Broad the key to balance for England

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The Independent Online

The balance of England's team for tomorrow's first Test has long been a vexed question - and Stuart Broad is a pivotal figure in the selectors' deliberations.

Andrew Strauss, Andy Flower and Ashley Giles have little time left to make up their mind on the permutations of six specialist batsmen, five bowlers or an all-rounder to take on South Africa at Centurion.

High among the deciding factors will be Broad's capabilities not just as a frontline bowler but as a feasible Test number seven.

Broad has demonstrated potential in the latter role and, never more so than in last summer's Ashes-clinching Test victory at The Oval, serious credentials in the former.

But his bowling readiness for a Test was slightly unconvincing in the warm-up fixtures at East London last week.

The man himself, however, believes England have the strength in depth to cover all bases - whoever is picked alongside him.

"It's a strong position to be in as a side," he said, assessing the choices facing England's selectors.

"We have options of going either way.

"Obviously if we go with six batters it leaves the bowlers with quite a workload, but I think we have the bowlers who can cope."

Broad's likely new-ball partner James Anderson went some way yesterday - in eight overs during a middle practice at Pretoria's High Performance Centre - to proving his match fitness, despite an ongoing mystery knee injury.

Ryan Sidebottom, meanwhile, impressed in taking five wickets in the second of last week's matches.

"It's a great position to be in to be able to make the choice," added Broad, who senses England are ready for a high-stakes series despite their low-key preparation.

"The whole team are in a good place," he believes.

"We've been a little hampered by the weather in the last few weeks. But we won our last Test series against Australia, and confidence is high.

"It's just up to us to make sure we hit them hard in the first Test - and we are trying hard to make sure we do that."

A strong start is something England have rarely managed on their Test travels in recent years.

But Broad said: "We have looked at South Africa's strengths and weaknesses and we see it as a great opportunity to start the series hard.

"We want to make sure we start well, and that's what we are focused on."