England arrived in South Africa's mother city yesterday wearing the daddy of all smiles. Their victory in the second Test in Durban on Wednesday was as crushing as it was unexpected and could hardly have provided a more stylish end to a year which began in acrimonious gloom.
The trick now will be to ensure that 2010 begins more brightly than its predecessor – when captain and coach were deposed in a few days of unimagined bloodletting – by resisting South Africa's inevitably robust response at Newlands. It may be one of the world's most romantic settings for a cricket ground, but it is in fact a fortress where South Africa have won 14 of their last 20 matches, and lost to only one other country.
By this stage in the series, it had been widely presumed that South Africa would have roughed up England with a barrage of mean fast bowling. But the only bruises the tourists had to show on reaching Cape Town for the third Test were on Paul Collingwood's dislocated index finger, sustained in fielding practice, and on various parts of the bodies of other team members where they could not stop pinching themselves.
Prominent among those yesterday was the tiro fast bowler Stuart Broad, who helped turn the match irrevocably in a regal spell of bowling on the fourth afternoon at Kingsmead. In 14 balls, helped by sublime late movement and hesitant South African bats, Broad removed the middle order. It wiped away in a trice the memory of his being hit for six sixes in an over by Yuvraj Singh in his only previous appearance at the ground.
For its impact it was reminiscent of his spell at The Oval last August when his five wickets against Australia turned the match and the Ashes England's way. At 23, it becomes ever more clear that Broad has the world at his feet. The off-spinner Graeme Swann rightly took the man of the match award at Durban for the second time in the series and has had a year of dreamlike achievement. But it cannot conceal that the future is opening up for Broad like Tower Bridge.
"One thing that helped me before this series was that I watched a bit of footage of Shaun Pollock because he's the type of bowler I want to be like," he said, reflecting on his six wickets in the match. "He seemed to get the ball to talk when the seam wasn't exactly perfectly bolt upright, when it was just wobbling slightly, it just sort of nipped either way and that's what I worked on with Ottis Gibson, our bowling coach, in the nets before the series. It's pleasing to get Jacques Kallis with one that just nipped back when the seam was wobbling."
Broad remains an unlikely concoction. Articulate, polite, blond, with soft, delicate features, he can turn into a snarling ogre on the field, with the sort of thunderous outbursts and temperamental tics with which fast bowlers are habitually associated. He looks like a baby-faced assassin.
In the first Test at Centurion, Broad was given out lbw after a review which took an eternity – well, 34 seconds – before South Africa requested it. When the finger was eventually raised Broad went and spoke to the umpire, Aleem Dar, instead of walking off. It looked awful, and if it was not dissent it was not etiquette either.
"I have not seen comments myself," Broad said. "Everyone knows I have got a pretty passionate outlook on my cricket and sometimes it does get the better of me. Certainly, a lot was made of the incident at Centurion but it was a very relaxed conversation.
"We'd been told that just a few seconds would be allowed for referrals and I thought 45 or 35 was quite a long time for that, so I was just double checking that they were sure South Africa didn't get a signal. There were no raised voices or swear words, but I probably should have waited for the tea interval to have that little chat rather than out on the field where everyone could see it. Again, you learn from your mistakes."
He is clearly a chip off the old block. His father, Chris, now a hard-line and respected ICC match referee, was frequently a contentious player. As an opening batsman he once refused to walk after a (dodgy) decision in Pakistan and on another occasion smashed down his stumps after being dismissed. It was suggested, mischievously, the other day by Sunil Gavaskar, the legendary former India batsman, that Broad Jnr is escaping censure because of Broad senior's official position.
"They're all grown men, aren't they?" said Broad Jnr. "I think if I have done something wrong they will let me know about it. The fact is I have done nothing to the degree where I should be getting fined or banned.
"All I have done is ask the question and I don't think that's ever been against the law. I am sure that when the time comes, as I'm equally sure it will in my career unless I get unbelievably better, that I get in a little bit of trouble I will get treated the same as everybody else in the rest of the world."
So he seems resigned to the fact that one day he will be nicked. He is aware that his behaviour will be monitored more closely perhaps because of his dad's misdemeanours. In short he will have to watch it.
"Certainly, the passion for the game I think I have got off my dad," he said. "I am just passionate to win games for my country and sometimes when things don't go my way I will get a little bit narky but I don't see that as a huge thing. It's crucial that I do carry myself in the right way. It's something that I am aware of, but my youthful exuberance sometimes gets the better of me, but hopefully not to the extent of hitting my stumps down or anything like that." How they laughed at that, how England are laughing before the serious business begins again on Sunday.Reuse content