Eng v NZ, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 3rd day May 26, 2013

Swann's positive spin helps feel-good factor

Last year, when England faced South Africa, Graeme Swann was at a campsite having been left out but this time he finally gave himself a performance to remember at Headingley

Graeme Swann had never previously taken a wicket in a Headingley Test and he had never taken a Test wicket against New Zealand, but he needed only 12 minutes to despatch three New Zealand batsmen, put his elbow operation behind him and tick another box in England's pre-Ashes preparations.

These are the pre-Ashes Test preparations, it should be remarked, that England's players have been told not to dwell upon, for fear of not living in the here and now, but as well as putting England on the way to winning a Test against New Zealand, Swann was honest enough to know his spell had a deeper significance.

"It's only the third time I've bowled since the op and it's definitely the best I've bowled," he said. "Having had the operation and with such a big summer ahead, it was always important to get some wickets under my belt.

"I was always optimistic I would be able to perform but whether you have the rhythm and spin in the fingers you are never too sure so I'm delighted. It just feels like it did 18 months ago again."

Living in the here and now, of course, is impossible. It presumably means that you have no past and no future. You can't remember where you parked the car and, even if you so happen to find it, you are not allowed to think about where you want to drive it.

If there were any lingering concerns about Swann's effectiveness after his elbow operation, they were surely banished when Dean Brownlie, Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson were blown away between 2.20 and 2.32pm and England's sense of well-being ahead of the Australia Test series, and before that the Champions Trophy, became a little stronger.

No England spinner has taken five wickets at Headingley for 28 years and New Zealand's last man, Trent Boult, thrashed him for three sixes to ensure he had to settle for 4 for 42, rather than emulate John Emburey's achievement against Australia in 1985.

He failed to take a wicket against Australia in 2009 and he was omitted against South Africa last year, a decision which was revealed as folly when Kevin Pietersen, a bit-part spinner, found extravagant turn with his offbreaks.

Headingley was therefore an unlikely venue for any spin bowler's resurgence, as Swann recognised. "Belly asked me 'what end do you normally bowl here?' I said 'I don't normally play.' I was in North Wales on a campsite last year when the game against South Africa was going on."

With every year that Andy Fogarty remains head groundsman at Headingley, the pitches look more like those he helped to prepare in his time at Old Trafford. They are not as quick, or as scruffy, but they have improving bounce and carry and, as Swann has again emphasised, they are not averse to turn, especially when New Zealand are fielding two left-armers and Swann has some footholds to aim at.

That being so, as the sun blazed down upon West Yorkshire for the second successive day - and the pilots of the flights above were again startled to discover that they could actually see the runway at Leeds Bradford Airport - English cricket had the feel of summer with Swann dancing in to bowl in dark glasses before springing round to deliver his crouching appeal. It is repeated so often, whenever he does it he looks like a Christmas wind-up toy.

Swann has been insisting from the outset that his elbow is fine, but he is a garrulous, optimistic sort and not everybody can wake up in the morning with his brand of sunny optimism. Everybody knew he could spin a yarn; they needed to see that he can still spin a cricket ball.

On what was essentially a second-day pitch, his intervention came as some surprise. Nobody thought to question Alastair Cook's decision to delay his appearance until the 27th over. At lunch, the pitch looked flat enough for New Zealand to press for a first-innings lead. After two overs from Swann, they were out of the match. This performance was considerably worse than their collapse to 68 all out at Lord's. A run of five successive Tests against England is ending meekly, good impressions undermined.

Brownlie and Guptill were both bowled through the gate as the ball turned out of the rough, Brownlie from the sixth ball he bowled, Guptill from the 12th. Neither shot had much to commend it. Brownlie had the alibi of surprise; Guptill missed the first Test at Lord's and so could plead inactivity for his cumbersome prop forward. Williamson did at least try to move across his crease and play Swann with the spin, a method adopted brilliantly against Swann by South Africa's Hashim Amla, but he was struck on the pad and England won an lbw decision on review.

Until now, proof of Swann's well-being had not been extensive. He bowled only eight overs in the first Test in England's innings victory at Lord's and went wicketless. He did take four wickets in his only first-class match of the season, but even they were in the face of a Durham second-innings slog which brought them a last-gasp victory against Nottinghamshire.

If England do retain the Ashes then Dr Shawn O'Driscoll, who operated successfully on the elbows of Swann and Tim Bresnan will deserve some of the recognition. He is based in Minnesota, he will will not qualify for an OBE - although there are Australians who will tell you that as the Poms gave a gong to everybody in 2005, they might well find a way to bend the rules.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ozziespirit on May 27, 2013, 6:17 GMT

    He's world class, he sure has proved that, The fact that England have Swann at a time when Australia seem to think that spinners aren't important (so they don't train one/have one to begin with) shows one of the ways Aus lag far behind England. We'll be good in a couple of years, but not competitive enough with Swann in the England team.

  • jackthelad on May 26, 2013, 20:55 GMT

    Swann bowled as well as ever, which is a bonus; what is needed is for the established England batsmen to stop scratching around and start hitting the ball (Cook - at last - did it today), but Trott and Bell are still scraping around at what is at best a second-rate attack. When you need novices to pick up the pieces of their seniors, there's something wrong.

  • 5wombats on May 26, 2013, 20:07 GMT

    Swann looks in ominous form. Headingley isn't known as a spinners pitch, esp on Day 2 of a Test match. Neither is Lords. Like India did in India a few months ago - it seems to me that England are preparing surfaces that will take spin this year. They probably will next year too seeing as how the teams touring us in 2013 and 2014 are weak against spin and have spin bowlers who are unproven outside of their respective countries. I can see Swann (and perhaps also Monty) boosting their already decent stats against these sides. England batsmen played spin well in India and the Indian batsmen seemed unable to cope with the spinning pitches that the Indian curators had prepared for them. The Indian spin bowlers were not able to exploit the spinning Indian pitches to the same degree that Swann and Monty did. Both Swann and Monty were born in England and have learned their trade here in England.

  • ozziespirit on May 27, 2013, 6:17 GMT

    He's world class, he sure has proved that, The fact that England have Swann at a time when Australia seem to think that spinners aren't important (so they don't train one/have one to begin with) shows one of the ways Aus lag far behind England. We'll be good in a couple of years, but not competitive enough with Swann in the England team.

  • jackthelad on May 26, 2013, 20:55 GMT

    Swann bowled as well as ever, which is a bonus; what is needed is for the established England batsmen to stop scratching around and start hitting the ball (Cook - at last - did it today), but Trott and Bell are still scraping around at what is at best a second-rate attack. When you need novices to pick up the pieces of their seniors, there's something wrong.

  • 5wombats on May 26, 2013, 20:07 GMT

    Swann looks in ominous form. Headingley isn't known as a spinners pitch, esp on Day 2 of a Test match. Neither is Lords. Like India did in India a few months ago - it seems to me that England are preparing surfaces that will take spin this year. They probably will next year too seeing as how the teams touring us in 2013 and 2014 are weak against spin and have spin bowlers who are unproven outside of their respective countries. I can see Swann (and perhaps also Monty) boosting their already decent stats against these sides. England batsmen played spin well in India and the Indian batsmen seemed unable to cope with the spinning pitches that the Indian curators had prepared for them. The Indian spin bowlers were not able to exploit the spinning Indian pitches to the same degree that Swann and Monty did. Both Swann and Monty were born in England and have learned their trade here in England.

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  • 5wombats on May 26, 2013, 20:07 GMT

    Swann looks in ominous form. Headingley isn't known as a spinners pitch, esp on Day 2 of a Test match. Neither is Lords. Like India did in India a few months ago - it seems to me that England are preparing surfaces that will take spin this year. They probably will next year too seeing as how the teams touring us in 2013 and 2014 are weak against spin and have spin bowlers who are unproven outside of their respective countries. I can see Swann (and perhaps also Monty) boosting their already decent stats against these sides. England batsmen played spin well in India and the Indian batsmen seemed unable to cope with the spinning pitches that the Indian curators had prepared for them. The Indian spin bowlers were not able to exploit the spinning Indian pitches to the same degree that Swann and Monty did. Both Swann and Monty were born in England and have learned their trade here in England.

  • jackthelad on May 26, 2013, 20:55 GMT

    Swann bowled as well as ever, which is a bonus; what is needed is for the established England batsmen to stop scratching around and start hitting the ball (Cook - at last - did it today), but Trott and Bell are still scraping around at what is at best a second-rate attack. When you need novices to pick up the pieces of their seniors, there's something wrong.

  • ozziespirit on May 27, 2013, 6:17 GMT

    He's world class, he sure has proved that, The fact that England have Swann at a time when Australia seem to think that spinners aren't important (so they don't train one/have one to begin with) shows one of the ways Aus lag far behind England. We'll be good in a couple of years, but not competitive enough with Swann in the England team.