Broad and the hacks – how journalism works

I have been intrigued recently by the treatment of golden boy Stuart Broad in the print media. Young Stewie has had a rough ride of late; injury, poor form and porous batting leading to questions about his place in the side, and understandably so. He went two-and-a-bit Tests without even taking a wicket, poor bloke, leading to him being dropped / rested in the Third Test against India. “Stuart Broad should be replaced by Steven Finn”, shouted Nasser Hussain in the Daily Mail, although the article that followed was a much more reasoned piece than the headline implied. George Dobell, in a front page op-ed on Cricinfo, opined in November that Broad was “at a crossroads.” This was strange, given that, as Dobell points out in the first couple of paragraphs of the article, Broad was the leading wicket-taker in the world in 2012 at the time of writing. Anyone would have thought, reading the headlines, that Broad was a hopeless under-performer who was merely in the side because of good looks alone.

Suddenly, BAM, Broad takes 6-51 with some quite brilliant seam bowling on a flat pitch in Wellington, and the headlines are awash with praise for the rosy-cheeked lad, with Jonathan Agnew, or, more specifically, his ghost writer, plumping for ‘Broad Back to his Best‘. The headlines were quick to mention his redemption and the countless hours the good-looking, blonde Broad spent going through his footage and picking up what had changed in his action… oh wait, that was his sister. We were quite surprised that no one talked about the ‘journey’ Broad had been on, or pointing to the savaging detractors who had ever doubted him (that would be the journos themselves).

So, what’s going on here?

Firstly, we have the vagaries of journalism. The great thing about this blog, at least as far as we’re concerned, is that there are no deadlines, no foul-mouthed editors over whom the Sword of Damocles is constantly hanging due to funding cuts. We can disappear off the radar for a few weeks and come back with some (hopefully) incisive observations that just pop into our heads. Hacks, however, have to write copy every day and, inevitably, sometimes have to feed off pretty thin pickings. When it comes to England, at the end of every day, the team make someone in the camp available to talk to the media, usually someone who’s had a good day. Then these poor, sunburnt journos turn whatever tidbits are thrown to them at the press conference into a piece ready for the next day’s copy. It’s a little vignette, stuck in time. The trouble is that three months earlier, the same hack may have written a piece which gives the opposite point of view based on what the same player said at that press conference.

Next, you have Stuart Broad. He’s a journalist’s dream, for a number of reasons. For one, he’s somewhat inconsistent, which means he generates differences of opinion, and therefore things to write about. He has extended periods of good or indifferent form, which in the latter case exposes him to sustained criticism. For another thing, he’s very active on Twitter, which is great, because it lets the journos get away with lazy journalism, such as this humdinger in The Sun. Thirdly, he’s good-looking, which gives the journalists more excuse to write about him because they can splash a large photo of Broad smiling / scowling over the top of the article. Cricinfo are particularly bad at this – Stewie seems to feature as the main photo on the front page so often it’s probably grounds to apply for a restraining order.

Applying the Broad example further, what you get from all these vignettes and op-ed pieces is the impression of a man who is so maddeningly mercurial that he might wake up one morning completely unable to bowl before taking all ten in an innings the following day. The trouble is that these snapshots act as microcosms that are applied to Broad’s career as a whole and ignore his success in favour of concentrating on all the things wrong with him.

Stats never tell the whole truth, but they can be helpful, so let’s look at some helpful ones:

Over Broad’s last 18 Tests (including this one), since the middle of 2011, he has taken 76 wickets at 24.98. In James Anderson’s last 18, he has taken 63 wickets at 30.04, a rather disappointing return by comparison, especially for someone who is regarded as the finest swing bowler in the world. At the start of this Test, Steven Finn had taken 71 wickets at 29.26 in his 18 Tests since March 2010 but with an economy rate 0.75 higher than Broad over the same number of matches (an eyewatering 3.63 rpo). In other words, despite his apparent dips in form and injury record, Broad is in fact England’s most successful seamer over the last couple of years.

Journalists generally are quick to point out, in relation to Anderson, that it took him an age to establish himself in the England side; that he was not fulfilling his potential. They’re right – at the end of 2009, after 44 of his 79 Tests, Anderson’s Test average stood at an unwieldy 34.85. So why is the same point not made by journalists of Broad? After all, after 20 Tests, Broad’s average stood at 40.21. Over 40! (In the 34 Tests since then it is under 28).

What I particularly dislike is the double standards of (most) of the journalists, who are too short-sighted to notice that Broad is only just entering the peak of his career. Only 6 pace bowlers have ever taken more Test wickets before turning 27 (and Broad isn’t 27 until the end of June) and only one, Botham, is English. He’s in pretty esteemed company and it’s evidence, as if it were needed, that world class seamers are grown not made. Plus he has a knack for bowling match-winning spells in key matches (think the Oval in 2009); performing under pressure is an extremely un-English attribute.

So, in short, please can we leave Stuart alone? No, of course not, because journalists have a family to feed, just like anyone else and that involves producing tomorrow’s chip-wrappers today.

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2 Comments

  1. Some beautiful turns of phrase in this piece, and your analysis is right on the money too. I think in every international team it is inevitable that the media at large will create a few larger than life personalities, Broad and KP in England, Watson and Mitchell Johnson in Australia, McCullum in New Zealand. Media interest very rarely reflects a player’s importance to a team, in a just world we would see daily stories about Trott flicking the ball to mid wicket for a single and Kallis would be the most famous sportsman in the world.

    Reply
  1. The Over: England v New Zealand: First Test, Days 2, 3 and 4 | Two Grumpy England Cricket Fans

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