Subject of Pietersen refuses to go away for Broad

Tim Bresnan stretches during a practice session in Colombo
Tim Bresnan stretches during a practice session in Colombo
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Stuart Broad’s England must today start to disprove the doubters who still insist their defence of the ICC World Twenty20 is bound to suffer for the absence of Kevin Pietersen.

Broad has long claimed that Pietersen’s unavailability is an irrelevance, because England have known for almost four months the mercurial batsman would not be part of their campaign here.

It has been a party line too to point out that those who have returned, or been promoted, to the Twenty20 team have already excelled and demonstrated potential to do even better.

England will begin their tournament proper, after two warm-up victories, against Afghanistan at the Premadasa Stadium – where the first evidence will emerge as to whether they have so far been emitting empty words or statements of intent.

Pietersen is exiled over his breakdown of relations with the England and Wales Cricket Board, but not to some lonely outpost.

Instead, his million-dollar-plus contract as a pundit for the same tournament he dominated in England’s march to glory in the Caribbean two years ago means he is perhaps uncomfortably close – airing his views on all competitors, including Broad’s hopefuls, from a Colombo studio.

Broad has been unable to shake off questions about Pietersen all month, and so it was again yesterday as he and his team fine-tuned preparations to try to win only England’s second International Cricket Council global trophy. Asked directly whether the England dressing room is a happier place without the South Africa-born batsman, Broad said: “No.

“KP’s been around for a long time and obviously done fantastically well for us.

“His battles with the ECB at the moment mean he’s not here, and we have to put up with that and get on with it.

“The 15 guys in the squad are excited to be here, up for the challenge and that’s what you want coming into a tournament.”

Has he seen much of Pietersen’s television stints over the past two days, though?

That too is a ‘no’. Although Broad appears to have taken time to watch as much of the matches played so far, he has found other entertainment when Pietersen has taken the mic.

“I’ve got this Formula One (video) game at the minute,” said the England captain. “I’m a bit addicted to it ... so I’ve not seen anything.”

In Pietersen’s place, Broad emphasises, are not just handy cricketers but ones capable of beating the rest of the world again.

“We’ve not just got players who can ‘do a job’; we’ve got world-class match-winners in the side,” Broad said. “Yes, we’ve got guys who haven’t played a lot of international cricket. But we’ve got eight of us who won the ‘World Cup’ two years ago – and players who can clear the ropes ... guys down to No 9 who can do that. I think you need that in Twenty20 cricket.”

England’s hard-fought warm-up wins over Australia and Pakistan, and those other televised contests so far, have whetted his appetite.

“I’ve seen a few games on the TV. That just builds your excitement,” Broad said. “We’ve prepared really well, won both games over here – and both have been really good tests for us as well.

“In the first game against Australia, I thought we batted fantastically – maybe could have fielded and bowled a little bit better.

“Then against Pakistan, you’re not going to see a better fielding and bowling display than that – to defend 111.

“I’m really delighted. The morale in the camp is brilliant – preparation has gone as well as we could have hoped.”

England endured a shaky start in the West Indies in the 2010 tournament, but produced a surge of victories when they had to.

This time, Broad hopes they can simply carry on winning.

“That’s three on the bounce we’ve won now, and played some really good cricket as well,” he said.

“It’s important if you can build momentum throughout the tournament.

“We’ve started that really well, and we’ve got a really positive group here.”

He knows, however, from Afghanistan’s performance in last night’s 23-run Group A defeat against India, that the minnows are dangerous.

“They don’t have any fear, by the looks of it. They’ll play a few shots,” Broad said. “That’s something we’ll have to counteract.

“We have to accept there might be a few nicks fly past the wicketkeeper, and a few smashes over extra-cover and ‘cow’.”

In yesterday’s other game, Jacques Kallis starred with the ball as South Africa cruised to a comprehensive 10-wicket victory over Zimbabwe in their World Twenty20 opener in Hambantota today, sealing their berth in the Super Eights in the process.

Kallis took 4-15 off his four overs as Zimbabwe were limited to 93-8 and South Africa’s openers Richard Levi (50 not out) and Hashim Amla (32no) easily knocked off the target with 44 balls remaining.