Surgery 'worst fear' for Swann
Graeme Swann has admitted that the thought of needing surgery on his troublesome right elbow is his "worst fear" and he will try anything to get through the rest of his career without another operation.
Swann has had to manage the problem, which involves floating bone fragments very near the nerve in his elbow, for a number of years. He has been rested for some of England's one-day internationals this season and had an injection shortly before the South Africa Test series began, although he doubts its effectiveness. Memories of when he last underwent surgery in 2009 - which he described as "horrendous" - mean he will trying anything to avoid a second procedure.
"That is my worst fear at the minute," he said. "When I had surgery before it was ten times the problem it is now. There are bits of floating bone in there which are too close to the nerve. I had all the other pieces taken out but the surgeon said he had to leave these. He said they may cause you a bit of grief now and then. It is little things like if I hold the phone too long with my right hand I can't use my arm for a couple of minutes - it just goes dead.
"During the one-day series - the Aussies or West Indies I can't remember - it was really starting to ache. The break we had since really helped. I don't think the jab has done anything to be honest. I reckon it was more a hope-for-the-best jab because nothing else seemed to work. The rest from bowling for a couple of weeks did it good. There was an option to play in the Championship game this week that's going on at Trent Bridge but I think if I start doing that then I will be in a lot of trouble."
If anything was going to test the well-being of Swann's elbow it would have been last week's opening Test against South Africa where he toiled through 52 wicketless overs as South Africa piled up 637 for 2. He insisted he felt no ill-effects from two days in the field although he knows that the only way to manage the problem in the longer term could be to miss further matches.
"After the Oval Test my body felt strangely buoyant, quite youthful," he said. "After bowling 52 fruitless overs I should have really wanted to hang the boots up there I suppose. It was very strange. A spinner normally bowls 50 overs per Test anyway. I just got them out of the way in one fell swoop.
"If it keeps deteriorating I will undoubtedly have to miss some cricket. But it's not really deteriorated in the last three or four weeks, it feels better than it did. I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. I'm hoping not because realistically, if I look at the age I am and what have you, if I can just get to the end of my playing days and my arm falls off the next day sort of thing, I'm quite happy with that. I don't want to have another operation if I can help it because it's horrendous."
In terms of the immediate future, Swann is unconcerned about his lack of recent success in Test cricket. In four matches this season he has claimed just six wickets at 72.16 and while he had more of a holding role against West Indies he was expected to be a significant threat at The Oval.
"I was actually very happy with it," he said of his performance. "It felt very blunt by the end of it as you tend to when you have bowled 35 overs for no wicket. On the fourth morning it was very unpleasant bowling. I took too long to adjust to Graeme Smith to go a little bit wider - I should have done that earlier - but had he been given lbw, it was one of those that was umpire's call, we could have had a new man in and we could have bowled them out for 300.
"Anyone who bowls knows that at some point you're going to have spells when you don't take wickets," he added. "If you let that get you down it is going to be the end of your career. I still bowl against people I've bowled at a lot before and I always back myself. My consistency's always getting better. I'm always working on new things, new ways of getting people out - mentally, not physically with new balls and things."
Swann, though, would not be overly perturbed if he had to wait a little longer for a return to wicket-taking form so long as England can find a way back into the series. "You've got a new game, a new wicket - I might not even bowl. I'm fully expecting to get handed the ball just before teatime when they're seven down and there's a left-hander in. I'm an eternal optimist."
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Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo