Swann full of 'Azzam' ahead of first Test
Graeme Swann, the England offspinner, has said there are no lingering doubts about his fitness for the first Test against Pakistan in Dubai on Tuesday. As if to prove it, he followed up his statement by diving from a racing yacht into the warm waters of the Persian Gulf.
Swann needed a scan on a sore thigh before playing in England's 100-run victory against a Pakistan Cricket Board XI. He described himself as "100% fit" as he joined team-mate Alastair Cook for a quick flight to Abu Dhabi and a ceremonial plunge off the racing yacht Azzam, Abu Dhabi's official contender in the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12.
Swann, 32, admitted he had briefly felt his age as injury threatened to disrupt a tour that gives him the opportunity to reassert himself as one of the world's leading spin bowlers. "I was a bit nervous going into the last warm-up game because my thigh felt like a 32-year-old's rather than a 22-year-old's," he said. "But it managed to get through and I felt great by the end of the game. So touch wood I'll be 100% fit for the first Test."
If there had been any injury doubts, Swann's jaunt to Abu Dhabi would not have been countenanced. The players donned heavy-weather, waterproof safety gear to join a short-sprint course that officially started the third leg of the race from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China.
Swann was left to marvel at the camaraderie on the yacht, skippered by Britain's double-Olympic medallist Ian Walker, a useful reminder shortly before the start of what England expect to be a gruelling Test series against Pakistan.
"Ian told us that Azzam translated as determination in Arabic," Swann said. "That seems a perfectly apt name having seen the unbelievable camaraderie and teamwork the crew put in during our short stint on board."
Swann became the first England spinner to take 50 Test wickets in a calendar year in 2009, as he made a spectacular entry into international cricket. His success has been more hard-won over the past year as he has needed all his know-how to survive a series of unsympathetic pitches, but he has high hopes of greater assistance in the UAE.
He has already bowled 70 overs in the two warm-up games and can expect his workload to remain heavy, with three Tests, four ODIs and three Twenty20 internationals to follow. He was overshadowed by Monty Panesar against the PCB XI, taking only two wickets in comparison to Panesar's match-return of 8 for 103.
Swann told the BBC he would prefer to have Panesar alongside him in the opening Test. "I like the rhythm of spinners at each end and I'd go with two in this part of the world. He has shown he can be a matchwinner when he's back to his best. I spin the ball in, he spins it away and a partnership like that can be formidable."
The decision to use the same pitch for England's first two matches gave both spinners encouragement. "The ball does spin, especially on a six-day old pitch," Swann said. "I should be getting a lot of work out here. It's obviously hot, and the seamers can't do the job they do in England because it's just not the same conditions."
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo