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Match Analysis

Is Stuart Broad brewing something spectacular ahead of the Ashes?

A low-key five-for against Ireland helped Broad remind England of his enduring quality

Joe Root was the last one to go in for a hug, but for good reason.
Such was the angle of Stuart Broad's patented wobble seam nipping back into the right-hander, the ball had deflected off Mark Adair's off stump and raced to the third boundary. Only when the players congregated to congratulate Broad did anyone realise it was missing. Off Root went to seek it out while Broad embraced his teammates one by one.
Root returned moments later to hand the dull red Dukes to Broad, who received it like a pound coin someone else had dropped rather than the ball responsible for his 20th Test match five-for.
Broad did not raise it to the crowd as a starter pistol for their adulation at his feat, instead shining it as he walked back to his mark. There was a reluctant wave towards someone who had caught his eye in the Tavern Stand. Other than that, a quick check of the headband and in he went for the final delivery of his 17th over, which Fionn Hand pushed into the covers for no run.
There was applause when umpire Kumar Dharmasena returned his wide-brimmed hat, and a meatier ovation when he led the team off once Matthew Potts had closed out Ireland's first innings for 172. But as far as milestones go, this could not have been more subdued.
Understandable? Yes and no. Ireland don't really need to be here, England couldn't really not be here, with both eyeing what lies beyond these four days. Get in, get out, shake hands and off to the World Cup Qualifier and Ashes we'll go. For Broad, however, even if his lack of celebration said otherwise, there was something real to play for.
Sure - when is there not, as far as he is concerned? Along with 581 dismissals, English cricket's walking meme-machine has amassed a cult following, with the right kind and number of enemies, by approaching each of 162 Tests with, if not the same energy, then certainly enough mischief to fill the gaps. But with his 37th birthday looming next month, this was a necessary display that re-stated his worth even with the caveats.
Ireland coach Heinrich Malan was not wrong when he said "a guy with 600 Test wickets showed us he was a pretty decent bowler". But there's a little more to it than that. Which is the reason why it says "re-stated" above rather than "underlined".
Because while only James Anderson (45) has more than Broad's 44 Bazball wickets, the two are in very different spots right now. A pair once bound together by their brilliance are now further apart than ever. A once fruitful opening partnership has been split, and it speaks of what is to come this summer that the one to have retained their "banker" status is not playing here, instead using the morning to test out a strained groin.
Even if Anderson did not have his niggle, Ollie Robinson's ankle was clear and Mark Wood's second child was not born last week, it is likely all three would have been preserved for the first Test against Australia on June 16. Just last week, Broad revealed his drop in status when articulating he would not have the luxury to choose to sit this Test out. As it happened, he would not have taken that option if it was afforded to him. Just as well, really.
The first for Broad was England's first Test wicket of the summer, trapping opener PJ Moor bang in front of middle, on his way to a first five-wicket haul at Lord's in 10 years, and a first at home in three. Soon, his name will be inscribed into the Honours Board for a fifth time, given that he had long since completed that rare hat-trick of five-for (on two previous occasions), ten-for (against West Indies in 2012) and century (against Pakistan in 2010).
It was while playing here for Nottinghamshire against Middlesex earlier this summer that Broad revealed his tuning-up was much for spirit as body. The new gather and outswinger - which nabbed Ireland skipper Andy Balbirnie for a duck here - were getting road tested throughout his County Championship stint, which included matches against Somerset, Lancashire and Essex. But it was at a near-empty Lord's, in a far quieter pavilion, that Broad visualised what it might be like on this day.
Even when he was out in the field battling the April chill, he looked up at the then-empty second tiers and imagined them teeming with activity. Activity which was now a reality, and at his whim, under the kind of gorgeous blue skies that enhances days like this.
"Today was a great start because I actually felt probably in the best rhythm that I have of the summer so far," Broad said. "I bowled nicely for Notts, particularly in that first game [against Somerset] and at Lord's. I didn't bowl great versus Lancs and then found a good stride pattern against Essex.
"To come into the first game of the international summer and to really hit my straps and feel like I was on the money is a great start for me. I don't rely on confidence now at my age, I know I can bowl well and where ball is going. But it's always a nice lift when you have some wickets behind you."
The tweaks, grooving and tapering into the international summer are all part of Broad fitting in. You might think all this suits Broad's persona, but the greater trust in what is around him has come from greater belief in the whole. It has been a seamless shift for a player who has thrived on perpetuating the sportsperson's lie that success is a lifelong friend answering only his calls.
Since being axed for the Caribbean tour that followed the 4-0 Ashes defeat, his approach is altogether more holistic: not looking too far ahead, not taking any of this for granted. And all the while, not losing his incisiveness even if he has forgone a degree of bloodlust to play everyone, everywhere, and everything, all at once.
"As long as I am fit and fresh, I have done my job," he said, with menacing zen when looking ahead to the Ashes. "I want to be ready to be called upon at whatever stage I am needed. It's one of those environments that if I don't play at Edgbaston for example, I might play a bigger part at The Oval."
It was against New Zealand here at Lord's in the first match under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum that Broad took it upon himself to play the part of cheerleader out in the field, whipping the stands into a frenzy. A year and 13 matches into a bolder more expansive era, Broad was far more reserved, even pulling punches on a few celebrappeals. The crowd still moved to his beat, he just knew to save the up-tempo stuff for later.
That'll no doubt come once he lines up against Australia. Which, given how Thursday has panned out, could be sooner rather than later. If question marks remain over members of the 'first-string' attack by the time Edgbaston comes around, the selectors should have no qualms in putting him in from the get-go. Even on a muted Thursday, it was hard not to leave wondering if Broad is brewing something spectacular.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo