It is always slightly sad when an old-timer's record falls. Jim Laker's had stood for 53 years since he had Richie Benaud caught behind by Roy Swetman at Melbourne to leave him with 193 Test wickets.
No other England off-spinner had taken more, none had come close. Until yesterday. Graeme Swann took his tally to 196 with his 4 for 85 against India on the first day of the First Test.
The wicket that equalled the tally was Gautam Gambhir, the one that set a new mark was Virender Sehwag, both prodigious players, both fit to stand as part of any record. Swann may, just, have in his sights Derek Underwood's 297, still the highest number of wickets taken by an England spin bowler of any variety. He was suitably and sincerely made up.
"It is a proud moment," he said. "I always say I'm not a stats man but when people told me I was near Jim Laker I was genuinely excited. When you're growing up these are the famous names of the game, you don't even dream of emulating them, let alone going past them."
There is one record of Laker's that Swann will probably not come near: his 19 wickets in a Test match, at Old Trafford, in 1956 when he took 10 for 53 and 9 for 37. But for the knockabout purposes of post-match interviews he said he would go on dreaming of 20 in this match.
But that aside, Swann is a fitting successor and will probably follow Laker as a well-loved television commentator one day. His endeavours yesterday were the more gratifying since he had to leave the tour briefly last week to see his three-week-old daughter, who had been taken to hospital.
Swann's canny, cunning bowling showed no after-effects of a 10,000-mile round trip taken over five days. "Flying home last week I was a bit concerned that I would not have good rhythm but happily for me I was bowling well beforehand," he said. "In the week in Mumbai I was bowling well in the nets, and it's always a relief when the ball is coming out as you want it to."
He might have had two more wickets – Matt Prior missed a stumping and Jonathan Trott a slip catch – but was in forgiving mood. "Slip is a very difficult position to field, especially to a spin bowler, but Trotty's the man for the job." Since he has just begun it we will know more shortly.Reuse content