It was a festive and confident Stuart Broad who spoke before the first Test with South Africa, claiming the loss of his teammate Jimmy Anderson was “not a hammer blow” for the tourists and that lessons learned in 2015 will serve them well over the course of a four-match series he believes will be “epic”.
Broad will lead England’s attack against the world’s No1 Test side in Durban on Boxing Day, after the calf strain that has troubled Anderson since the start of the tour was deemed a risk too great for an England management planning for back-to-back Test matches with just two days in between.
“Of course it’s disappointing when you lose the spearhead of your attack but I think it’s just a real slight niggle and the management decided it really wasn’t worth the risk in the first Test,” said Broad, decked out in a Christmas hat after the morning’s net session at Kingsmead and speaking about Anderson’s absence.
“We do know this is a four-Test series and we want him to play a part in it. We’ve got such depth in the squad there’s not the need to take a risk. He’s disappointed but with the strength in depth we’ve got in this group it’s not a hammer blow to us.”
Chris Woakes is expected to deputise for Anderson, with Steven Finn – fit again after a bone-stress injury to his left foot – and Ben Stokes making up a four-man seam attack, with spinner Moeen Ali for support.
Broad, who explained what being attack leader means, insists his regular new ball partner will still have a strong input into the plans.
“Jimmy has already declared himself [bowling coach] Ottis Gibson’s assistant. We haven’t toured here for six years – a long gap – but he will be able to help whoever takes the new ball. Jimmy said that when he missed two Tests in the Ashes, you see the game differently from the changing room to the middle. Having that experience to feed back into the group will help.
“We’re not sure what to expect out there yet – we’re still a couple of days out from the Test – but we’ll just have to react as quickly as we can. Being the leader of the attack is just that – being talkative and communicative with the group and making sure the bowlers adapt to the conditions quicker than their batsmen.”
South Africa go into the series following a 3-0 defeat in India themselves and with just one of their Test batsman, Temba Bavuma, registering a half-century in the round of domestic first-class matches played since, there is a sense they are vulnerable.
Broad claims the opposition, despite such stellar names as AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla in their ranks, are not being dwelled upon too much as was the case during the Ashes last summer. And besides, England are winless in four Tests themselves.
“All our talk within our group has been focused on us and what we have to do to win here. We know that runs in the first innings are very important – 350 plus – so we have to navigate the new ball well as a batting group and score big runs. So we’re focused on that.
“We know the dangers in their team. Any team with De Villiers, Amla Steyn and Morkel in are going to be dangerous. We’ve got huge respect for them but we learned lessons in the Ashes.
“We’re not playing the men, we’re not playing De Villiers the name, we’re playing a batsman and a ball. That’s what we took strength from in the Ashes with Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke. We’re playing to our strengths and not going to be too focused on what South Africa are doing.
“As a team when you have not won for a while you are feeling around a bit. England are in no different a position. We didn’t win against Pakistan in the UAE, we’ve not won for four Tests – both teams are so similar it will be a pretty epic series, I think.”
A dry pitch with patches of green greeted England on Christmas Eve, with Broad expecting reverse swing to play a part; the encouraging performance of England’s seamers in that 2-0 defeat to Pakistan could pay off here.
Broad remembers similar conditions here during the last tour of South Africa in 2009 – England won by an innings after nine wickets for spinner Graeme Swann and six for himself – although by his own admission, he remains a poor judge of a pitch.
Asked about the surface, he replied: “I’m useless at judging a cricket wicket, I wanted to bat at Trent Bridge during the summer [when Australia were bowled out for 60]. There is patchiness and that’s interesting as a bowler because when it doesn’t look completely smooth you know there could be some different bounce off the different parts of the wicket.
“All the talk is dryness and I remember reverse swing last time. So it’s important we take on the lessons from the UAE because our seamers over there bowled really nicely. It’s important we don’t leave those lessons in the UAE and if we get any chance to reverse it we throw ourself into it as a team – because the ball moving sideways means you’re in the game.”
This article was written by Ali Martin in Durban, for theguardian.com on Thursday 24th December 2015 12.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010