England v Australia, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 2nd day July 19, 2013

Swann admits to outrageous fortune

Graeme Swann claimed his best Ashes figures of 5 for 44 on the second day and felt his dismissal of Chris Rogers constituted one of the worst pieces of cricket in Test history

When a bowler takes a wicket with a full toss as ugly as the one Graeme Swann delivered to Chris Rogers, he can be fairly confident it is going to be his day.

Certainly Swann admitted to some "outrageous fortune" on his way to claiming his best Ashes figures of 5 for 44. He was even happy to float the suggestion that the dismissal of Rogers constituted the "worst piece of cricket in Test history."

It all helped to underline that Swann and his England colleagues were the beneficiaries of as inept a performance of Test batting as Australia has displayed on this famous old ground since the Second World War.

On the ground where Don Bradman and Greg Chappell made Test centuries, where Steve Waugh lifted a World Cup, and where Keith Miller and Glenn McGrath ripped through England's batting, Australia produced a performance unworthy of their proud heritage. England weren't required to operate in anything above third gear.

That is not to say that Swann and co bowled poorly. Far from it. But, on a pitch on which Swann England rated a par score at around 400-450, to dismiss Australia for just 128 was reflective not just of a solid bowling performance but of something rotten within the Australian batting.

It sounds harsh, but the standard of cricket in this series has been oddly mediocre. While there have been outstanding individual performances - the batting of Ian Bell and the bowling of James Anderson stand out - the batting of both top-orders to date has been some way below that expected at this level. And on the second day of this game, England's bowlers did not need to be anywhere near their best to dismantle an Australian batting line-up who are in danger of being remembered as the weakest to have represented their nation.

At times, England were not even forced to earn wickets. Phil Hughes fell to a wild swing, Ashton Agar was run out in a style that might have been considered too slapstick for inclusion in a Laurel and Hardy film and Rogers should have hit the delivery that dismissed him into St John's Wood High Street.

Even Shane Watson, the man promoted to open the batting due to his superior technique, fell after attempting to play across a straight ball in the over before lunch. Rarely in Test cricket are wickets sold so cheaply.

For that reason it is necessary to maintain some perspective while judging this England performance. Their top-order batting continues to under-perform, they missed two relatively straightforward chances in the field and they were obliged to use a succession of substitute fielders as several members of the team left the field to gain treatment for various aches and pains. On a flat pitch and under a hot sun, they should have faced a draining day.

Instead they found life easy. Australia, showing the fight of a pacifist kitten, produced a display of batting so lacking in backbone or intelligence that it reduced a full house crowd to something approaching bewilderment.

The issue of DRS typifies the contrast in professionalism between these two sides. While England have devised a largely successful formula that involves calm decision making, Australia continue to treat DRS as if it is a form of barely intelligible black magic.

Brad Haddin's pre-match comments that Australia "go on feel" and that the DRS "is not actually a big thing" sounded strangely fatalistic, even amateurish, in the modern game where analysis plays such a huge role. Leaving such an important area to chance is a dereliction of duty and is costing Australia dear.

Swann is a fine cricketer and arguably England's best spinner since Jim Laker. But he will never take a softer five-wicket haul in Test cricket than this. Although the pitch is dry and a few balls turned alarmingly from a largely unthreatening line outside the right-handers' leg stump, Swann benefited most from some reckless batting.

He claimed two wickets as first Usman Khawaja and then Ryan Harris tried to drive him over the top and skied catches. He gained another when Brad Haddin attempted to slog-sweep a delivery from outside off stump. The Rogers dismissal, described as "embarrassing" to batsman and bowler by Swann, will win mentions for years to come as a contender for 'the worst delivery to take a Test wicket.'

Only Steve Smith, brilliantly caught by Ian Bell at short leg off a delivery that spat off the pitch and took the batsman's glove, could claim innocence for his downfall.

"It was a mixture of good bowling and a bit of outrageous fortune," Swann admitted afterwards. "The Rogers dismissal was very strange. I can't put my finger on why it happened. I'm not sure there's been a worse piece of cricket in Test history. I'm sure he's as embarrassed about it as I was. It was one of those freaky things. It completely slipped out of my hand."

Swann certainly bowled better than he had at Trent Bridge. While he is yet to regain the remarkable accuracy that has typified his bowling in the past, he was noticeably tighter than he had been in the previous Test and, against such fragile opposition, it proved enough to make them buckle. He is the first England spinner to claim a five-wicket haul in an Ashes Test at Lord's since Hedley Verity in 1934.

Describing the performance as a "boyhood dream", Swann said that his previous mention on the Lord's honours board had been tarnished when the game became the focus of allegations about spot-fixing.

"I'm on the honours board once before from a game against Pakistan," Swann said, "But that was tainted. So to get it up there in an Ashes game is a boyhood dream. For a while I was thinking I might get on the batting board this morning, but agonisingly I fell 72 runs short."

England maintained the pressure well in the field. Stuart Broad, again bowling better than his figures suggest, executed England's plan to dismiss Michael Clarke perfectly - a succession of bouncers left him reluctant to get forward and pinned on the foot by the full delivery that followed . Tim Bresnan, recalled in place of the enigmatic Steven Finn, justified the decision by providing few soft runs, James Anderson delivered eight maidens in his 14 overs and the ground fielding showed impressive commitment and athleticism. It was typified by Jonny Bairstow who, with England leading by almost 250 with Australia nine down, turned a four into a three following a long chase and diving stop on the long off boundary.

England's fortune extended into their second innings. Had Joe Root been caught on eight, a simple chance that passed between first slip and keeper, the scrutiny on his new role of opener would have increased and Australia might have scented an opportunity to clamber their way back into this game. Instead an opportunity to lift the mood was transformed into another dispiriting setback and Root went unpunished for his lapse.

For those England supporters who grew up familiar with the ritual humiliation that characterised Ashes encounters in the 1990s, there will be some grim satisfaction in days like this. But for those who relish combative, good quality cricket, this was a bitterly disappointing experience.

In years to come, this period may be remembered as the lowest ebbs in the history of Australian Test cricket. It would be unwise to read too much into England's current ascendancy.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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