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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Scott on November 25, 2013, 16:24 GMT

    @Fury, the fact we batted as long as we did was that Eng were so poor there were still 3 whole days of cricket left after we'd knocked them over and 2 after we'd finished clobbering their bowlers around in the 2nd innings. That's plenty enough time to get Eng out, as it proved so with the 5th day unnecesary. For all your talk of Swann, his records aren't much better than that of Lyon's when he was at Lyon's stage in his be honest, that just looks like a sorry list of excuses for what was a very ordinary performance all round barring Broad on day 1.

  • Scott on November 25, 2013, 12:31 GMT

    @Meety, it was actually stated not so long ago that he was the most beneficial bowler of DRS. And, if we're comparing his career average against, let's say Warne, or any other spinner that's played where DRS wasn't available, then yes, it's clearly skewed. I've not said he's not a good cricketer, he most certainly is, he's just not great - not even close. His record lefties vs righties is enough for me to prove my point. I wouldn't be surprised if he takes more wickets on this tour as he's a good bowler, but I'll be very surprised (and inconsolably upset) if he's at the forefront of bowling Eng to an Ashes victory this time around.

  • Nicholas on November 25, 2013, 11:24 GMT

    Time to get a few important things straight: at this level any top team that finds itself enjoying a 1st innings lead of 159 runs is going to bat with freedom and self- assurance in their 2nd innings, knowing that an ultimate lead of even 350 is historically insurmountable at the Gabba. The fact that Australia felt the need to build their lead to 500 plus shows that Clarke and Lehmann were not so sure of their supremacy. Most of their batsmen failed in their 1st innings and it was only England's lack of a dependable 3rd seamer (Bresnan) that allowed Haddin and Johnson to bail their team- mates out.

    Trott has clearly been mentally shot for quite a while and clearly needs time away from the game. Tremlett is bowling powder puffs and has to go. Lyon may look good on wickets in his own back yard but is pretty much a pie-thrower elsewhere and will never get anywhere near Swann's 250 Test wickets. England's warm up schedule was wrecked by the weather and Johnson had a rare good day out.

  • Andrew on November 25, 2013, 2:04 GMT

    @ScottStevo on (November 24, 2013, 16:51 GMT) - I don't agree that he is any more of a beneficiary of UDRS than any other spinner. So he has poor stats v Oz (& for that matter the Saffas) - but Warney's stats v India are underwhelming too. England have a long history of great-ish offies, & Swann is at the top of the list. Please note my response was to the wording "...superb cricketer..." & I went on to include his slips fielding (rarely drops one) & a more than useful batting average for a #9 (higher or thereabouts to MJ). I am Ozzy as they come, but I respect players that have proved themselves & he has. There are no bad spinners to have taken 200+ wickets - only very good or great. He is near great & if he ends up with 20 wickets on this tour he will almost certainly have bowled England to retaining the Ashes & be an official great.

  • Scott on November 24, 2013, 16:51 GMT

    @Meety, I disagree. I think Swann is hugely overrated and is nowhere near 'great'. That's not to say that I don't agree that Swann is a very good cricketer, he's just nowhere near the hype surrounding him. His career average proves that he's very good, however, against Aus he averages close to 39 and around 50 in Aus. He's also the most beneficial bowler of DRS which massively strengthens his career average and skews comparisons with those before him.

  • Andrew on November 24, 2013, 16:20 GMT

    @Liquefierrrr on (November 24, 2013, 8:39 GMT) - sorry cannot agree with you there. Swann is a superbe cricekter. Any finger spinner with a sub 30 average is exceptional, add to the fact he takes over 4 wickets per Test - he is near great on the test scale. Add also to the fact - he is a very handy batsmen & superb slipper - he is a very good- near great allround cricketer. How he goes in the remainder of this Ashes will have a big influence on how he is ultimately seen in career terms.

  • Dayne on November 24, 2013, 8:39 GMT

    GP Swann vs. Australia - 57 wickets at 37.43 overall, in Australia 17 wickets at 47.76, in England 40 wickets at 33.05.

    Ultimately he's a decent enough spinner, a 29 Test Average is fitting as he is by no means, and by no reasonable person's understanding, a superb cricketer. He's good enough though. His average against Australia overall is pretty mediocre to be quite honest though.

    England need him now more than ever after this absolute hiding. I for one hope he doesn't find his groove, for a lot of England's very basic yet effective principles stand or fall by Swann's performance/non-performance.

  • Dayne on November 24, 2013, 8:28 GMT

    Swann embarrassed himself this test, completely outclassed by Lyon for the 2nd time in a very short period of time.

    Mitchy J was just all over England and England embarrassed themselves. 20/315 on a pitch all English fans declared to be 'a road' after day 1 (from their keyboards, sitting in England).

    Swann's time is coming to an end, had 1 good Test in the last series and was absolutely horrifying here.

    @Shan156 - what matters is the here and now and England were terrible here. If we are going to dig up the past how about the 2 decades Aus owned England?

  • Shanmugam on November 24, 2013, 6:36 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug, one can understand your enthusiasm as your lot are finally going to experience a test win after who knows how long. Yes, we have been outclassed in this test and, yes, it has been 18 innings since we scored 400 in an innings but your team was thrashed several times this year. Forgot the 0-4 (only team that India have defeated by a 4 test margin, lol) and 0-3 humiliations earlier this year, eh?

  • Shanmugam on November 24, 2013, 6:31 GMT

    No use blaming the bowlers. The batting was a shambles. And, the worrying thing is, it looks like there is no cure for this problem. Trott? found out by the bowlers, Prior? hopelessly out of form after a great few years. Cook seems to have gone back to his old bad habit of making a 50 and getting out. Root looked OK in the 2nd inn although it looked like Aus. were targetting the other end more to win quickly given the rain. Carberry did OK in the 1st inn but he needs to watch his running between the wickets. KP is KP and would be the least of our worries. Eng's batting has been a worry since the India series (in which it was masked only because of the brilliance of Cook and KP). We almost lost the NZ series and didn't score 400 over 7 tests in the summer (in which Ian Bell was immense). So, let's leave the bowlers alone and worry about the batsmen. As Jimmy says, it is hard to apply pressure when the opposition has such a huge lead. Sub-200 scores in both innings is not good enough.

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