easy to drive.

"And I think the Gabba changes from day one to day two. Day two there's more bounce and pace. Day one can be a bit stoppy and sticky and a bit slower."

What remains however, is the attitude. He looks back to the Ashes series of his childhood and notes that England didn't have enough hard-nosed characters. The story changed with the introduction of players like Pietersen, Matt Prior and Michael Vaughan.

"[They] stood up to the Australians, looked them in the eye and said 'we're here for a battle'.

"You have to be competitive. This team is getting to a place where we can stand up to the Australians."

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This story Stuart Broad still embracing Ashes villainy first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.