STUART BROAD: Boy does it feel good to be back on a cricket pitch

It’s only 12 overs so far, but boy does it feel good to be back on a cricket pitch… and I don’t see problem if Dad’s the ref for England Test series

  • Broad bowled properly for the first time since returning from Sri Lanka
  • The paceman is building up to the fitness required to bowl in a Test match
  • Director of cricket Ashley Giles has been in regular contact with the players 

I was only bowling at an empty net, and yet, when I left Trent Bridge on both Thursday and Friday there was a real ‘wow’ feeling. It felt really good to be back out in the middle again.

There’s something about the place. Even if there’s no one else in the ground it has an aura. There are only a few grounds in the world that are similar: Cape Town, Lord’s, Sydney, the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. They all have a presence.

It was the first time I’d bowled properly since we returned from the tour of Sri Lanka 10 weeks ago. To be fair, although I’ve only bowled 12 overs so far, the action feels pretty solid.

Stuart Broad bowled properly for the first time since returning from Sri Lanka 10 weeks ago

Of course the circumstances of returning to safe practice were a little strange. I drove into the car park at the Trent Bridge Inn, found my own parking space with no cars parked within two spaces of me, and when I got out I was signposted all the way to the field of play.

There, I met up with James Pipe, the Nottinghamshire physio, and he showed me where my designated toilet was. Mine was a ladies one, as it happens.

When we got out into the middle, the net had already been erected by Steve Birks, the groundsman, and the stumps were in the ground, with a set of balls also waiting for me. Those six brand new Dukes are assigned to me for this period of training. The theory is that only one skin comes into contact with them.

So when I knocked one of the stumps out of the ground, I retrieved the ball and James, who has been instructed to wear gloves as part of the protocols, replaced the stump. I must say, that was a pleasing feeling — thankfully, they were well-watered holes!

The England paceman is attempting to reach the fitness required to bowl in a Test match

Then we did some aerobic stuff. As part of our training with Nottinghamshire, we do an exercise we call the stag run. It is a variation of the training routine used by the Brisbane Broncos rugby league team they call the Bronco.

It’s a set of shuttle runs — 20 metres and back, followed by 40 metres and back, then 60 metres and back. The aim is to run it five times as fast as you can.

For now, while I’m getting back into things, I’m having between 30 seconds and a minute of recovery between each set. The target is to improve my time significantly by June 15. If James and I are doing that three times a week, we will get better pretty quickly.

I have done quite a bit of long distance running at a slower pace during these last couple of months but the good thing about the stag run is that it is done at about run-up pace. And it incorporates turning too, which gets the body into similar scenarios that you would encounter on the field — like changing direction to chase the ball. It all seemed over in a flash really but that was in keeping with what we have been told to do: get in, bowl, get out. We’re not lingering.

Over the next couple of weeks. it will be about building up the loads because whatever you might do to try to replicate bowling in the gym you need six-over spells at full intensity consistently to get the kind of fitness required to bowl in a Test match.

Chris Woakes welcomed the return of some familiar aches and pains after resuming training

What I mean by that is that even Jessica Ennis-Hill — one of our country’s best-ever athletes — in her peak would find it hard if asked to bowl half a dozen overs if she’s not been conditioned to do it. She could do all the elements she would normally perform on a track to win gold medals but bowling that amount of overs requires a different type of fitness.

Although I felt great, on the second morning I woke up at half past six to discover muscles I’d forgotten existed. That’s what bowling does to you! Even bending down to touch my toes caused me to grimace a little. I could feel my sides too. I wouldn’t call it pain. I was just very aware that my body had been doing something different again. Later, I spoke to Chris Woakes, who had been training at Edgbaston, and he felt the same.

After I posted some pictures on Instagram, the number of messages I received from professional cricketers was incredible. There was a common theme — things like ‘I’m so jealous’ and ‘I wish it was me’. Everyone is missing the game.

