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December 31, 2009
Stuart Broad can now remember Durban for the good times. His fourth-afternoon spell of three wickets in 15 balls helped put England on course for their crushing innings-and-98-run victory and it was far cry from his previous experience on his ground. During the 2007 World Twenty20 he was clobbered for six sixes in an over by Yuvraj Singh and has been reminded about it many times since.
Now, though, after ripping out Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy in a dramatic post-tea session there is a different Kingsmead story to talk about. "I made sure I bowled at the other end," he said with a laugh. "It's a very different format of the game - and I can't remember what happened yesterday, let alone years ago.
"But I've learned a lot since back then and I'm feeling confident with where my game is at the moment. It was nice to get six wickets in the game at a ground I didn't have too many fond memories of. To have won one of the best Test matches abroad that I've been involved in will certainly diminish the memories I had left of that poor day.
He also believes that such experiences have helped him develop on the world stage, although that may have been quite hard to see while Yuvraj was launching him towards the ocean. "I've always been a big believer that you learn most from your mistakes," he added. "It was a pretty brutal way to be introduced to international cricket. I'm pleased the way I've reacted to failures in the past, and it's up to me to keep doing that."
For a bowler who was on the verge of being dropped four Tests ago, Broad has made significant strides to now be a key part of England's four-man attack. He has ended 2009 as the third-highest wicket-taker for the year with 47 wickets at 28.36, six behind his destroyer-in-arms, Graeme Swann. Still, if it hadn't been for Andrew Flintoff's omission at Headingley due to injury Broad would have been left out after a poor start to the Ashes series.
Instead he took 6 for 91 - a flattering analysis as Australia romped to victory, but still career-best - and then there was his day in the sun at The Oval. What people really wanted to know, though, was could he do it again?
His most recent spell provided the answer. In 15 balls he extracted three high-class batsmen as Kallis, de Villiers and Duminy each departed to a variety of leaves. Kallis' was the most dramatic as the off-stump went cart-wheeling then de Villiers padded up and Duminy dragged on.
"It was pleasing to get Kallis with one that nipped back when the seam was wobbling," he said. "One thing that helped me before this series was to watch a bit of footage on Shaun Pollock because he's the sort of bowler I want to be like.
"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 nipped either way, on the South African wickets. It was a very happy moment when I saw Kallis raising his arms - because I knew it was not missing the off-stump; I just felt like it was tailing back."
Broad's development as a Test cricketer mirrors, in many ways, that of the team from an inconsistent performer capable of occasional glimpses of something special to a consistent threat on the world stage. People still point to an average the wrong side of thirty, but it's on the way down and as batsman's averages have climbed over the last decade so have bowler's. Broad has been the only ever-present in the England attack this year, which shows a wise investment from the management and they are now getting the rewards.
"I'm fortunate at my age to have experienced quite a lot of different conditions round the world," he said. "We're learning as a bowling unit that pressure is getting us wickets. We're not necessarily bowling huge, reverse-swinging yorkers. It's the pressure we're building from both ends."
"We're improving all the time. It's crucial that we don't get carried away, though. It was a great lesson in the Ashes series in the Test where we could have won the Ashes but were terrible at Headingley. It just shows we shouldn't look too far ahead. We're always a better team when we're talking about winning the next hour or the next session.
"The shorter targets are really helping us as a team, and that's something we'll take into Cape Town. We've got a great opportunity over here in South Africa - one of the hardest places to come and win Test cricket - and that first hour at Newlands will be crucial, whether with bat or ball, that we strike the first blow."
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