Swann spins England to solid decency
SOMEHOW, somewhere England have become very good at cricket.
An innings victory over South Africa, the team ranked number two in the world, is a serious achievement.
Stuart Broad, who looks and increasingly bowls like the product of a successful Aryan experiment, added the scalp of Mark Boucher to his three day-four wickets, which he claimed without the batsmen even attempting to hit the ball.
But it was Graeme Swann, chief spinner, joker and tweeter of the England team, who took the plaudits.
After suffering years of torment at the hands of a fair-haired spinner, who you knew would be good value down the pub, England have discovered one of their own.
His performances in South Africa have lifted him to third in the test bowling rankings and the number one spinner.
Swann only made his test debut last December when selected alongside Monty Panesar in spin-friendly India.
He dismissed Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid in his first over, outbowling Panesar and in the West Indies, with only one spinner required, he was selected ahead of him.
Traditionally conditions in South Africa, like England and Australia, are not especially spin-friendly, conditions in which over the last decade Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan are the only spinners to have had consistent success.
Warne retired in 2007 and Muralitharan has just completed statistically his worst year with no five-wicket hauls and 26 wickets, at an average of 46 runs.
A year ago Murali’s compatriot Ajantha Mendis was spin bowling’s wunderkid, after 33 wickets in his first four tests and a dazzling variety of deliveries, but was dropped by Sri Lanka following only 11 wickets in five tests.
India’s Harbhajan Singh is prolific at home, but averages 37 overseas, a figure that rises to 68 in Australia and South Africa.
Which surely makes Swann’s ranking among spinners correct.
But England should be wary about getting too carried away.
Panesar made an equally auspicious start to his test career, but if he never plays again he will be better remembered for his unbeaten seven at Cardiff last summer.
Which is why it is fortunate Swann brings more than just bowling to the table.
He averages 35 with the bat, only two less than Michael Atherton managed in his test career.
But it is cheeky chappy persona that makes him the crowd favourite.
After he and Broad made massive strides towards victory on day four, Swann tweeted: “I’m most disturbed to hear that Ryan Sidebottom has had his bottle of soul glow pinched – a dark day for sexual chocolate.”
Earlier in the test he posted: “I purposely allowed (Dale) Steyn to smite me for three huge sixes in my neverending bid to have the batting orders reversed in test cricket.”
Despite his success many cricket fans are already looking forward to the day he retires, so he can take his place in the commentary box.
The England management know this too, often sending him out to face the media, after England have had a less than successful day.
During the Ashes he announced that “Monty Panesar has a test hundred in him somewhere.”
All of which makes Swann the best spin bowler in the world and English cricket’s ace of spades.