The next step, in a few weeks — once the body and lungs are used to continuous bowling — will be to introduce batsmen but for now it is small steps.

I have been comfortable enough returning to training in these circumstances. The only thing I struggled with, to be honest, was how to sign online to opt-in, after downloading an app.

Ashley Giles, England’s director of cricket, has been in regular contact with the players

The opt-in for professional sport is led by Government and, as I understand it, supported by the ECB. But the only thing I wanted to double-check was whether it affected life insurance.

I wanted to make sure that in opting-in, I wasn’t opting out of all my protection.

Ashley Giles, England’s director of cricket, has been great. Ashley and his senior colleagues have been excellent at communicating during this pandemic. The communication has been open and honest.

It would be so easy in a situation like this to feel that you are just doing something for the TV money but Ashley has been very clear that our health is his number one priority.

There has been no pressure to sign the form and I genuinely believe him when he says nothing will be held against players who decide not to come back under the current circumstances.

I certainly don’t feel as though my hands are tied in any way, shape or form. It feels like my decision to go back to training — to get into the best possible shape to play for England in July.

I hope every player feels the same. There is a long way to get back to playing international cricket again, of course, as getting one person to train is a different kettle of fish to getting 30-40 players in a camp.

I feel very safe, reflecting on what I’ve done over the last few days, but who knows what will happen in a month? It’s such a long period of time. We don’t know what the Government stance will be at the end of June. How much will the restrictions have been eased?

At the moment, we are planning to go into a bio-secure environment around that time and not come out until all the cricket’s finished.

Yes, it might feel weird to play Test matches behind closed doors but what I would say is that we have all come through the county system.

Where we differ from Premier League footballers and arguably Premiership rugby players is that there have been many times when we have walked out after tea on a Wednesday afternoon for, say, Nottinghamshire versus Hampshire, and there have been 200 people in the ground.

We’ve played in near-to-empty stadiums, even in international cricket abroad when not many people have turned up.

So I don’t think we’ll rely on the atmosphere as much as maybe footballers will.

I don’t see problem if Dad’s the ref

This situation has led to the prospect of my dad Chris being match referee in England’s Test series versus West Indies and Pakistan this summer, and some people have questioned whether this is appropriate.

Sure, if he was an umpire I could understand that because he could have a subconscious influence on decisions that are made on the field.

No offence to him here but he sits in an office and if I, or anyone else, breaks the code of conduct he simply looks up the regulations in a handbook and determines the appropriate sanction from the relevant section. There is no emotion in a match referee’s job. And there is likely to be no contact between us.

Stuart’s dad Chris could be the match referee for Test series against West Indies and Pakistan

If I was to be caught swearing on camera — like I was at Faf du Plessis in Johannesburg in January — there’s no haggling over the punishment. It’s not as if I can go into a room and barter to only pay 12 per cent of a 15 per cent match fee fine. Immediately after that particular game, for example, I went into the match referee’s office with the two umpires, and Bruce Oxenford, who was third umpire. I was told they were going to sanction me for what I said at the time.

I told them I couldn’t remember what I’d said. But Bruce, as TV umpire, had heard it and had an audio clip. It was as clear as day. Faf was having a go at Sam Curran and I stepped in. I couldn’t argue against that. I was being reprimanded with a fine and one demerit point because I’d sworn on television. Pleading not guilty in that kind of situation would result in the punishment increasing. In the unlikely scenario that I was required for a code of conduct hearing, it could be carried out with another match referee remotely.

From experience, and I’ve played 138 Tests, you only see a match ref if you’re in trouble. Often they are sat in a different building. You only tend to meet at breakfast in the hotel or on the outfield before the start of play.

From a selfish point of view, I’d love the chance to be able to have a coffee and catch-up with dad in a bio-secure environment.

There have been many times over the years where I’ve only bumped into him for a few minutes in Dubai airport when our flights have crossed.

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