Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, 3rd day November 23, 2013

One mute Swann won't ruin a summer

He may have been dismissed around the Gabba but Graeme Swann's struggles - in difficult conditions for finger spin - shouldn't deter faith in one of the great spinners

It was ironic that, on the day on which Graeme Swann reached a landmark that should have underlined his value as a player, he endured one of his most trying episodes as a bowler.

With the wicket of George Bailey, bowled playing down the wrong line, Swann became just the seventh England bowler to claim 250 Test wickets. Perhaps more pertinently, he did so in only his 58th Test.

To put that in perspective, it is the same number of games as Curtly Ambrose. It is quicker than Derek Underwood; quicker than Wasim Akram; quicker than Bishan Bedi, Shaun Pollock and Courtney Walsh. It is quicker, too, than any finger spinner. Only Sir Ian Botham and Fred Trueman, of England bowlers, have reached the landmark more quickly. Such figures, and a bowling average of 29.18, render it hard to dispute Swann's place among the greats.

Yet Swann has not experienced a happy Test in Brisbane. Unable to gain any meaningful turn, he was uncharacteristically anodyne and unable even to offer his captain much control in the field. Swann conceded five-an-over and drew unflattering comparisons with Nathan Lyon, who claimed two wickets in two balls in England's first innings, and even Joe Root, who was more economical. While he did eventually finish with a couple of wickets, they came when Australia were looking to up the rate in search of the declaration.

The kneejerk reaction will be to suggest that Swann is past it. To suggest that the Australia side, now lacking the number of left-handers on which he used to feast, may be more susceptible to left-arm spin. Some - though mainly those who did not see him bowl during the last county season - have suggested that Monty Panesar might come into the side ahead of him in Adelaide.

That would be a mistake. If any doubts remain about Swann's value, we only need think back to England's last Ashes tour. After a similarly grim Test in Brisbane in which Swann was punished by Mike Hussey and claimed 2 for 161, he took 5 for 91 in the second innings at Adelaide to bowl England to victory. Then, as now, he just needed some assistance from the conditions. In Adelaide, a more sympathetic pitch and Doug Bollinger's foot marks provided them.

Swann is far from the first offspinner to struggle in Australia. Even Muralitharan, perhaps the finest of them all, took his wickets at 75.41 apiece on the hard, true pitches which offer little turn and where the bounce tends to limit the number of lbws. By comparison, Swann's record - his wickets are costing 47.76 in Australia - is not so awful. The country really does present the final frontier for finger spinners.

Swann did not bowl badly here. There were no full tosses; few, if any, long-hops. While he did not present much of a threat, he was on a pitch offering him little and bowling against batsmen - Michael Clarke and David Warner - who played superbly. Presented with a fine surface and an overwhelming match position, they played with a freedom and flair that was hard to suppress. Even James Anderson, who bowled beautifully, was treated to some harsh treatment as the innings progressed.

"With the lead they had, it was difficult to apply any pressure," Anderson said afterwards. "They were able to play with freedom.

"Swann did a really good holding job in the first innings on a pitch offering him nothing. I wouldn't judge him on that second innings performance."

Lyon is a slightly different style offspinner. Unlike Swann, who searches for dip and turn, Lyon bowls with more over-spin which has, on this pitch, proved more effective as it has resulted in greater bounce. In a perfect world, England might possess a Test-class wristspinner or Swann might be armed with a "doosra" or topspinner, but his skills - his turn, his ability to make the ball dip sharply and his accuracy - have served him and England well, with match-defining performances in England, Australia, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Bangladesh and West Indies. Now is not the time to go searching for new tricks.

But this was not a wholly convincing performance from England with the ball. Chris Tremlett, bowling at a pace so modest it sometimes appeared he was equipped with a shuttlecock, was unable to maintain the pressure built by Anderson and Stuart Broad in the first session. While he finished with three wickets as Australia set-up the declaration, this has not been an encouraging return. Boyd Rankin or Steven Finn would, for example, both have been able to sustain the short-pitched attack on Clarke far more effectively.

It was an avoidable selection error, too. Anyone who had seen Tremlett bowl in the English domestic season would have been able to see that he is simply not capable of delivering the spells he could before his career was hit by serious injuries. On the type of pitch on which he would once have presented a nightmare proposition, he was dispiritingly impotent. The description of him as "a whale shark; huge and majestic to look at, but ultimately floaty and harmless" on Twitter may be harsh, but is uncomfortably accurate.

It is quite wrong to think that the role of third seamer should be primarily to offer control, too. At 132-6 in their first innings, Australian hopes were hanging by a thread but, due to the lack of attacking support for Broad and Anderson, they were allowed to claw their way back into the game.

But it should not be forgotten that it was England's batsmen who got them into this mess. Tremlett and company were forced to bowl for a second time only 52.4 overs after the first innings ended. In this heat, that is no easy task.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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