Broad shrugs off shocking past
Stuart Broad needs no reminding of the shock of a World Twenty20 defeat against a minor nation as he prepares to lead England against Afghanistan at the R Premadasa Stadium. He bowled the final over in the first Twenty20 international ever staged at Lord's three years ago and fell to his knees and held his hands to his face in despair as Netherlands won the game off the last ball.
It was the sort of over that must still be scarred in his memory. Netherlands needed seven to win and as they scrambled five from the first five balls, Broad missed two fleeting run-out chances and a return catch. With two needed from the final ball, Edgar Schiferli hacked the ball back, Broad collected in his follow through but his throw missed once more and Netherlands grabbed victory with the overthrow.
For more scarring, consider Broad's previous experience in World Twenty20. On a balmy night in Durban in 2007, Yuvraj Singh struck him for six sixes in an over. As ball after ball disappeared into the night sky, it invited concern so early in his career that, at 21, he would ever fully recover.
Now here he is, sharp and confident, captaining England in a major tournament. England's coach, Andy Flower, has identified in him the sort of attributes he thinks a T20 captain needs: intelligence, quick-wittedness, a willingness to act on instinct, adventure and aggression. Broad's early cricket experiences might have destroyed him but he had too much dog in him to let it happen.
He agreed with the suggestion that adventure is part of his make-up, an example perhaps of how much more aggressively cricket would be played if more bowlers were made captain. "I like to take wickets and see wickets and chances," he said, "and I think in T20 cricket you have to risk a boundary to take a wicket. As a bowler I think I am more wicket-based than some.
"If someone wants to try to hit a spinner over mid-on, with the ball turning away from the blade, there is a chance of taking a wicket. I think with the heavies - myself, Finny, Jade, Bres - it is a great shot for someone to stand and belt us over mid-off from a heavy length so maybe keeping mid-off up is an option."
As Broad captains England in a major tournament for the first time, it will be intriguing to observe him. The desire to succeed burns within. Alastair Cook, who has replaced Andrew Strass as Test and one-day captain, is an equable sort who would benefit from a passionate vice-captain, officially or unofficially, and Broad can advance his candidature over the coming weeks.
Afghanistan revealed enough against India to warn England that they are immensely dangerous. Warm-up wins against Australia and Pakistan will count for nothing when Shapoor Zadran is flinging down his fast left-arm at close to 95mph or Mohammad Shahzad is unveiling his Dhoni-style helicopter shot.
"It's all about winning," he said. "It is a proud moment to lead England out any time you do and on a world stage it gives it an extra oomph as well but it will be down there with the biggest lows if we don't win.
"Any international you have to be on top of your game. Look at the times we haven't been. Ireland took us down in a 50-over game and the Netherlands took us down as well. The shorter the game the more dangerous these teams are and Afghanistan aren't going to hold back with the bat, put it that way. It will be important we keep our cool."
Broad talking of the need for people to keep their cool has a certain irony to it, but he has matured since those early days when everybody was on the lookout for the merest hint of petulance. A reputation for stroppiness is barely half the story; he has the ability to be charming and polite. As a cricketer, his batting has not developed and at times his bowling this summer was disturbingly down on pace, but he has shown a capacity to learn and, as his figures reveal , his ability to lift his game at crucial stages is undeniable.
As England's T20 captain, he also knows in every media conference he fulfils it will only be a matter of time before he is asked what he thinks of Kevin Pietersen (about two seconds on this occasion, which is par for the course).
It was a neat exchange.
Questioner: "What have you made of Kevin on the telly?"
Broad: "I've got this Formula One game at the minute. I'm a bit addicted to it, so I've not seen anything."
At last, against Afghanistan on Friday night, England will have reached the point where the situation is reversed: Pietersen, shunned by England, is to his great chagrin the TV pundit; Broad, his computer game safely packed away for a while, is the captain who must plan without him. The more appropriate question from now on is what Kevin Pietersen thinks of Stuart Broad.
Broad steeled himself to watch Afghanistan lose to India on the TV and, considering his history, there were enough times when Afghanistan came close to an upset that he must have been reaching out insecurely for his F1 game long before the end of the game.
England are in Sri Lanka as defending champions and ranked No. 1 in T20 cricket yet few people confidently predict that they can win the tournament, especially in the absence of You Know Who. Morale plays a high part in T20 and, as Jimmy Eat World once sung, Broad's young team are not about to life their live wondering; they are on their feet, on the floor and good to go.
"I don't think being defending champions puts added pressure on us," Broad said. "In T20 cricket what you did in January is pretty irrelevant form-wise, let alone what you did two years ago. The game evolves so quickly. It's all about which team turns up for the three weeks the tournament is on. It's very hard to pick a winner, a favourite. It's all about who turns up on that day. There are some exciting, strong teams around.
"I'll be captain for a month and it's brilliant. You get to know your players a lot better and get to see everything in a lot more detail. That's actually given me extra excitement because before this I didn't know loads about Jos Buttler or Danny Briggs. They come in and do things that excite you as a player. The important thing in a tournament is to have belief in your team-mates so to have a month together and see what guys do in training and games builds up that belief."
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo