In the gloomy half-light of an overcast Lord's morning, Stuart Broad
was, at one stage, the only cricketer on the outfield as the groundstaff peeled back the covers and prepared for the delayed resumption.
Out he frolicked, down the pavilion steps. Headband in place and with nothing less than a yippity-skip in his step, as he bounded to the edge of the square to get busy with his warm-ups. It needn't have been a remarkable sight, except that there was such a palpable joy to his antics - an old dog turned spring chicken, in the midst of his 153rd Test and days shy of his 36th birthday, setting himself to attack England's drifting match situation.
For this had been Broad's pledge in the lead-up to the Test - a vow to put "heart and soul"
into his performance, and to savour every moment of his latest England incarnation. His binning for the Caribbean tour had cut him to the quick, and forced him to address his obvious vulnerability as an ageing fast bowler in a failing Test team, but the announcement of Brendon McCullum
as Test coach had him visibly energised as he addressed the media earlier in the week.
More than anything, McCullum's "mindset of positivity", as he put it, chimed so wholeheartedly with Broad's own determination to seize each day as it comes, and - as he memorably put it during a tub-thumping press conference in Sydney back in January - to "win the battle in front of you", rather than plan endlessly for a tomorrow that may never come.
All of which brought us to this latest showreel moment in Broad's restlessly evolving career. A match situation that had featured, on the one hand, an overnight 180-run stand between two unruffled near-centurions in Daryl Mitchell
and Tom Blundell
, but on the other, the impending prospect - one tantalising over away - of a second new ball on a pitch where England had reduced New Zealand to 39 for 6 in the contest's opening session.
"These careers don't go on forever," Broad had said on Tuesday. "You've got to get as much out of it as you possibly can and enjoy it. The moment I stop enjoying and lose that competitive spirit then I won't be the fast bowler I am, no doubt about that. I thrive off that competitive spirit and that's why I feel I can change the momentum of games pretty quickly."
If truth be told, Broad hadn't entirely been at the races in his first two days of action. It would be unfair to describe him as a weak link after New Zealand had been bowled out for 132 on the first morning - especially given that his only wicket in that first innings had been the dangerous Devon Conway, a double-centurion on debut in this same contest 12 months earlier.
But James Anderson
claimed the new-ball plaudits on that febrile occasion, before Matt Potts mopped up from Broad's favoured Nursery End, and coming into this third day, Broad's second-innings figures seemed to epitomise England's subsequent toil: 21-6-47-1, and that solitary scalp, Conway once more, had been a strangle down the leg side.
It made one wonder, not for the first time, whether it's sustainable for the two old stagers to remain in tandem as England's attack leaders, especially on such occasions when the spice seems to have gone from the surface. But Broad, emphatically, was not bovvered by such stage-whispers, and in a bravura response, he seized England's day in the manner that he has made his trademark down the years.
It wasn't an instant impact, mind you. Mitchell, on 97 overnight, needed a solitary Broad delivery to punch the three runs he needed through the covers and stride onto the dressing-room honours board with a richly acclaimed century. But from the outset, with the still-old ball, Broad was determinedly full, visibly aggressive, targeting the stumps and heeding McCullum's imperative that "wickets, not economy rates" are the measure by which he will be judged.
And then, after leaking another boundary via a hard-handed squirt from Mitchell through the gully that can only have emboldened his approach, came the over that transformed England's horizons.
Technically it was not a third Test hat-trick for Broad - though seeing as the team is sacrosanct, he'll doubtless settle for his share in a thrilling joint effort. Nor did it even become another of his righteous romps to five wickets in a single spell
, a trick that became his calling card in the middle iteration of his career.
Morally, visually, viscerally, however, this passage of play was the perfect companion piece to those prior frolics. An intoxicating blend of brilliance, nonsense, and theatrics that would shame a ham in the village pantomime, as New Zealand were reacquainted with those mythically pumping knees and that caffeinated bounce of the torso in a devastating three-card trick.
First up, the snap of the trapdoor on a vicious slanting length, that relentless line into Mitchell's splice that offered no get-out clause as he snagged the edge through to Ben Foakes. Then, the befuddlement - of both Colin de Grandhomme and Broad himself - as another inducker smashed into the pads, for Ollie Pope to ping down the stumps before either batter or bowler really knew what had happened.
Broad's reaction was priceless - midway through his celebrappeal for an lbw that was clearly missing leg, he had not a scoobies what had just taken place in his peripheral vision, except that the tone of his team-mates in the first instance, and the entirety of Lord's a heartbeat later, had been bent from an optimistic ooh to a guttural roar like some sporting manifestation of the Doppler Effect.
"I had absolutely no idea," Broad said afterwards. "I was appealing for the lb, which was one of the worst appeals ever, it's not hitting sixth stump down leg side, and then I heard the stumps go, turned round, and Jonny [Bairstow] was shouting, 'That's out, that's out!' So then I started appealing to square leg, I didn't know what was going on, but Jonny was certain."
It was a pure banter dismissal, the type that Broad seems to attract like a moth to a floodlight (not least his own - see his first-innings dismissal for more such jollity). In fact, it was dimly reminiscent of the middle wicket in his first Test hat-trick, against India at Trent Bridge in 2011, a massive inside-edged lbw off Harbhajan Singh that would have been overturned had India not been resistant to the use of DRS that summer. Of course his second hat-trick, against Sri Lanka at Headingley in 2014, was even sillier - it was spread across two overs, and he didn't even know he had claimed it.
He knew all about this moment though. Broad boinged back to the top of his mark, revving up the Lord's crowd as he did so with a conductor's twirl of his arms - like some curious hybrid of Jonathan Edwards (another man who did things in threes with famously pumping knees), and a plucky Brit on an outside court at Wimbledon.
In he gallivanted, full came the length, splat went Kyle Jamieson's stump. And off Broad frolicked once more, tearing off towards the Tavern Stand with his team in gleeful pursuit, as happy as a dog with a string of sausages. The die was cast for another dramatic clatter of New Zealand wickets - 6 for 34 on this rowdy morning, compared to 6 for 39 on the first.
Not that it left England with anything resembling a cakewalk to victory - and to judge by New Zealand's own new-ball response, it may yet prove to have been too little, too late. But that's hardly the point of the exercise at this exploratory juncture of the Test team's new beginnings. The more crucial point is that, wherever this era is heading, Broad is on board and loving every minute of the ride.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket