Stuart Broad arranges farewell Test to his liking as bandana bows out | Andy Bull

Stuart Broad came into this Ashes armed with 582 Test wickets, a burning desire to stick it to the Australians one last time, just enough bluster to disguise the fact that these days he bowls an 80mph bouncer, and a bandana. You mustn’t forget the bandana. It was a lockdown thing. Other people came out of those months with a breadmaker and a repertoire of sourdough-loaf recipes, a newfound appreciation for their children’s primary school teachers, or any one of a number of debilitating social complexes, but Broad emerged from them with the inspiration for his latest character, the last in his series of Bowie-esque reinventions as a performer.

The bandana was meant, Broad said, to stop him touching his face, but once he tried it on it became something else. You could see him workshopping the look on his Instagram feed: “Trying to check wrist position but all I can see is the headband,” he wrote under one slo-mo video of himself bowling in the nets, then, under another: “Think the headband might be here to stay.” In the conventional telling of Broad’s story, the turning point in the late years of his career was when he gave a furious TV interview after being dropped for a Test against West Indies at Southampton; really, that was just him killing off Ziggy on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon.

A week later, the headband made its Test debut. Broad refined the character, in time, into the Nighthawk, a freewheeling meme-merchant, with a penchant for bullshit and bucket hats. It has brought him 117 wickets at an average of 24, which makes it one of his best iterations, an improvement, for sure, on “the enforcer” he played in the early 2010s, a little less effective than his thin-in-whites-with-a-Duke period around the middle of that same decade, when he was at his very best, but more entertaining than in the straight and sober years that followed, when he only bowled back of a length and worried about his economy rate.

The Nighthawk began preparing for this series in April, when he announced, during a County Championship match, that he had developed an away-swinger especially for Marnus Labuschagne, a trick which he picked up from Shane Warne and which paid off at Edgbaston when, after months of fretting, Labuschagne duly got out to the first delivery Broad bowled to him in this series. He was still playing mind games with Labuschagne four Tests later, when he stepped into his crease midway through his innings here at the Oval to switch the bails around on his wicket. Labuschagne got out to the next delivery.

Stuart Broad bowling during day four of the fifth Ashes Test
Stuart Broad – bandana in place – has had an excellent Ashes. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Broad warmed up for the series with a marathon spell of commercial appearances, for Marmite, Laithwaites and Sage, in which he waged a sort of one-man phoney war on Australia. It peaked when he announced that the previous Ashes series was void on the grounds that it had been played during the pandemic. It was like work for his performance at Lord’s, where he arrived at the crease in the moments after Jonny Bairstow had been stumped while he wandered out of his ground, and then spent two hours ridiculing the Australians – “Are you going to appeal for that too?” – in between fending off a series of 90mph bouncers.

His bowling these days is a display of how much you can do to get a batsman out without actually using the ball at all. You can see it in the way he reacts to even the most innocuous deliveries, raising one arm in half an appeal even he wouldn’t have the gall to finish; or stopping to stroke his chin and plot his next delivery while he studies the replay on the big screen; the way he ostentatiously sets his field into the most predictable traps for the batsman, and moves his hands to illustrate to everyone the way the ball was supposed to swing after he bungs one wide down the leg side.

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There’s his celebrappeal, when he charges down the pitch before spinning on his heels, and the way he works the crowd at the end of his run, whipping them with a twist of his wrist, like a lead singer giving instructions to his rhythm section. It’s all amateur dramatics, a masterclass in cricket theatrics. And it’s already got him 20 wickets in the series. At this point, Broad is so deep inside some Australian minds that it will take years of therapy to prise him out again, David Warner’s Rorschach tests must just turn up the same answers for every slide. “It’s Broad angling the ball in at me, from around the wicket.”

He even managed to arrange his farewell Test to his liking. Broad insisted that he only made the decision to quit at 8.30pm on Friday; it was, presumably, just a happy coincidence that his entire family happened to be there the next day, and that Sky, which is his next employer, happened to have a long montage of his career highlights ready to go at the end of play. He didn’t want to overshadow the Test, he explained, by announcing the decision before the game. So much more discreet to do it midway through. He’s like the charity donor who can’t stop telling everyone that he kept his name out of it because he wanted to be anonymous.

So, Broad got his guard of honour, and even made them wait a few minutes before he walked out with his great mate Jimmy Anderson to face one last over from Mitchell Starc, who obliged him by bowling one last short ball. Broad rocked back on his heels and whipped it for six over midwicket. “Who writes your scripts for you?” Graham Gooch once asked Ian Botham. Broad, of course, writes his own.