Cow Corner

Why Stuart Broad is the most frustrating cricketer in the land

Cow Corner

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Few players in the history of English cricket have divided opinion like Stuart Broad.

The Nottinghamshire bowler - who was once reckoned to be a future genuine all-rounder - has always been a hugely frustrating mercurial talent, and that shows no signs of changing any time soon.

As a case study, the first Test at Lord's demonstrated the best and the worst of Broad: a hapless three-ball duck, starkly contrasted by a fluent 25-ball 26 later in the match; a wayward and sluggish one for 64 in the first innings, followed by a quite breathtakingly potent seven for 44 in the second.

Every time his critics swarm around him, he repels the angry throngs with a performance of unmistakable brilliance; every time his supporters bask in hyperbole he appears to shrink into a tame display of utter indifference.

Still only 26-years-old, an average of 31.15 and a strike rate of 61.0 from 56 Tests have left many to question whether he really can fulfil the huge potential he has shown - albeit fleetingly - since he made his first-class debut for Leicestershire back in 2005.

But it will come as a shock to those who were baying for Broad to be promptly dropped after yet another failure with both bat and ball in Auckland in March to discover that he is just nine wickets shy of the 200 mark in Tests.

Broad can move past the great Jim Laker to become England's 15th most successful bowler in Test cricket with three more wickets and, after the way he skittled out the tourists at Lord's last week, no one should bet against him doing so quite comfortably at Headingley.

The reason why Broad polarises opinion so sharply is that he is about as consistent and reliable as an ICC recommendation. Only during the 2009 Ashes has he taken five-wicket hauls in consecutive matches - something which appears absurd given the way he has performed so far in the home series against New Zealand.

Last year, Broad took eight wickets at Headingley against South Africa - the world's best team, lest we forget - but again he failed to build on his success or find any consistency and the hope and promise that appeared to be returning swiftly faded once more.

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As much as he is intensely frustrating with the ball, he is arguably even more so with the bat.

After his first eight Tests, Broad had racked up three half-centuries from number eight with an average above 40 - but since then his stats have been very much on the wane and it is the manner of his decline that has been so disappointing for England supporters.

During the English summer of 2008, Geoffrey Boycott famously likened his elegant batting style to the legendary all-rounder Sir Garfield Sobers, while other leading pundits compared his fluent left-handed strokeplay to that of the princely champagne-quaffing extraordinaire D.I. Gower.

But such comparisons have subsequently proved almost as comical as one of Broad's lbw appeals as he has repeatedly floundered with the bat, his average dropping startlingly to 25.01 with just nine half-centuries from 77 innings. For a man who began his international career as a 'number six in waiting', the trajectory of his career with the bat has been alarming.

He is now considered to be almost overrated batting above Graeme Swann at number eight, with his confidence even lower than his apparent hunger to improve, if numerous leading cricket correspondents are to be believed having watched him in the nets in frustration.

What is Stuart Broad, the cricketer? The answer still seems to evade us. Right now he remains a wildly inconsistent - sometimes brilliant, often petulant - bowler who can bat a little bit down the order and who is famous for his staggering and hilarious misjudgements in using the DRS while berating his hard-working fielders.

That is perfectly acceptable for an average international performer, but for a prodigiously talented star who had been expected to develop into a genuine all-rounder by now, it's all a little underwhelming.

Broad has to show that he has the hunger and desire to improve with the bat and to turn his promising efforts into innings of substance and worth to the team while finding some as yet elusive consistency with the ball. If he can do either or both of the above, he may still blossom into one of the greatest English cricketers we have seen.

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