Doctor Comfort set to be the hit of summer
He sings, he strums, he bats, he catches and now he even opens the bowling. But the best thing, by far, about Graeme Swann in this Ashes year is that he is an England twirler who takes wickets and has emerged as a real threat to batsmen everywhere. Until Swann went to India last December and suddenly overtook Monty Panesar as the Test team's No 1 spinner, it seemed as though he might be remembered more for being a character than a serious international cricketer: an engaging companion whose love of music led him to front a rock group called Dr Comfort and the Lurid Revelations.
But no matter how good Swann is on his guitar, and regardless of the quality of his voice, there is no chance of him giving up the day job yet. Nearly 10 years after first being called up by England, and nine since he was dumped into cold storage by former coach Duncan Fletcher, the cheery off-spinner is walking on air.
A five-star bowling performance from debut-maker Graham Onions ultimately did for West Indies first innings yesterday. It was Swann, however, who sent the tourists tumbling into freefall by removing Devon Smith, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brendan Nash in the space of 18 deliveries. And, even better, that startling little sequence of success continued a hot streak which began in Chennai and, all being well, will stretch at least until the end of this summer.
Swann, you may remember, leapt onto centre stage five months ago by dismissing top notch Indian batsmen Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid during his first over as a Test bowler. Then, earlier this year and despite having initially been put back behind Panesar in the pecking order, he was England's leading wicket-taker in the Caribbean with 19 victims in five innings.
While Panesar appears to be stuck on a plateau, Swann just keeps soaring and there was no doubt which of the two spinners would start this summer. But even a 30-year-old with a perpetually rosy outlook on life might not have expect a chilly May day in London to go quite so well. Having hit a bright and breezy 63, he was given two overs with the new ball as captain Andrew Strauss explored a theory and then held a couple of fine slip catches after doing sizeable damage during his second spell. Panesar, famously, has been accused by Shane Warne of playing the same Test 30-odd times, the allegation being that he has not learned a lot along the way. Whatever the future – and, especially, this summer's Ashes series – holds for Swann it is unlikely he will be accused by anyone of being predictable. That is just not in his nature and, despite not possessing a deadly doosra, he turns the ball enough in a conventional fashion, and varies his pace and flight sufficiently, to delight any old time off-spinner.
The dismissals of left-handers Smith, Chanderpaul and Nash proved the point. The ball to Smith, which went between bat and pad, may have been a non-turner which nipped through off the pitch. But those to Chanderpaul and Nash both spun away to defeat batsmen with rock solid defensive techniques. Play it again and again, Swanny.
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