England options enthuse Broad
Stuart Broad insists England’s poser over their XI to take on South Africa in the first Test at Centurion, which begins tomorrow, is an ideal problem to have.
The tourists effectively have to replace Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison, retired and dropped respectively, from the side that defeated Australia at the Brit Oval at the end of August to reclaim the Ashes - given that fit-again Kevin Pietersen is a shoo-in.
Left-arm seamer Ryan Sidebottom looks to have stamped his name on Harmison’s spot, thanks to a five-wicket haul in the second match against a South African Invitational XI at East London.
The question therefore is whether Ian Bell will retain his place, albeit dropping down the order from the Oval Test, or if the tourists will go with another bowling option - possibly Luke Wright, who would also bolster the batting, or a specialist seamer in Graham Onions.
England’s options, even at the dawn of the post-Flintoff era, come virtue of wicketkeeper Matt Prior’s batting average in excess of 44, meaning he can command a place in the top six if necessary.
Even if captain Andrew Strauss and team director Andy Flower retain Bell, thus going with six specialist batsmen, Broad is confident he and his fellow bowlers will be able to shoulder the workload at a ground that traditionally favours high-scoring.
“It’s a strong position to be in as a side,” he said. “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.
“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, having not won the first Test of an overseas tour since they beat the Proteas at Port Elizabeth in 2004-05.
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.”