Cape Town – For all the fuss around Kevin Pietersen’s
omission from the England side for the decisive third Test against South Africa
at Lord’s from Thursday, there may be some irony in the fact that Stuart Broad
arguably shapes as the Proteas’ main obstacle to moving to No 1 in the Test
rankings over the course of the next few days.
There is little doubt that the absence of the
ever-controversial, Maritzburg-born Pietersen, fresh off a smoking-gun knock of
149 in the drawn second Test at Headingley, takes away a significant amount of
menace from England’s batting order, whatever the merits or demerits of his
cold shoulder treatment.
But if there is a remaining, genuine “form” player in the
home ranks for this enticing encounter – the Proteas will both win the series
and go top of the global pile if they simply avoid defeat – it is probably
lower order all-rounder Broad.
The irony of that situation lies in the fact that the lanky
26-year-old has been the subject of rumours in the last few days that he, as
much as any other player, has been at odds with the big-personality Pietersen
in the England dressing room.
It stems from the fact that a fake, mocking “KP” Twitter
account was created during Pietersen’s spat with his England bosses by a known
friend of Broad’s.
The account has since been taken down, but Broad – England’s
Twenty20 captain and now one of their senior players across the codes -- was
forced to go as far as to officially deny any involvement in its establishment.
The incident is sure to leave at least some sort of
aftertaste, even if it appears there are fresh conciliatory moves featuring
Pietersen and the ECB.
But if the Proteas feel they may have an easier ride in this
Test match, on paper, given Pietersen’s sudden omission after being such a
stalwart of their middle order, they would do well to consider that Broad may
just be particularly fired-up to shine at Lord’s.
While it is sometimes suggested that visiting teams to the
hallowed venue often get a bigger thrill out of playing there than England do,
because of the rarer opportunities to get on the honours boards for centuries
or major hauls of wickets, Broad might be considered an “exception” to the
trend because it is traditionally a very happy hunting ground for him.
He also enters the Test on a personal roll, after being the
one England paceman to finally get a bee in his bonnet at Leeds – Broad had
gone wicketless in the hammering at The Oval -- where he grabbed a
second-innings “five-for” with some hostile fare.
Included among his victims was the prize scalp of Jacques
Kallis, out gloving a short-pitched snorter as he tried in vain to evade it.
Broad’s was perhaps the most aggressive spell of shock
bowling on either side yet in the series, which has been marked mostly by
slowish pitches and thus not quite the level of high-pace thrills anticipated
before series hostilities began.
He and Lord’s have been productive bedfellows: in his last
Test there, against West Indies earlier this season, Broad grabbed career-best
single-innings figures of seven for 72 in the tourists’ first knock, and
followed it up with another four scalps in the second for comfortable rights to
the player-of-the-match award.
Against India at the same ground in 2011 – a major series
England won with surprising ease – he claimed seven wickets in the match and
also struck an unbeaten 74.
Just a year earlier, Lord’s was also the location for
Broad’s career-best batting effort: a remarkable, record-breaking innings of
169 from as low as the No 9 position after England had collapsed to 102 for
seven in the first innings against Pakistan.
Thanks to his heroics, in tandem with a big century from
Jonathan Trott (a slightly less tempestuous South African-born England batsman
than Pietersen is) the hosts recovered to an entirely beefier 446 all out.
Whether Pietersen had turned out or not, smart money
suggests South Africa will do enough to secure the series at Lord’s, on current
form and based on notably greater team stability, too.
But they might do well to consider that a certain SCJ Broad,
who has got under the Proteas’ skins before, will be among remaining England
players with determined, party-spoiling plans.
*Play starts at noon (SA time) from Thursday.
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing