Swann confident of Ashes return
Only two weeks after undergoing surgery for the second time on his troublesome right elbow, Graeme Swann is not only confident of being fit for his third Ashes series later this summer but has also revealed a vague ambition to rival a fellow England offspinner, John Emburey, for career longevity.
Indeed, Swann, who turned 34 four days ago, is so optimistic about making a full recovery that he believes he could be ready to play in the opening Test against New Zealand on May 16. Nottinghamshire's four-day match against Durham on April 29 has even been pencilled in for what would be a startlingly quick competitive comeback.
Swann went ahead of Jim Laker as England's most prolific Test offspinner during the triumphant England series in India that preceded the New Zealand tour. He now has 212 Test wickets yet claims his hunger for more is undiminished.
"The hunger's still strong to play Test cricket," he said "I love the game, so I think I'll play for as long as the body can stand it. Whether that will be for 12 Test matches or 112 we will have to wait and see - but Embers played until he was 41, didn't he? So there is hope for me yet."
Swann is currently following a day-and-night programme of mechanically-induced extension exercises designed to accelerate his recovery time.
"I'm banished to our attic bedroom right now because I have to get up every two hours to attach myself to a machine for 50 minutes," Swann said. "It was agony for the first week - it brings a tear to your eye. But that's stopped happening now and the elbow feels great -- so it's definitely going in the right direction.
"I'll be badgering the physios and coaches here at Notts to let me bowl as soon as possible but they're the ones with qualifications to tell me when and where I can.
"I'd hope to be bowling competitively by the end of April. I don't know whether that's optimistic or not but that's how my mind works. I want to be back as soon as I can because I'm bored stupid already. It was okay while the Tests in New Zealand were on because I could watch that, but now it's finished it's very tedious.
"It's important though because the machine keeps the range of movement in your arm and it aids your rehabilitation and it's supposed to halve the time you get back bowling."
If his return to action with Nottinghamshire results in no setback, Swann would be in contention for the opening Test against New Zealand at Lord's, having missed England's uncomfortable 0-0 Test series draw against the same opponents on their own pitches.
It would be great news for England, who would be uneasy about entering as Ashes series with Monty Panesar as their frontline spinner, particularly given the high number of left-hand batsmen in the Australian line-up. Panesar was in buoyant form as he and Swann dismantled India on turning surfaces before Christmas, but as the lone spinner on unresponsive surfaces in New Zealand he occasionally looked ill at ease.
Doubts were expressed over Swann's future in international cricket after his elbow injury resurfaced - slightly more than three years after his first operation under the skilled hands of surgeon Dr Shawn O'Driscoll in Minnesota.
Yet he says he trusts O'Driscoll's prognosis of a full recovery and the thought has never seriously crossed his mind that the injury might spell the end of his England career after 50 Tests.
"The surgeon assured me it was a straightforward operation compared with my first one," he said. "That one was far more serious, yet it allowed me to go for three-and-a-half years bowling relatively pain free. It was a lot more straightforward this time, basically just correcting little things that have gone wrong since.
"Because of my elbow, different parts of my body start taking over and aching and that was one of the signs in New Zealand that something was wrong. All of a sudden I was getting a sore back and shoulder and all sorts of things, all down to the fact that the elbow wasn't working. Now it's cleared out, all the other things should be all right.
"I think I could bowl now but I'd probably put myself back to square one. So the next couple of weeks are solely about fitness and getting my base levels back up to where they should be, and then I'll start bowling again."
Swann recognises that he is not the patient sort and any delay in his rehabilitation will leave him pacing the floor in frustration.
"I think it's going to kill me if I sit down and watch so much cricket at the start of the summer without being an active part of it so I'll certainly be trying to be back fit and playing as much cricket as I can. I'd like to get a couple of games in for Notts before any England cricket starts so that's what I'll be aiming for.
"If I start back and there's any pain whatsoever I'm sure I'll want to play it fairly safe. But I'm not a conservative bloke by nature."