The Ashes 2013-14 December 23, 2013

Panesar favoured for Swann role

Monty Panesar defended Graeme Swann against allegations that he attacked team mates in his farewell media conference

It says much for England's reliance upon Graeme Swann for so long that they have reacted to news of his retirement by calling up two men to replace him.

The decision to add Scott Borthwick, a leg-spinning all-rounder from Durham, and James Tredwell, the off-spinner from Kent, to the squad also suggests a certain lack of confidence in Monty Panesar.

Panesar's left-arm spin may well come into the side for the Melbourne Test starting on Boxing Day, but there are no guarantees about a longer term position in the team.

It is not hard to see the differing attractions of Borthwick, Tredwell or Panesar. Borthwick is a talented batsman - he scored 1,000 Championship runs for Durham in the 2013 season having won a promotion to No. 3 in the order - and, as a legspinner, can find turn on pitches on which finger spinners gain little. He might, in due course, develop into a valuable second spinner and could probably bat at No. 7 or No. 8 at present.

Whether he could be selected as a lone spinner at present is debatable. He claimed 28 Championship wickets last season at an average of 38. He also went for four an over. After the experience of Simon Kerrigan, still the best young spin prospect in England, at The Oval, it seems highly unlikely the selectors will take a similar risk.

Tredwell is at the other end of the spectrum. With his loopy control and modest spin, he might be seen as a safe bet - although he is not in contention for Melbourne as he does not arrive until midway through the Test. He might replace Swann in the slips; he might even replace his runs in the lower-order. But after a season in which he claimed 17 Championship wickets at an average of 56.76, his call-up only goes to serves the chasm that existed between Swann and the rest in English cricket.

All of which means that Panesar will certainly play in Melbourne and probably play in Sydney. He might not be the bowler he was 12 months ago - his action is more slingy and he does not look as fit - and his fielding remains as close to a liability as anyone in Test cricket at present, but his best is some way better than anyone else's and he at least bowls at a pace that should help England retain some control in the field. Besides, they really aren't holding a handful of aces at present.

England also hope that Stuart Broad will play. Broad was struck on the foot by a full delivery from Mitchell Johnson while batting in the first innings at Perth but subsequent scans showed no serious injury. He will therefore bowl in the nets on Tuesday before a decision is made about his involvement in the Test. If he does not play, it seems Boyd Rankin may be the best placed - or maybe the least badly placed would be a more accurate description - of the three tall seamers to replace him.

There could be other changes in the side in Melbourne. Matt Prior, for so long a beacon of excellence, is clearly below his best with bat and gloves at present and is in real danger of losing his place to Jonny Bairstow while there is an outside chance that Gary Ballance could be brought in instead of Kevin Pietersen.

The retirement of Swann probably makes that scenario less likely - the team are already without several of their most experienced players of recent years - but England are keen to freshen up a batting line-up that has underperformed for some time.

With Alastair Cook an automatic selection and strong cases made for the retention of Ian Bell, Michael Carberry, Ben Stokes and Joe Root, England's options are limited. Pietersen might also be considered England's most likely match-winner, but an England set-up wanting to reassert its authority and keen to make a statement over its refusal to accept mediocrity might be in the mood for more drastic decisions. It would almost certainly be a mistake, but it would be the sort of mistake made by management that is under pressure and looking for quick solutions.

Either way, it seems Panesar will play in Melbourne. While much of his press conference on Monday was consumed by talk of Swann's press conference the previous day - the dozen negative words that Swann may or may not have meant about a teammate seem to have outweighed the several hundred positive ones he certainly did - Panesar did admit he needed to improve if he was to take Swann's place in the long-term. As a result, he played Grade cricket last weekend and hopes to play more once the Ashes series is over.

"I probably didn't bowl at my best in Adelaide," he said. "Hopefully I can bowl quite well in this Test and try to get back to my old ways, the way I bowl with good rhythm.

"I definitely feel ready coming into this Test. I'm really excited. The Boxing Day Test in Australia is a huge occasion and excites all of us. I'm definitely looking forward to it. There are improvements need to be made in my game. Part of that I've made a decision to play Grade cricket after the Ashes. I want to improve my game and see if I can take it forward."

England's method of 'taking it forward' is to revert to the spinner they had in the side before Swann. But as Australia found when they tried to replace Shane Warne, sometimes there is no perfect solution.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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