England great Stuart Broad will walk away from his cricketing “love affair” at the end of the Ashes, retiring from the sport full of pride and racked by emotion.
Broad announced his surprise decision to head into the sunset after Day 3 of England’s fifth and final Test against rivals Australia, guaranteeing a rousing send off for one of the country’s best-loved athletes.
A sold-out Sunday crowd at the Kia Oval are sure to raise the roof for the 37-year-old, whose outstanding form this summer appeared to pave the way for plenty more to come.
But while his long-time partner James Anderson appears dead set on continuing, Broad has decided to bow out on his own terms at the end of a captivating series against rivals who have defined his career.
Whether or not he gets a dream farewell depends on events over the next 48 hours, but an England lead of 377 means they are well-placed to send him on his way in triumphant fashion.
He and Anderson may still have to bat together one last time after finishing not out overnight, but Broad will soon be strapping his trusty bowling boots back on and hunting Australian wickets in what promises to be a stirring swansong.
Reflecting on the imminent end of his 18-year career, and 17 as an international, he said: “I knew deep down that I wanted to finish playing cricket at the very top. I’ve had a love affair with the Ashes my whole life and the thought of being able to bowl my last ball and face my last ball against Australia fills me with joy.
“It’s certainly emotional. It’s a blur. I still love playing the game, I love being in the changing room and I wanted to have those memories leaving the game. That will definitely make me stay in love with the game of cricket for the rest of my life.
“This has been the most enjoyable series, the most entertaining series, the most edge-of-the-seat series that I can remember. I’ve loved that eye-to-eye battle, I’ve loved the energy the crowd brings, the rivalry.”
Broad’s legacy is a profound one. He has played 344 times for his country across all three formats and sits fifth on the all-time list of Test wicket-takers. Among seamers, he is second only to Anderson.
He was a T20 World Cup winner in 2010 – England’s first global white-ball title – and later captained his country in the format before becoming a red-ball specialist in his latter years.
That proved an inspired move as he and Anderson redrew the barriers of longevity for fast bowlers. Earlier this month, he joined Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne, Anil Kumble and Anderson as the only players in history to pass 600 Test scalps. He could be the last.
But he offered a humble assessment of his qualities, focusing on his desire and work-rate rather than his penchant for match-winning hot streaks or abilities with swing and seam.
“When I was a kid growing up I had sporting idols like Martin Johnson and Stuart Pearce. When I watched them, I loved their passion and drive,” he said.
“I never looked at them and thought ‘I could give more for that shirt’. So I’ve never wanted anyone in the crowd, or watching at home, or listening on the radio, to think ‘he’s not putting in, he’s not giving absolutely everything’. I know I am not the most skilful player that’s played. I know I need every inch of my competitive spirit and my drive and my effort to get anything out of my ability.
“But I would say every day I’ve pulled on a Nottinghamshire shirt or an England shirt, I’ve given my heart and soul. I can’t think there’ll be too many cricket fans out there who would think I’ve slacked off for a moment.”
Captain Ben Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum, who handed him the final chapter he craved after was dropped by the previous regime for last year’s tour of the West Indies, were first to find out on Friday evening.
He went to tell his team-mates over their morning kickabout on Saturday morning, choking up when he shared the news with Anderson, who turns 41 on Sunday but is ready to continue.
But if he had any doubts about his decision, the thought of spending more time with fiancee Mollie King and eight-month old daughter Annabella win out.
“I’ve been home maybe seven or eight nights this summer. I feel like I haven’t seen Mollie and Annabella as much as I would like to at such a young age. I love everything about being a Dad and will throw all my time and effort into being a great Dad.
“Did that come into my decision? Potentially. There’s certainly something that fills my heart with joy that I’ll be able to spend a bit more time at home.”