Graeme Swann will fly to the USA in the next few days for an operation to save his cricket career.
After his dramatic withdrawal from England’s team for the opening match of their series against New Zealand today because of a chronic elbow injury it was revealed that he will miss the rest of the tour and will not return to the game until early summer.
Although all the indications are optimistic and assurances that the surgery to remove floating bone on his right elbow is routine there is no certainty that he will be ready either for the Champions Trophy in England in June or for the Ashes which begin in July.
Play was washed out on the first day of the first Test at the University Oval before a ball could be bowled. Bad light caused the first delay and it was followed by heavy rain which swept across the ground.
The toss took place as scheduled and New Zealand decided to bowl given the overcast conditions. But if the skies clear by tomorrow to favour batting they may yet come to regret that.
The umpires finally abandoned play shortly after tea. By then England had presumably managed to absorb the news that their leading off-spin bowler would be out of action for at least three months. Swann was replaced in the side by Monty Panesar and the Kent off-break bowler, James Tredwell, is on his way to join the squad.
“You just never know with surgery, do you,” said Swann. “The fact that you have it tends to mean that you have a pretty serious injury. I was hoping to get to the end of my playing days and not have to go back under the knife.
“Everyone hopes that, but it suddenly flared up and the scan results said it needs sorting. It is a huge year for English cricket and a huge year for me as well. If I don’t have the surgery it’s more or less curtains. If this means taking a more active part in it then it’s something I have got to do.”
England will be anxious to ensure that Swann is fit for the Champions Trophy, which they believe they have a genuine chance of winning at home, and more crucially still for the two Ashes series that follow. He has taken 212 wickets in his 50 Tests since 2008, making him England’s most prodigious off spinner.
He needed surgery on the elbow four years ago and although it has needed careful management since then it suddenly became much more painful shortly before England’s tour match in Queenstown began last week. Swann played in the match but was in obvious discomfort by the end.
“I have struggled intermittently with the elbow for about four years but it never really manifested itself into a dire predicament for me,” he said. “Then at Queenstown the other day just before the game I was starting to feel an unusual pain that I hadn’t felt since before the last operation. That just rapidly got worse during that game.”
As soon as the tourists arrived in Dunedin, Swann was sent for scans which were then sent to Prof. Shawn W O’Driscoll, the world’s foremost expert on elbow injuries in athletes based at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He took one look and decreed that surgery was necessary.
Swann declined to say that he would definitely return but insisted he was buoyed by the success of his last operation.
“I will be relieved once it is done but I am a bit apprehensive at the minute because I don’t like general anaesthetics,” he said. “ I’ve got every faith in the surgeon because he’s the world leader in it.”
The elbow does not appear to have deteriorated to the extent it had four years ago. That is what makes Swann confident that he may return early in the summer.
“It doesn’t seem anywhere near as dire as the last time round when it was like a bomb had gone off in there,” he said. “I knew something wasn’t right in Queenstown, I just couldn’t put an extra snap on the ball when I was bowling. Obviously I like to turn the ball a lot and I was only 78 per cent fit and that was a very strange feeling because I’ve not had that for a long time.”
Swann’s absence will give Panesar an opportunity to play his 46 Test match. Panesar has not played since the fourth Test against India at Nagpur in December and has spent part of this tour studying for a post graduate diploma in sports science. He took an exam here last week.
New Zealand awarded first caps to two players from different ends of the age spectrum. Hamish Rutherford, 23 will open the batting with Peter Fulton and the left arm spinner Bruce Martin, 32, will do their slow bowling.