Simply being back in an England shirt would have gladdened Stuart Broad's young heart. And there is no doubt he should be a key member of all three of the country's international cricket teams for years to come. But you could almost see him shedding rust yesterday when the rain finally relented in Cardiff.
While England had a winter to treasure – well, at least until the World Cup wheels started flying off in various directions – Broad did not know whether to laugh or cry during December and January: laugh at the Ashes-winning triumph of his Test team-mates or cry at missing out on most of a glory, glory mission because of a serious abdominal strain that ended his tour after two Tests.
But even that was not the end of the fast bowler's injury misery. He recovered in time to take his place in the World Cup party, only to discover he had somehow broken a rib while helping England to achieve their best win of a tournament campaign doomed to failure. Broad took 4 for 15 in a low-scoring thriller against South Africa but found himself on board another homeward-bound plane soon after.
From that moment, the 24-year-old set his sights on being fit and ready for the first Test of this summer. And he made it with ease, England's selectors apparently slotting him into their squad for Sophia Gardens without a second thought. But while Broad was undoubtedly fit, it is reasonable to ask whether he was entirely ready for his return to the main stage.
Broad played two Championship matches for Nottinghamshire this month, which was the same early season workload given to his two pace partners in Cardiff, Jimmy Anderson and Chris Tremlett. But while there was no suggestion that Anderson and Tremlett were short of a gallop after a busy winter, even one of those people closest to Broad wondered out loud whether he might be undercooked.
Mick Newell, director of cricket at Trent Bridge, had no doubt England would pick his man and added he was confident the move would bring success. But, having seen Broad take five wickets at a total cost of 222 runs in 58 overs against Sussex and Warwickshire, Newell conceded it was still a case of searching for "rhythm and form". That search continued yesterday – and without immediately bearing much fruit.
Andrew Strauss gave Broad the new ball, in partnership with Anderson, but saw England's newly appointed Twenty20 captain struggle to find the sort of consistency that was a hallmark of the team's success in Australia. There were some good deliveries, as one would expect on a pitch offering just a hint of assistance if no pace whatsoever during the first few overs. But there was too much loose stuff as well – meat and drink to Sri Lanka's in-form openers Tillakaratne Dilshan and Tharanga Paranavitana.
Broad's first four overs went for 18 runs while the next six, during a second spell, cost a further 22. Not quite the sparkling return the bowler had dreamed of.
There is plenty of time in this Test for Broad to find his A game. But yesterday's start was sluggish enough to leave most people wondering whether England might have been a little hasty in rushing back a recently injured bowler.
It is not as though England are short of choice when it comes to fast bowlers. Even with Tim Bresnan injured, they have Steven Finn, Graham Onions and Ajmal Shahzad eager to please.Reuse content