England have the better odds going into the Ashes tomorrow, and that has rarely been the case in the last few decades. A huge reason for that is the quality that the English bowling department boasts of.
England have arguably the best pace battery in the world with the likes of Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Steven Finn and arguably the world’s best spinner in Graeme Swann. The off-spinner has made a huge difference to the fortunes of this English side and has been a part of the two successive Ashes victories the team earned in 2009 and 2010-11.
The extent of Graeme Swann’s importance for England can be fathomed by the fact that before his elbow injury, Swann had missed only three of England’s 53 Tests since he made his debut in India in December 2008. In the 52 Test matches that he has played for England so far, he has taken a record 222 wickets and is gradually becoming the greatest spinner to have played for England.
Swann’s future in international cricket was jeopardized by an elbow injury due to which he had to undergo a number of surgeries. There was a definite fear in the English media after the surgery that Swann would not be able to perform to the standards he set up prior to the injury.
He allayed those fears with some excellent performances against New Zealand, picking up 10 wickets at the Headingley Test. Headingley was, in fact, one of those venues in England where very few spinners have been successful and that performance will give him confidence for the first Test at Trent Bridge.
Trent Bridge has not been a happy hunting ground for the bowler though. He has hardly performed worse at any other venue. He has an ordinary record of 60 wickets at 35.15 from 37 games, without a five-wicket haul in county cricket, whereas he has only taken three wickets for England on the surface.
However, the new drainage system has meant that the pitches have been drier than usual this year. Swann talked about how the pitch is unlikely to offer much to spinners. He said, “I know Trent Bridge like the back of my hand, and it could be dry for four months and it wouldn’t be a turning pitch.”
But the fact that Australia are likely to play with four left-handed batsman in their line-up is an advantage to the off-spinner who enjoys the ball turning away from the batsman. His success rate against left-handed batsmen is exponentially higher than the right-handers. Moreover, he will be helped by the rough patches developed by the left-arm fast bowlers that Australia have in their line-up.
Swann is aware of the possibility of this factor coming into play. He said, “… if Mitchell Starc and whoever else they play can kick up a bit of dust, that might make it a bit more enjoyable to bowl spin.” If that is the case, Swann will be able to do much more than just block an end. He can be a match-winning bowler on his day and can run through a side if spin and bounce is available.
He has taken a total of 29 wickets in the two Ashes series that he has participated in. Ever since the retirement of Shane Warne, the Ashes suffered from a lack of quality spin but that void has now been filled with Graeme Swann maturing to become one of the leaders in this English side. He talked about the memories of those two victories with great fondness ahead of the first Test.
He said, “The camaraderie on that trip was incredible. So chatting away in a near-deserted ground, having a glass of bubbly and, in some cases, a cigar and sharing our favourite moments from a triumphant series was a special, lifelong memory.” Swann will be eager to relive those memories himself, and that should bring the best out of him.
Graeme Swann suffered a slight scare ahead of the first Ashes Test when he was given a suffered a painful blow on his bowling arm in the warm-up game against Essex in Chelmsford.
There was no serious damage done, however, and he came back to bowl a stunning spell in the second innings, taking five wickets on an unresponsive surface. That performance will ensure that he will be high on confidence when he arrives to play the first Test against Australia at Trent Bridge.