Swann cautious ahead of India return
Graeme Swann will travel to India on the verge of becoming England's most successful offspinner in Test cricket but he has cautioned against expectations that his bowling will be the decisive factor in the tourists' attempts to win the series.
Since taking two wickets in his first over of Test cricket in Chennai four years ago, Swann has added a further 190 to the tally to leave him within one wicket of Jim Laker's mark of 193. Although Swann has taken 39 wickets in 2012, his ten victims during the English summer came at an average of 59 and he was dropped for the first time in more than three years when England opted, unsuccessfully, to play four fast bowlers against South Africa at Headingley.
A chronic elbow injury, which has required periods of rest to ameliorate the pain of floating bone fragments near to the nerve, has also dogged Swann. He acknowledges that the expectations of Indian pitches will add to his burden, as England seek to improve on a record that has seen them win just one Test match in the country since 1985, but can take confidence from an impressive record in Asia, which includes taking his second ten-wicket haul in Tests against Sri Lanka earlier this year.
"As a spinner it stands to reason that when you go to the subcontinent people are going to look to you and how you bowl," Swann told the Independent before heading off for England's training camp in Dubai. "But if we do turn up just expecting the spinner to win the series for us then we're screwed.
"The key to Test cricket is that the more you play the more confident you get and the more confident you get ergo you bowl more consistently. Having looked at the schedule I know two of the pitches might turn, in Kolkata and Mumbai. I am not sure about the other two. I have been reliably informed that Nagpur is the flattest wicket ever devised by groundsmen but that was by Cooky, who got a hundred there on his debut."
Alastair Cook, now elevated to the position of England captain, shares with Swann the experience of an impressive debut in India. But Swann was also swift to recall the result of the first Test in 2008, when Sachin Tendulkar's unbeaten hundred helped India to reach a fourth-innings target of 387 with six wickets in hand.
"It all started for me there and I can't quite believe it has come round again so quickly," Swann said. "It all seems like a dream when I think about the start of it. I remember the smells that were wafting over the ground when I took the ball. It's all very romantic when I think back.
"The rose-tinted glasses are removed of course because of the fact that we had 360-odd chased down at a canter by Mr Tendulkar. But it's got fond memories for me personally because I did well. To realise that you can compete at a level that you have always had a sneaking suspicion that you weren't good enough for is one of the greatest weights ever to be lifted off your shoulders. I will be indebted to those first two Test matches for making me realise it was just another game of cricket."
Swann will return to India have long since usurped Monty Panesar as England's No. 1 spinner and, despite the protestations to the contrary, his form with the ball will almost certainly be as important to the team as the return of Kevin Pietersen to the fold. The summer rupture between members of the England squad and Pietersen was compounded by a painful series defeat to South Africa, and the loss of the No. 1 ranking, but Cook in his new role has been instrumental in seeking a fresh start.
It was during Pietersen's brief spell as England captain that Swann came into the side and he was among the players Pietersen met with during his "reintegration" process. Swann expressed relief that the situation had been resolved and, after becoming a father for the second time only a week ago, he was perhaps understandably looking forward to focusing on more important issues.
"More than anything it is a good thing it is done and dusted," said Swann. "A line has been drawn under it and the actual cricket can go back to doing the talking rather than off-field antics. I am sure it can get back to how it was. I think a lot depended on Kevin. He seems in a place now where he is happy to play again, he has committed himself to the team and that's good moving forward.
"I think that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet now. I think there has been a bit of honesty and a bit of contriteness from certain parties. I think everybody is fed up with it and that's why we just want to play cricket."
After almost a month off post-World Twenty20, England will begin playing cricket again on Tuesday, with a three-day game against India A. That will be followed by two more warm-up matches, before the first of four Tests begins in Ahmedabad on November 15.